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"a piece of experience, a pace and style of daily togetherness, that deserve to be preserved and celebrated."- The Boston Globe
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Review of "Down Around Here" from The Boston Phoenix
By Matt Ashare
May 10-16, 1996

It's been 20 years since documentary filmmaker David Sutherland took his Super-8 camera into East Cambridge's Kitchenette Diner and began work on his first project. But it wasn't until earlier this year that the footage he shot over a two-year period was restored and edited into the 27-minute Down Around Here. Sutherland's film, which for all its grit succeeds as a poignant and remarkably resonant sketch of Boston's rapidly fading past...

The Kitchenette Diner, a neighborhood landmark that Russ Young began operating in 1932, serves as the setting for Down Around Here. The gregarious, gravelly-voiced Young, who has a tendency to break out into ballads like "Seems like Old Times," is the film's de facto narrator. But it's through Sutherland's attentive camera, which lingers over the pastries stacked on the counter and the regulars who come and go, that we're reminded of what was lost when the diner closed its doors in the summer of 1978. It's a talent for the subtleties of documentary filmmaking that Sutherland has brought to bear on an array of award winning projects, including Out of Sight, a real-life story of a blind cowgirl that PBS aired last year, and an American Experience episode titled George Washington: The Man Who Wouldn't Be King.

"I've wanted to restore the film for at least the past 10 years," admits Sutherland, who's on a break at his home in Waban from filming a documentary about a struggling farming family in Nebraska. "And then last year the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, approached me about doing a retrospective show. They wanted an early work, so I went to Channel 2 and asked them if they would being interested in restoring the footage that I had in return for the rights to use the finished film. Everything had to be digitized, and the technology and work involved was more than I could handle on my own. But the people at 'GBH gave me a lot of help."

Sutherland was a regular at the Kitchenette Diner for the decade before it closed. And he remained friendly with Young until the latter passed away, in 1982. But it wasn't until well after he'd shot the footage at the diner that he realized it might work as a film.

"I don't know if even just five years ago I would have been comfortable with having this shown on TV. I wouldn't have wanted someone to judge me by this piece, because it's rough around the edges. When I see it as a film today, it just seems so relevant to what's happening in our world. It's not about diners. It's about the hearts and souls of the kind of people that used to frequent diners."


"Down" Details Last Days of a Diner
By John Koch
The Boston Globe: May 10, 1996

A thickset fellow with a bulbous nose and a gift for gab, Russ Young served and entertained customers at the Kitchenette Diner for more than 40 years. There in East Cambridge, cigar planted in mouth, Young dispensed homemade meals, home truths and sentimental songs between 1937 and 1978, when the First Street eatery was boarded up and carted away on a horsedrawn wagon.

Young and some of his regulars were the subject of documentary-maker David Sutherland's first film, Down Around Here, which he began shooting in 1976. At the time, Sutherland worked at his father's nearby tire store, and his appreciation of the intimate little neighborhood sanctuary is what fuels the film. That, and the rough charm and energy of Young, who looks like nothing so much as an imploding, old Popeye.

. . . This is a minor Sutherland work compared to the acclaimed documentaries he has made since, including Halftime: Five Yale Men at Midlife and Out of Sight, an account of a blind cowgirl's life and loves. But it does capture a piece of experience, a pace and style of daily togetherness, that deserve to be preserved and celebrated.

Although women customers are mentioned, the diner seems mainly a smoke-filled lunch club for working men. Easygoing debates about sports heroes and politics are the daily fare, along with the soups and franks. "Curley was the best of them all," Young proclaims; the "Kennedy clan-they're not so hot." But the underlying subject--in the minds of customers and filmmaker alike--is change: the ravaging displacements wrought by the coming of shopping centers and fast-food outlets, and the departures of old manufacturing plants.

"Down Around Here" is elegiac without being too downbeat, an informal, low-key appreciation of a way of life and the connections that sustained it in an almost vanished era. That's a time before gentrification and yuppies and the advance on Cambridge and Boston of political correctness and smoke-free bistros.

  • First Prize Super8 Film Award, New England Film and Video Festival- 1996
  • Finalist, USA Film Festival- 1996
  • Taos Talking Picture Festival- 1996
  • Metropolitan Film Festival, Detroit, MI- 1996
  • Big Muddy Film Festival- 1996

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