David Kleiler, Fixture Of Boston's Independent Film Scene, Dies At 79

David Kleiler Sr. has died at age 79. (Courtesy David Kleiler, Jr.)
David Kleiler Sr. has died at age 79. (Courtesy David Kleiler, Jr.)

David Kleiler, a mainstay of Boston’s independent film scene, died Monday from complications from esophageal cancer. He was 79.

Kleiler wore many hats throughout his life, including as a festival programmer, film professor and community organizer. In all his projects, he was driven by the same passion.

“He just loved to talk about film,” said his son, David Kleiler, Jr. “One of the things he loved to do in life more than anything was connect with people and help people understand themselves and their lives through talking about cinema.”

Kleiler, a longtime Brookline resident, was perhaps best known for his efforts to save the Coolidge Corner Theatre from redevelopment. In 1988, the theater, facing financial ruin, reached an agreement with a developer to either demolish the historic building or convert it into retail space. In response, Kleiler helped found a nonprofit called the Coolidge Corner Theatre Foundation and mounted a capital campaign to purchase the theater. Though the group ultimately failed to raise enough funds, its efforts attracted the notice of a local realtor who agreed to purchase the building and lease it to the foundation.

Kleiler took the reins of the Coolidge in 1989. Though the organization’s continued financial troubles prompted him to depart in 1993, his influence is still felt at the theater, which remains a vital cultural institution in Boston.

“We literally would not be here without David,” said Coolidge Corner Theatre Executive Director Katherine Tallman. "And now we are just bursting at the seams. We are just booming and thriving."

Kleiler was born on Jan. 15, 1940, and grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C. He became obsessed with movies as a boy, poring over the film listings in the local papers. Later, he would pass that passion on to his son.

“I talked to my dad about movies the way a lot of guys talk to their dad about sports,” the younger Kleiler said. “If I happened to see a movie that excites me, he’s the first person I'm going to call.”

In the late 1990s, Kleiler co-founded the Boston Underground Film Festival, driven by a desire to share his love of offbeat cinema with the city — and perhaps to one-up younger film buffs, his son said.

“He loved being the older guy in the room that actually had the most cutting edge taste,” his son added.

At various points, the elder Kleiler lectured on film at Babson College, Emerson College and the University of Massachusetts Boston. But he found many other outlets to share his knowledge of cinema, including an independent film series called "Rear Window" that thrived in the 1980s, a consulting company called Local Sightings, and, until his death, a weekly film club that he started in his living room.

It was Kleiler’s indefatigable enthusiasm for cinema that inspired his son to begin filming a documentary about his dad last year.

“My father is like your favorite liberal arts professor whose office hours are always open, and you go, and they try and get you excited about a great work of literature or a great piece of art,” he said. “And in dad's case, he always tried to get people excited about a film.”

David Kleiler is survived by his son, daughter-in-law Boriana Kleiler and two grandchildren, Marusha and Francis Kleiler.

A wake will be held Tuesday, April 23 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Bell-O’dea Funeral Home at 376 Washington St. in Brookline. The funeral will be at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, April 24 at Saint Cecilia Parish, which is located at 18 Belvidere St. in Boston.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly wrote the name of Boston Underground Film Festival. The post has been updated. We regret the error.

This article was originally published on April 16, 2019.

Amelia Mason Arts And Culture Reporter
Amelia Mason is an arts and culture reporter and critic for WBUR.



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