For the past 25 years, an amateur film club, the first of its kind in the Soviet Union, has flourished in this old provincial city on the banks of the Volga River.

The people's film studio called "Youth" has come to be something of a second home for its 250 members, and now it is no longer unique: Yaroslavl alone has 29 more such clubs.

In larger social terms, the Youth club here has succeeded in filling a social vacuum often decried in the Soviet press. It has given people a place to go after work or school, to indulge their hobby, to make friends, and it is an answer to such worrisome problems as urban loneliness, excessive drinking, lack of varied entertainment and among youth, the kind of "hooliganism" that often comes from having no place to go.

For these reasons, clubs for "interests" are actively encouraged here, but according to its members, the Youth club in Yaroslavl has gone beyond providing a place to make and watch films.

In one room on a recent Saturday, two students huddled over a machine, editing a new movie about a local war hero. In another, two boys tinkered with a homemade car, which will star as a flying saucer in a movie about Yaroslavl's past and future.

An actress from the local theater stopped on her way home to supper to dub lines for another movie about the war. A microprocessing specialist came by to make improvements on his own invention, a synchronized recording machine. One club member came by to deliver a can of paint and another poked her head in, just to make sure that a new film was not being shown that night.

Through all the comings and goings, on a long table set in the studio's theater, a samovar kept the water hot for tea, next to a string hung with baranki, dry pretzels. Underfoot, the club's mascot and watchdog, a white terrier named Bim, meandered among the guests, skirting wires, equipment, drum sets, a piano and chairs.

Overall, the high-ceilinged studio, decorated wall-to-wall with egg cartons (for better acoustics) and hung with a collection of trombones, gramophones, life preservers, posters and snapshots, looked more like a gigantic living room than a clubhouse.

"Our main aim is to have families come here together, where they can do things together," said Nina Ustinova, who has many duties, including presiding over the samovar and plying guests with homemade blinis and tarts. "And they do," she added proudly. "We now have third-generation members."

The club was the brainchild of Nina's husband, Rem (the name is formed from the initials of the Russian words for revolution, electrification and peace). They both came here in the late 1950s, two graduates of a Leningrad film institute assigned to work in this attractive, historic city.

To Rem Ustinov, the ultimate attraction of the club lies in its original purpose, the same attraction that led him to work here rather than in one of the Soviet Union's professional studios.

"Here, what is most important is that one can do something of one's own and do it oneself," he said. He pointed to the banner that hangs over the screen: "Don't cackle, but lay eggs."

Ustinov, a round-faced man of 55 with bright blue eyes and boundless enthusiasm, remembers gathering his first group of 50 persons together. "I asked them, 'Do you want to do films?' " he said. "Of course they wanted to."

And they have, starting with a film about how they built the club in an old warehouse off the Zagorsk highway in a working-class section of Yarolslavl. The film shows a group of young people knocking out walls, cleaning, sweeping, painting and clowning for the camera.

Since then, there have been many other films -- films produced for the sponsoring trade union, family films, films for the city and films made for, about and by children.

There are official checkpoints on the club's productions, but, Ustinov said, the club mostly sets its own agenda and, on the whole, it steers away from political themes.

"There are many others who deal with those," he says. "There is no need for us to do it, too."

One recent film did touch on disarmament, but the four-minute short was conceived, shot and produced by children. Called "A Farewell to Arms," it is about a little boy who listens to a television announcer talk about an arms freeze, watches pictures of children dying in a war and then solemnly gathers up his collection of toy tanks, gun carriages and rifles and shoves them into the icebox -- and is scolded by his mother for the broken milk bottles on the kitchen floor.

The club is proud of the film, which has won prizes locally and in Poland, providing money for a new television and the piano. Its brevity and simplicity are effective, compared with more heavy-handed official productions.

With its makeshift, homemade or retooled equipment, the Youth club is set up to do almost anything. A camera linked up to an elementary computerized timer can film a flower blooming. There is a darkroom with black-and-white developer remade to process color.

To show films, the club relies on its connections with the Soviet film world. Three or four times a month, its members gather to watch films lent by the big studios, old films or films not expected to have broad popular appeal.

But during its quarter century, the Youth club has built up other traditions that reveal its larger social role. In one corridor, the club has displayed pictures of its bachelor members, as a showcase to attract spouses.

And when members marry, the club has a rule: the wedding party takes place in the studio, next to the samovar and the string of baranki.

Nina Ustinova says she most enjoys watching the neighborhood children change under the influence of the club's atmosphere. When they first stop by, she says, they find it hard to open up, to express themselves. But after a year, they are only too eager to do so.