Though the Cinema at the Whitney is not yet two years old, neither the attendance nor the atmosphere at the gala marking the opening of its fourth season betrayed the organization’s youth.
Students, professors and locals attended the opening event for the Cinema’s fourth semester-long season at the Whitney Humanities Center last Friday night. The opening screening was Jean Renoir’s “Rules of the Game,” which will be followed by double features organized by a coherent theme every Friday night for the rest of the semester. The auditorium reached capacity, and organizers had to turn away over 60 people, causing them to sponsor a second screening tonight.
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Although this turnout was unusually high, the program’s WHC liason Jeremi Szaniawski said the double features on Friday nights rarely draw fewer than 80 students, and attendance has grown considerably over the past three seasons.
“By late spring of last year we had over a hundred people come, even for small and little-known films,” Szaniawski said in an e-mail. “Now, a full house (over 240 people) is not an extraordinary event anymore.”
Szaniawski co-founded the group in 2005 in order to foster an appreciation and discussion of film in the Yale community. Twenty-five undergraduates and graduate students now work to bring a diversity of films to campus, said Michael Cramer, the Cinema’s graduate chair.
Humanities professor Maria Rosa Menocal said the Cinema appeals to a wide cross-section of the Yale community by choosing an array of 35mm prints. Staying true to its eclecticism this season, the Cinema plans to show a variety of films on themes ranging from “Avant-Garde Arcadias in 16MM” to “French Gambling Masterpieces.” Alongside mainstream films such as “The Wizard of Oz,” the Cinema plans to show obscure movies from Hungary and the Soviet Union.
“We hope that our strong audience support will also help us to pursue more adventurous programming,” Cramer said. “Along with a mix of classic and popular films, we want to present difficult-to-see films that would not normally be accessible to the Yale community.”
Although the Cinema does show “difficult” films that are a far cry from the Hollywood blockbuster, Undergraduate Chair David Pratt-Robson said it does not seek to create an exclusive venue for film aficionados, but rather aims to broaden community members’ film horizons.
The breadth of the Cinema at the Whitney community was represented at the opening gala as audience members young and old, spiky-haired and woolen-sweatered, filtered in and out of the reception, tasting foreign cheese and clutching plastic cups of wine. By 7:30 the room had filled with guests, and by 7:35 there were only celery sticks left on the table. Everyone in the room seemed to encounter a familiar face, and clusters of audience members were engaged in animated conversation. In many ways it was less like a gala than a meeting of a club where everyone knew the secret handshake. But the secret handshake isn’t very secret — everyone seemed eager to spread the gospel of film.
“Some of the films we show aren’t even available on DVD, but I don’t want to imply that we’re aiming only to show esoteric art films that nobody’s ever heard of and that we think are good for the community,” Pratt-Robson said. “We’re aiming to show great films as they were meant to be seen and to make them accessible to as much of the Yale community and general public as might be interested.”