Struggling Whitney updates spring features

The Cinema at the Whitney’s revamped spring semester lineup is already set, but the future of the film organization remains unclear.

In an e-mail to members of Cinema at the Whitney, Professor Maria Menocal, director of the Whitney Humanities Center and a chief provider of funding for the Cinema, expressed concern about low membership numbers and lack of broad interest. Though this semester’s lineup will still maintain the society’s two-films-a-week precedent, Menocal also wrote that she is in favor of more events that will stimulate film culture on campus.

“Membership numbers are too small, too much of a burden is put on Whitney and Film Studies Center staff, there continues to be a strong sense in many quarters that the Cinema has too narrow a focus and discourages broader interest and participation,” Menocal wrote in the e-mail to the group’s members.

But Menocal also expressed that the situation can be improved by making more structural changes to the program, such as collaborations with other academic departments and student groups in order to foster wider interest on campus.

“I very much support the idea of after-film discussions, more sneak previews, screening strong new independent films and silent films with live music,” she wrote.

Four students interviewed said such changes would greatly increase film awareness and prompt them to actively participate in the organization. Jacob Albert ’11 said he has an avid interest in film on campus, but is discouraged by the lack of balance in the films shown by Cinema at the Whitney.

“A lot of the movies are really great, but they have several retrospectives in which the movies are too pointed and narrow,” Albert said. “It’s cool that they show movies that nobody screens anywhere else, but they don’t strike enough of a balance between those films and more recent ones.”

The group has begun to acknowledge how to alter their program and expand across a broader group of potential filmgoers on campus.

“We’ve been generally happy with attendance at our screenings, but we’re trying to figure out ways to reach out to the undergraduate community and encourage more students to participate in the selection process, in programming each semester’s calendar,” Miranda Popkey ’09, the current undergraduate chair of Cinema at the Whitney, wrote in an e-mail to the News. “Outreach may include different forms of publicity, and we may be experimenting with different types of events—obviously, still film-based or themed—to attract undergraduates who haven’t, for whatever reason, gotten involved, to join up.”

Last month, Cinema’s graduate chair, Richard Suchenski GRD ’11, formally stepped down after completing the spring semester’s program. Suchenski stressed that Cinema will continue to adhere to its original philosophy of showing excellent films that are broad in their scope.

“This semester, we are continuing our commitment to showing great films in good 35-mm prints with as much breadth — in terms of nation, period, and tone — as possible,” Suchenski wrote in an e-mail to the News. “We once again have films from several different countries and filmmaking traditions, from all periods of film history, along with a number of special programs like the two-day mini-retrospectives of Stanley Kubrick and David Lean.”

Despite the film society’s hazy future, the spring semester will kick-off with Thomas Anderson’s “Punch Drunk Love” and Jean Luc-Godard’s “A Woman is a Woman.”

“We decided to start with the double-bill of ‘Punch-Drunk Love’ and ‘A Woman is a Woman’ because it exemplifies the range of films we will be showing over the rest of the semester’s program, which features a large number of first-rate American films alongside works by major directors from other countries,” Suchenski said.

For now, Suchenski is happy that the program will be able to continue its commitment to showing 35-mm films on a regular basis. “Punch Drunk Love” and “A Woman is a Woman” will be screened on Jan. 23 at 7:30 p.m.

Comments

  • Jon K. ' 78 (BK)

    A "blast from the past" :

    In 1978, there were several film societies, including Berkeley College Film Society, which was once described as follows :

    "Because someone has to show movies that no one wants to see."

    Jon K. ' 78 (BK)