Gavin Guerrette

Some say that life at Yale is like a movie. Now more than ever, they’re right. While the Yale Film Society turned off screens during the COVID-19 pandemic, the University made big investments into film, with the new Humanities Quadrangle (HQ) including two 35mm screening rooms and an entire floor of the Sterling Stacks renovated to make space for the Yale Film Archive. As Yale bounces back post-pandemic, so has film at Yale.

At the heart of Yale’s film culture are movie screenings, with three main organizations programming films: Films at the Whitney, Yale Film Archive, and Yale Film Society. Expanded collaboration between the groups has inspired new projects.

Carlos Valladares GAS ’25 was in awe of Michael Roemer’s 1984 Vengeance Is Mine — a film that received little mainstream attention until it was screened at Film Forum, New York City’s leading independent movie house, this past summer. As co-programmer for the Films at the Whitney series, Valladares was eager to screen the picture at Yale. Brian Meacham, the Yale Film Archive’s Archivist, enthusiastically shared Valladares’ vision. Utilizing the resources and strengths of both the Yale Film Archive and the Films at the Whitney, Yale hosted Roemer and lead actress Brooke Adams for a screening and talkback. The Yale Film Society, a student organization, promoted the event, inspiring a large student turnout. “Their affection and admiration were almost tangible,” reflects Sam Gallen ’23, leader of the Yale Film Society.

The Films at the Whitney series started in 2009 to further the Whitney Humanities Center’s goals of supporting the scholarship, research, and teaching of humanities — and in this case, film — at Yale. Along with the rest of the Whitney, the film series was just recently moved from 53 Wall Street to HQ.

For Dr. Diane Berrett Brown, Whitney’s Associate Director, the Films at the Whitney series is all about developing community. Every screening is free of charge, unique among Yale’s peer institutions.

Collaboration is fundamental to the Films at Whitney’s programming. This semester, the Whitney ran two main series: Nigerian Cinema and SISTER, SISTER. To Valladares, who led SISTER, SISTER, the theme of sisterhood was both compelling and flexible, fitting with his goal to show “as many diverse and interesting films as possible.” With films ranging from Marie Antoinette to My Neighbor Totoro, the curation of Valladares and undergraduate co-programmer Joji Baratelli ’24 aims to both appeal to students and exhibit “obscure masterpieces” that anyone in New Haven can appreciate.

The Nigerian Cinema series found inspiration in a Yale University Art Gallery (YUAG) exhibit: Bámigbóyè: A Master Sculptor of the Yorùbá Tradition. Aiming for increased collaboration between the Whitney and the YUAG, Berrett Brown wanted to use Films at the Whitney to highlight Nigerian Cinema and the rich Nollywood tradition. “One of the goals was to really open a dialogue about Nigerian cinema and to introduce people to it, because so many people don’t even know about Nollywood,” describes Associate Communications Director Megan O’Donnell. Masters student Sei-kashe M’pfunya Jackson ’23 led the curation of the program, creating a list of films to complement the Bámigbóyè exhibition. Along with Allegra Ayida, Ph.D student and curatorial intern for African Art at YUAG, M’pfunya gave tours of the exhibition before screenings — a large group of artists, curators, and guests would then walk up York Street together from the art gallery to HQ.

The Yale Film Archive (formerly the Yale Film Studies Center) is also doing its part to reinvigorate campus film culture. The newly renovated seventh floor of Sterling hosts an impressive collection of films, videos, and screenplays offices for Meacham and his co-workers, film preservation work rooms, and a small screening room. The Archive is open to all students, who can check out films and even request to screen a film in the Archive’s cinema. Along with the new home came a new name, with the title “film archive” emphasizing the extent of Yale’s collection and preservation work. “What a film archive does, in brief, is to collect, preserve, and provide access to moving image materials,” says Meacham. After conservation and preservation comes what Meacham regards as perhaps the most important step: getting the film seen. “It’s all well and good to preserve these things, but if all you’re doing is putting them back on the shelf, then you start to question why exactly you’ve done this.”

