Mark McDermott

The good movie movement: a former planning director works to bring foreign and independent films to the South Bay

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A wave of unusual, good movies are hopefully about to come to the South Bay in no small part because of the angry poets of Wisconsin 29 years ago.

The seeds were planted when a fresh-faced kid named Randy Berler – who is currently preparing to bring some of the world’s finest movies to the South Bay – encountered a stern cop and young man named Crazy Harry. Berler was a freshman English major already working with the school’s literary society, and on this particular day he was hanging posters on the streets of Madison that played with the (then current) Vietnam war protests. They depicted a policeman in a gas mask along with the message: “Get this boy to a poetry reading!”

He soon felt the steely eyes of a policeman upon him, one who didn’t find the message particularly funny. He gave Berler 20 minutes to take down every poster he’d hung. Berler took off, backtracking, furiously taking down his posters, when Crazy Harry came across him and asked him what the hell he was doing. Berler, who knew Crazy Harry from one of the school’s film society’s, explained his predicament.

“You idiot,” Crazy Harry told him. “They can’t do anything about it now!”

And so the memory of Crazy Harry and the film society stuck with Berler even as a sophomore, when he became president of the literary society. They were tasked with bringing famous poets to read at the university, but at one of their meetings the local poets stormed in protest – they wanted the readings, as well as the small fees that the university had allotted for the events. Berler surprised the angry poets when he acceded completely to their demands, and the local poets’ readings turned out to be wildly successful.

But the university wasn’t happy; they wanted famous poets. As a result, Berler was subsequently ousted as president of the literary society. But he remembered the “nice life” enjoyed by folks at the film society. So as a junior, he started his own film society. He brought foreign films – such as the French classic “Children of Paradise” – as well as small independent American movies and charged a buck. His events were so well-attended that this new little revenue stream paid for all his college and living expenses (college was much cheaper circa 1973). More importantly, between his and other film societies, he saw films almost every night of the week and fell fully in love with the medium.

“I probably saw 300 films that year,” Berler recalled. “It was an amazing part of my education.”

Berler pursued his passion for environmental issues and obtained a master’s degree in urban planning. He worked five years in Wisconsin for a regional planning agency, but never forgot his love for film. Finally, he applied for the USC film school, almost on a whim – he didn’t expect to get in, but figured he might as well shoot for the top. He was shocked while he and his young wife were vacationing one winter in Yellowstone to learn the school had admitted him.

Two weeks later in California, and at the recommendation of a friend, he found a place to live in Redondo Beach. His film career never took off – he realized his greatest skill was as an editor, which was a Catch-22. You couldn’t get a card without experience and most experience required a union card. After a few years of scraping by, he applied for planning jobs and was hired by the City of Redondo Beach.

The rest is history. Berler was a much beloved figure at City Hall in Redondo, a soft-spoken, thoughtful, and extraordinarily well-prepared planner who rose to become the city’s planning director. Even during the city’s biggest controversies over proposed harbor rezoning, few people could ever question the good intentions of Randy Berler.

And now that Berler has retired, he has good intentions of another sort: he wants to make it so local residents who love independent and foreign films don’t have to drive the 405 to see the movies they love. He is starting an informal film society that will begin with a few great old foreign films and hopefully establish an audience for newer foreign and American independent releases.

“That is really my hope, to get newer films into the South Bay, ones that don’t normally show here,” Berler said. “But if we can start by showing some good old foreign films that have not been seen around here, I am hoping I can attract an audience and show theaters…Maybe it’s not like the Laemmle, where they show several independent and foreign films seven nights a week, but there’s got to be a market for independent films one night a week or once a month. There has got to be an audience for that, and I am hoping to convince theater managers of that.”

He has convinced the AMC Theaters in Torrance to give him a chance. Using the website www.tugg.com, Berler hopes to show “Red”, the classic French movie made by Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieślowski that was described by film critic Geoff Andrews as a film “about destiny and chance, solitude and communication, cynicism and faith, doubt and desire; about lives affected by forces beyond rationalization….Stunningly beautiful, powerfully scored and immaculately performed, the film is virtually flawless, and one of the very greatest cinematic achievements of the last few decades.”

The movie will show at 7:30 p.m. June 14, but there is one catch: it will only show if at least 59 people RSVP through Tugg.com. The site takes credit card information upon RSVP, and if enough people don’t sign up and the film is not shown no charges are made (it’s $9 per person if the film shows).

If this doesn’t work, Berler will try other ways – perhaps through a local community theater equipped for 35 mm film – but one thing he wants to make clear is that he’s not doing this for any profit whatsoever. In his retirement, he has turned to his passions; he plays guitar in a local cover band called Contra Band, he takes photographs, and travels extensively with his wife, who has also retired. The idea here is to make it so local movie lovers can form their own community and not be required to travel to see good movies.

“What do I get out of it? I don’t get a cent out of it,” Berler said. “I’m not doing this to get paid. My selfish interest is to get local South Bay theaters to start showing newer foreign and independent films we don’t see here.”

Go to the website about.me/randyberler and click on the RSVP for Three Colors: Red link if you want to see the movie. Berler can also be contacted through his website for information about possible future events. ER

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