San Diego’s favorite programmer brings films into focus
By Cynthia Robertson | SDUN Reporter
When the lights dim and the first scene of a film begins at the Central Library’s Film Forum, Ralph DeLauro feels most alive. DeLauro, beloved by film buffs all around San Diego, has presented films at libraries and Mission Hills’ outdoor film series “Cinema Under the Stars” for decades. It’s not a way of life for him; it is his life.
DeLauro’s first gig as film programmer sprouted in the early ‘80s in San Diego’s old Greenwich Village West, an artist colony in today’s Gaslamp District. He lived in a building there that still stands today, the Historic Lincoln Hotel.
While there were musicians, writers, painters, stained-glass artists and other creative types living there, no one was involved with film. Since that was DeLauro’s passion, he decided to start showing films on the rooftop of the building.
“Some of the guys helped me build a screen out of plywood and painted it white. Someone else gave me an old 16mm projector and I borrowed the films from the library,” he said.
After about a year of screening films on the rooftop, DeLauro walked into the old Central Library Downtown and asked if he could start film screenings at the Library.
“Fortunately, [San Diego Librarian] Lois Hyman, bless her heart, said ‘Yes’ and that jump-started the Central Library screenings,” DeLauro said.
Film enthusiasts from as far away as Los Angeles have come to film screenings presented by DeLauro. Sometimes they walk out of a film, for whatever reason.
“The fact that they do keep coming back even after walking out of a movie one time shows how strong for them the attraction is for film,” said DeLauro, who also teaches film classes through OASIS, an educational, social organization geared toward the elderly.
DeLauro has many favorite films, bu the says “2001: A Space Odyssey, truly opened his eyes.”
“It’s a film that touched me on a spiritual, intellectual, emotional and technical level,” he said.
Watching the changes in technique and technicality over the past decades, DeLauro appreciates the fact that more creative, talented people now have the ability to act in as well as produce movies.
The downside of this, however, is that film has become “disposable entertainment,” DeLauro said. “Like pop music — here today, gone in two weeks.”
Just within the last few years, DeLauro has also been screening films at other branch libraries as an independent contractor. As for “Cinema Under the Stars,” DeLauro had been screening films at Better World Galleria, a bookstore in Mission Hills. The owners of the Better World introduced him to Doug Yeagley, owner of Tops Salon, who wanted to create something in the patio behind his salon. They transformed the area into an outdoor movie theater, opening it in May of 1991.
DeLauro didn’t operate alone, however, his wife Carol enthusiastically helped transform her husband’s hobby into a true career.
“When I first met Ralph on September 1st, 1982, he didn’t own anything. Not even a sleeping bag!” She said, laughing. “He spent his money going to the movies.”
“I want to give thanks to Carol, my wife, for her aid and assistance, for backing all my projects and putting up with the madness and craziness of the film exhibition world,” DeLauro responded with a smile.
On a recent Monday evening at the new Central Library, DeLauro aired the comedy-drama “Hello, I Must Be Going,” starring Blythe Danner and Melanie Lynskey. DeLauro arrived couple of hours before the screening to set up the lights and sound.
“I’m still working to get the kinks out of the system,” DeLauro said.
At 6:15 p.m., he opened the door to the people waiting just outside. Between 45 and 60 people chose a seat in the new, grand auditorium. DeLauro said that the same amount of people showed up at the old Downtown library.
“In reality, the films that I screen appeal to a smaller niche,” DeLauro said. “These are not just entertainment-value movies for the popular masses. These films have a stimulating point of departure, often leaving the viewer with more questions than answers.”
DeLauro dimmed the lights in the Central Library auditorium and let the magic of the film begin.