The Archive hosts the Treasures from the Yale Film Archive series in HQ’s cinema to showcase its collection—titles like Rebel Without a Cause and Grand Illusion. “There is a certain power to seeing a film in a communal setting, in the dark, on a big screen with a better sound system,” Meacham describes. “And for us, I would go one step further and say it’s also really important that we see these films that were made and shot and distributed and viewed on film, on film.”

While Meacham thinks film at Yale has made major strides in the past few years, he notes there is still progress left to be made to give Yale, “that flourishing, unified film culture that a place like this really deserves.”  Achieving this goal requires more centralization, cohesion, and funding. Still, he emphasizes how much film at Yale has grown: “I think we’re closer than we’ve ever been before.”

While the Films at the Whitney and Yale Film Archive are staff-run, the Yale Film Society is student-led. Like Meacham, the Society’s leader Sam Gallen felt Yale’s film culture had little cohesion — particularly for undergraduate filmgoing. As an underclassman, Gallen attended screenings at the Yale Film Society, but after the pandemic hit, the group went silent. Gallen was determined to revive the Society: “I could see so many passionate film students, and I figured: wouldn’t it be great if everyone could come together and have a common outlet for their love of movies?”

The Society’s board is completely open to join: “I wanted to make sure this wasn’t an exclusive space — the people who come are the people who join the group, and anyone can be involved.”

Gallen’s greatest hope is for the Society to connect Yale’s various film groups and communities. “There are so many incredible [film] organizations on campus…[but] there’s little to no campus-wide awareness.” To get the word out, the Yale Film Society started a central calendar for all film screenings at Yale, a weekly newsletter about upcoming showings, and a promotional Instagram, @yalefilm. “The Yale Film Society wants to be the glue for film going and film institutions at Yale,” says Gallen.

Meacham — who has collaborated with the Yale Film Society in the past — adds, “I’m really excited for their renaissance, because I think having students put on film screenings for their fellow students has a certain energy that we can’t even capture.”

This fall, through the combined efforts of Films at the Whitney, the Yale Film Archive, and the Yale Film Society, 25 screenings have taken place on Yale’s campus. Cinema at Yale — collaboratively created and communally shared — should not be missed by anyone in New Haven.

“Seeing movies with friends in a setting like this is the most amazing thing,” Baratelli shares. “It’s really exciting that they become events — rather than content.”

 

Half a Yellow Sun (2014)

Series: Nigerian Cinema

A gorgeous Nollywood film, Half a Yellow Sun tells of two sisters navigating love, loss, class, and political turmoil through the Nigerian Civil War. The film’s star-studded cast features Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anika Noni Rose, John Boyega, and Thandiwe Newton. The film’s visuals are stunning, with vivid colors, captivating cinematography, and expressive lighting. Though the narrative at times leans on melodramatic tropes, the second act comes together to tell a beautiful tale of sisterhood. Half a Yellow Sun is a popular Nollywood film — a must-see for fans of the genre, and a compelling introduction for newcomers.

 

Only Yesterday (1991)

Series: SISTER, SISTER

A lesser known work of the beloved Japanese Studio Ghibli, Only Yesterday is a heartwarming film of a young woman, Taeko, finding her place in the world. The film is stylistically gorgeous, with shots of Tokyo and the Japanese countryside alike mirroring impressionist paintings. Director Isao Takahata truly slows down each moment, allowing the viewer to relish in the awkwardness of first love, the angst of sisterhood, and the beauty of nature. For a Western viewer, the film’s pace can feel jarring relative to their film norms. Nonetheless, it is an incredibly charming film, capturing the bittersweet beauty of coming-of-age.

Correction, Dec. 22: A previous version of this article misspelled the names of Adams, Valladares and O’Donnell. The article has been updated. 

ABBY ASMUTH