Occidental College Cinematheque Invites Students to Reinvent Cinematic Viewings


Author: Laura Bertocci

The word “cinematheque” is French for “film library,” and historically, in Paris, provided a way for appreciators to watch older films no longer printed on 35mm film. Professor Brody Fox commented on the function of libraries as more than just a storage place: “[They’re] also to promote the revisiting, rewatching and rethinking of certain media texts, and also to produce opportunities for people to come together from different perspectives to watch something and converse about it.”

Oxy Cinematheque is not your average movie night. Sure, you can kick back with your friends and a bucket of popcorn, but be prepared to experience some truly thoughtful and intelligent insight into the movie you are about to watch. Oxy Cinematheque is an occasion for senior film majors who have selected Critical Theory or Screenwriting (as opposed to Production) as the focus of their Comprehensive Project to exhibit their work. Sonia Lessuck (senior) was the first participant of the program on Monday. She chose “The Family Stone” to elucidate the topic of her Senior Comprehensive Project.

Each student has a night to show a film connected with their topic and give a 10-minute introduction to the film, explaining how it is connected to their Comps and what critical ideas they are studying within their Comps. “It’s an opportunity to watch texts together that have some cultural importance, and have someone explain to you why it’s important,” Professor Katie Mills, who is spearheading the program, said. The screenings will be happening at 7 p.m. on Mondays through the end of the semester.

For the Critical Theory and Screenwriting seniors, Cinematheque is an opportunity to share their passion for what they are studying with the Oxy community. “I think it really fits the mission of the school that by senior year you should be able to tell other people why you’re interested in something, and that becomes kind of infectious,” Mills said.

The film department has three tracks for the major: Production, Critical Theory and Screenwriting. Production students present the films they create for their Comps during a widely anticipated night in Thorne at the end of the year. Unfortunately, the other tracks have never had a similar opportunity until now. During their 10-minute introductions, the students will provide a multimedia examination of their topic, which ranges from technicolor in the Alfred Hitchcock film “Rear Window,” to nostalgia in the AMC series “Mad Men,” to narratives in the “Thriller” and “Telephone” music videos. “It’s just kind of a way to let the Oxy community into the film department and let them see what it’s all about,” Education Action Facilitator for the film department Sarah Frantz (senior) said.

The department is especially pleased to welcome Director Charles Burnett, who is scheduled to speak the second week of Cinematheque (7 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 20 in Johnson 200). “[He] is kind of a big deal,” Frantz said. Burnett directed the documentary “Killer of Sheep” when he was a UCLA graduate student. “Pretty much every film major has seen it a thousand times,” Frantz said. Burnett has received the famous MacArthur Genius award and is critically acclaimed for his contemplative works. He agreed to speak about his independent work outside of the Hollywood Industry, as well as show clips from his newest documentary “Namibia: The Struggle for Liberation.” All are welcome to attend and participate in a question and answer session with the director.

Mills aims to pull in an audience beyond the film department. “I want to foster the love of film, television and media on campus and create a place where people can see things that maybe they wouldn’t be downloading on Netflix instantly, and begin to foster a dialogue on campus not just with film majors or students who happen to be taking a core requirement that’s in the film department.”

The experience of watching a film projected on a large screen in a darkened theater is how films were intended to be watched. Most importantly, they were meant to be seen in the company of many people of different backgrounds and perspectives. This event has the potential to unite our campus and create connections and dialogue between people who can contribute their own unique insights. So go ahead and gather your friends, bring an oversized soda, sugary snacks and sit back and relax for Oxy Cinematheque.

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