September 06, 1999 12:00 PM

There’s a scene in the 1988 Oscar-winning Italian film Cinema Paradiso in which a man quells an angry mob by projecting a movie onto the side of a house. John Pente admits he’s not much for movies. But by volunteering a room of his Baltimore row house for use as a projection booth, he too has had a calming effect on his neighborhood.

Every Friday since early July, the street lights of Baltimore’s Little Italy dim after dusk as spectators settle into folding chairs. Then a shaft of light flickers from Pente’s third floor, splashing movies including Rocky, Moonstruck and, of course, Cinema Paradiso onto the blank billboard across Stiles Street. For months local restaurateurs had planned to use the billboard for advertising, and that didn’t sit well in the neighborhood. But peace was restored when they decided to host an alfresco film festival instead. Now up to 1,300 viewers pack the streets each week. Says Pente, 89: “It makes it a great neighborhood again.”

A widower who retired from repairing electronic equipment in 1972, Pente gladly agreed to let the organizers of the free film series park a projector in his ideally located spare bedroom. After all, it gives him the best seat in the house. “When you look out your window and see more than a thousand people in your backyard,” he says, “it’s a beautiful sight.”

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