IU Cinema celebrates IU Day 2018 by shining a spotlight on the visiting filmmakers and Indiana University students who have helped make IU Cinema one of the best university cinemas in the country. Below is senior Noni Ford’s essay on what IU Cinema has meant to her college experience.
It happens every so often when I usher, someone comes out of the doors of the IU Cinema after watching a feature and they look directly at me and say “thank you” so sincerely that you’d think I was involved with the film, or that I organized the screening, or even that I was the director of the film they just saw. I’ve often seen ushers who come for their first shift get a “thank you” and they always seem so surprised, unsure of how to respond or how to make sense of the appreciation they’re on the receiving end of. I remember when I was in their position, unsure of how one film could inspire so much passion in a patron.
Now, though, I completely understand why so many of the patrons feel this way – it’s because of what IU Cinema allows them to do. It allows them to escape into a fantasy, or a different reality, and to dream along with everyone in the room that for this amount of time the world that we know is exactly like the one they see in front of them. I’ve seen people moved to tears before in the Cinema, and many induced into uncontrollable bouts of laughter all of because of this fantasy they are seeing, that the Cinema has given them a venue for. So when people say “thank you” I understand that they aren’t just thanking me for the film, or thanking me personally for volunteering with the Cinema, they are thanking the Cinema for existing and for giving them an escape. They are directing this to me because it’s the quickest way to express how they feel so that somebody in the building knows how much this place means to them and so many more. Before, I used to just nod and wish them a good night; now I say “thank you” back.
When I began attending IU as a student I remember telling so many people about my interest in film, and everyone pointing me towards IU Cinema and asking if I’d visited. They didn’t know then, but by that point I’d already been ushering for almost half a year. But it was great to hear so many people on campus talk about the Cinema to me, trying to describe why it was exceptional and why I needed to go there, even if only for a visit or one screening. Even four years ago people knew that the Cinema was special, and I love walking around campus and still hearing people talk about it in the same way. I love seeing freshmen or visiting students come by and look around the space, always asking if they’re in the right place before getting tickets and then walking into the theatre, hesitant but also ready to be swept away into a story. One of my biggest joys these last few years is talking to younger students who come up to me after a screening and ask if they can volunteer and how they can be a part of this all, and then seeing them a few weeks later as an usher at their very first shift. Once strangers or sometimes acquaintances before, the Cinema and a combined love of film ties all of us ushers and volunteers together.
The Cinema has connected me to so many different people in ways I’m only realizing now, and its own unique mixture of characters is what makes it so exceptional. It’s through the Cinema that I met Jesse whom I’m almost certain I convinced to come to IU, advice he then followed leading him to become my first IU friend once I arrived on campus. It’s here where I first saw Kinza and Elijah after getting back from England, two people that were virtual strangers to me a few months ago and have now become friends and confidantes. I’ve talked punk music with Seth; sung along to The Sound of Music with Jessica and her sister; published my first online article about film with Barbara O’Leary; discussed new female-directed films coming to the Cinema with Brittany; looked at the process of projecting film with Barbara Grassia and Zeynep; and seen Jon describe to an audience why each film screened within this cinema, our cinema, is so special and deserves to be seen. When I went to Chicago for an alumni mixer one of the first people that I saw was Andy, one of the first House Managers I’d ever worked with, and after getting out our regular pleasantries he asked how the Cinema was. Like it was a person he hadn’t seen in a while, but someone he still felt connected to in a way that inspired him to inquire about them years after he’d last seen them. He didn’t have to elaborate more on what exactly he meant when he asked that question, I already knew exactly what he was saying.
I’ve had hundreds of experiences at the IU Cinema over the last five years, some that I’ve talked about, some that I’ve written about, and some that I’ve kept to myself as personal memories I’ll always circle back to when I think of this space. It’s hard to tie everything the Cinema is to me in a word or a feeling, but the one that comes closest to encapsulating all of my experiences is gratitude. Gratitude at both being able to watch the Cinema change and grow along with me and at being able to have been a part of it along with every person that has been tied to it in various ways in the past seven years.
At some point I had a donor and frequent patron ask me what my favorite film experience at the Cinema was. It was a tricky question to answer for so many reasons, and it gave me the opportunity to look back at all of my history with the Cinema. Watching the cultural touchstones of my generation fly by in Boyhood; going to one of my first shifts and seeing a film so drenched in mood and tone its impact on me was as eternal as the lives of its characters in Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive; the one-night-only premiere of One More Time with Feeling accompanied with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ most emotionally packed album, Skeleton Tree; and seeing my second Jacques Demy film and falling in love completely with his work and the world of Les Demoiselles de Rochefort – all of these have been important to me, and there are still so many more I remember with equal emotional ties connected to them.
Still, I have to go back to the very first film I saw at the Cinema when I was all of fourteen, a freshman in high school who still wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to go in when it came to my career. That film was Hitchcock’s The Birds and I remember that screening like it was yesterday, although some days it feel like it’s been ages ago that I was that age watching that film. Sometimes certain films come to you at a specific time in your life for a reason; I believe that to be the case with The Birds. Never before had I so clearly seen the distinction between movies and film, or artistry and vision. I came out of the film in a daze, and once I came to I knew that all I wanted to do, needed to do, was try to replicate that feeling for as many people as possible. A mission I’ll continue to chase and hopefully fulfill as I leave IU and the Cinema behind in the next two months. College has certainly been a whirlwind, and I’ll probably forget so many things about my experiences here as time marches on, but I won’t forget the Cinema. You never forget your beginnings.
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Noni Ford is a senior in the Media School with a concentration in Cinema and Media Arts and a specialization in Art, Aesthetics, and Experimental Film. She’s been a volunteer since 2014 and an audience member since the Cinema first opened its doors.