Documentary About Md. Community Incorporates 1960s West German Film About American Suburbia

A documentary filmmaker from Maryland turned a recently discovered West German movie about suburban America filmed in Prince George’s County in the 1960s into a documentary about one of the oldest communities in Bowie.

Jeff Krulik’s “Tales of Belair at Bowie” tells the story of one of this region’s first planned communities.

Developer William Levitt built the planned community of Belair in the early 1960s. It’s now a part of Bowie.

Levitt built several of similar single-family home developments around the country.

Krulik grew up in Bowie, and while producing a film about his hometown, he uncovered the West German film, which provides an interesting and at times funny perspective of suburban American life in the 1960s.

Unofficial Bowie historian and manager of the Belair Mansion Museum Pam Williams is excited for people to see the West Germans’ perspective of suburban America.

“It’s humorous; it’s not entirely flattering all the time,” she said. “But it really was, the first time I saw it, it was a real wow to see a community presented in that way.”

Among the observations in the film: Intellectual life is at its lowest level in suburbia, teenagers’ schedules are more important than parents’ schedules, the magnet in the home is the refrigerator and cooking steaks over charcoal is part of “manlyhood.”

The West German filmmakers followed the Folato family for two weeks. Krulik interviewed Al Golato about the West German film.

“They had no feeling, no empathy for what was going on in our lives for two weeks,” Golato said.

Krulik’s film looks at the history of Bowie far beyond the West German film, including racial tensions that turned to protests because the developer did not sell homes to black families.

“From that part of the film, we can really see what a culturally diverse place Bowie has become today,” Williams said.

“Tales of Belair at Bowie” also offers a look inside some of those original Levitt homes today.

But the film’s best moments are when the audience gets to look at America through the West Germans’ lens.

“Tales of Belair at Bowie” will be screened for free at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday at Bowie Center for the Performing Arts.

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