Behind the librarian's desk at the Knight Memorial Library in the Elmwood section of Providence, a narrow staircase leads to a three-level basement below.
It is a neglected space. A bit dank. The books and curios grow older and dustier the further one descends.
It is just the sort of place that Providence Community Library office manager Dave Dvorchak, 33, is apt to explore.
And nine months ago, as he was ambling through the stacks — The Elements of Natural Philosophy (1878) on this shelf and A Young Woman's Secret Book of Erotic Love Poems (1974) on that — he found a catalog that intrigued.
Dvorchak is a film geek. And here, in his hands, was a decades-old list of 16-millimeter movies owned by the now-defunct Rhode Island Library Film Cooperative, a statewide consortium of libraries.
Visions of film series danced in his head. But where to find the celluloid?
The office manager started with the Warwick Public Library, which once housed the cooperative, but came up empty. After a flurry of calls to the rest of the state's libraries, he scored his first — and to date, only — hit from the Cross Mills Public Library in Charlestown. And a couple of weeks ago, he drove down in his Nissan Sentra, not knowing what he would discover.
He came back with about 50 films — 8½, Casablanca, and It's a Wonderful Life among them — stacked in his trunk, piled in his back seat, and riding shotgun; another 20 or 25 to be picked up later.
On a recent afternoon, he led me down a short hallway at Knight Memorial to a storage closet, skeleton key in hand. Inside: a few shelves of books and a stack of the reels, all in brown cases with orange stickers on top.
Here was Metropolis and Grand Illusion, a 1937 French film about a group of captured World War I officers plotting their escape. Dvorchak kept digging.
"This is the real one, as far as I'm concerned," he said. "Night of the Living Dead."
The leader on the first Living Dead reel was broken; he'll have to splice a new one on, he said. But the second was in good shape. We made our way down the hallway to a small auditorium — linoleum flooring, a modest stage, two rows of yellow plastic chairs. Dvorchak plugged in the Eiki Slim Line projector, its two arms raised, and loaded the reel.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and there we were, in the middle of the attack: a clutch of men in a house, plotting their next move as the zombies roamed outside. Clack, clack, clack went the projector.
Dvorchak said he plans to clean up as many of the films as he can — decades of detritus attach — and launch his series at Knight Memorial around Halloween. Living Dead, which he's seen countless times, will lead off.
This is not an entirely novel endeavor for Dvorchak. The office manager spends most of his working hours paying bills and whatnot, but he has cultivated a sideline as the library's unofficial purveyor of hip.