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Roger Diamantis

The magician of Saint-Andre-des-Arts

"First you have to make some money, and then when you're 60 or 65 you can buy a cinema and retire." That's the advice Roger Diamantis got when he was a young cinema fanatic. And as it turns out, the son of Greek immigrants worked for 20 years in the restaurant business before opening a cinema at 37. Named after a road in the Latin Quarter, "Saint-Andre-des-Arts" is the epitome of the cinema d'art et d'essai.

On the opening night on October 27, 1971, he showed Alain Tanner's "La Salamandre". The film ran for a whole year and sold 200,000 tickets. The next winter people were standing in line for up to four hours to see Ken Loach's "Family Life." One scene with electric shocks provoked violent reactions. A lot of people were sick in the cinema, others lost consciousness. The memory of May 1968 was still very present in the minds of those living in the area and "Saint-Andre-des-Arts" had participated in the upheaval of the sixties. Diamantis showed works by Angelopoulos and Godard as well as documentaries about the dictatorships of Idi Amin or Augusto Pinochet.

The "magicien du Saint-André-des-Arts" (Godard) has a special relationship with Alain Cavalier, Nicolas Philibert, Agnes Varda and particularly with Raymond Depardon. The filmmaker explains that, "just like artists show their work in galleries, you can regularly find me in "Saint-Andre-des-Arts." In 1996 when the film "Afriques: comment ça va avec la douleur?" was being shown, he came every week to talk about the film. The three-hour documentary sold 50,000 tickets across the whole country, half of which at this Parisian arts cinema. Alongside Depardon, there were also extensive retrospectives dedicated to Woody Allen, Robert Altman, Jean Eustache, Fassbinder, Mizoguchi, Ozu, Barbet Schroeder, Tanner, Tarkovksy, Tavernier and Wenders, and – almost each year since 1992 – an Ingmar Bergman retrospective.

The cinematheque francaise honoured Diamantis' work in 1980 with a selection of his favourite films – the first time homage has been paid by France's cinema temple to a cinema owner. In a very readable recent book by Florence Delporte, Diamantis puts his finger on what he believes is the common denominator in the films he shows on his 3 screens: humanism. The films reveal something about life that changes the audience's perceptions and helps them to live better. Florence Delporte: "Une vie d'art et d'essais." Editions La Dispute, Paris 2003. - let's talk european