Letter: The lights may be out, but the show isn’t over

With funding pulled, Cinema at the Whitney has collapsed. As a former staff member and audience member of CATW, I was unhappy with its demise. Then, adding insinuations to injury, the News reported Friday — without quoting former CATW staff members — that CATW’s disappearance brings a new dawn for students and film-lovers everywhere, especially the Yale Film Society (“Cinephiles lost and found” Oct. 16).

Admittedly, other cuts to the Yale budget have been more newsworthy during this recession. While a film club loses its funding, 60 librarians have lost their jobs. And the lack of protest about CATW’s disappearance confirms a few facts. First, $30,000 a year might have better uses than bringing rare films to Yale. CATW did fail to draw an audience to movies that were seen, perhaps rightly, as too obscure for undergrads here. And CATW never created the film culture on campus it hoped to when it was founded in 2005. I hope that the Yale Film Society will succeed in the ways that CATW failed, especially in fostering a film culture at Yale. But I would like them to consider what sort of “film culture” they want to foster.

On its own, “film culture” is meaningless and used solely to sound good in a mission statement — CATW used it, too. But really, neither CATW nor YFS wants to promote just any “film culture.” If we did, both of us would be immediately obsolete: we already live in a film culture. I’ve been watching Hollywood films for so many years that sometimes I understand my life in terms of their narrative structures. We don’t need to create that film culture on campus because it has already created us.

Instead, CATW and YFS have implicit goals about the sort of film culture they hope to bring to Yale. I can’t speak for YFS (as they shouldn’t have been asked to speak for us), and I can’t speak for all the former members of CATW. But as I see it, many of the films that CATW tried to show were the worthwhile ones that weren’t being shown at Criterion Cinema, on TV, on Netflix or elsewhere. In Yale classrooms we are asked to examine other cultures and to question the assumptions made by our own; I believe that CATW was an extracurricular setting in which to continue that interrogation by showing beautiful films in 35mm. I love many Hollywood movies, and I fell in love with even more at CATW. But what I will miss most about CATW was the chance to fall in love every Friday night with movies from other film cultures as well.

Yale spent $30,000 — or .001 percent of its 2008-2009 operating budget — on Cinema at the Whitney. I can think of great uses for that money, better than bringing free anything to Yale students. But Yale isn’t going to spend money on those better things. If Yale has the money to show rare films for free on our campus, to become a center for this sort of education, open to people from around campus, around New Haven and around New England, why aren’t we demanding it? Why are we spending money and energy to bring a film culture to Yale that exists in every TV room and movie theater — and now computer — across the nation?

Despite how the News has presented us, members of CATW debated about the tension between bringing rare films to campus and bringing Yale undergrads into the audience. In my view, and in the view of the Yale budget, we never managed to balance the two correctly. So, where we failed, I hope that YFS will succeed.

Simon Swartzman

Oct. 18

The writer is a senior in Ezra Stiles College.

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