Join Indiana University Cinema in honoring our amazing Volunteer Ambassadors for National Volunteer Week, April 19-25! Our Usher Corps and Promotional Street Team members donate their time and work days, nights, and weekends to help IU Cinema create world-class cinematic events. So during National Volunteer Week, we want to take this opportunity to say to all our volunteers… THANK YOU!
Here is just one story from a volunteer about their experience at IU Cinema…
My first film at the IU Cinema wasn’t at the cinema proper. As an incoming freshman, I had gathered a couple of new friends and we stretched out on the lawn of the Hamilton-Lugar building to watch Spirited Away on an inflatable screen. Cinema volunteers gave out mystery posters turned inside out—mine, for The Patience Stone (a film I still have not been able to watch, but I’ll get to it someday!), came with me through several apartments and still hangs in my bedroom as a reminder of that first week, when I had my whole college career ahead of me and I could do anything.
The first sold-out screening I attended was The Handmaiden. Film had been a very solitary thing for me: I mostly watched movies in my home, or with a friend at the theater. But seeing the Cinema packed with people—some of whom would become my closest friends in the following years—opened me up to a community that I had never had before. After that year, I signed up to be a volunteer usher.
Over those three years, I ushered dozens of films. Most of the films I saw I wouldn’t be able to access anywhere else, and I always felt lucky that I could experience them first at the cinema. I got to screen both foreign prestige films like this season’s Parasite and Portrait of a Lady on Fire, but also films that were more experimental, like the recently restored Liquid Sky. But not all the films I saw were International Arthouse titles. I always loved ushering Midnight Movies—which became the Not-Quite Midnights for the sake of our sleep schedules—because of how ready the audience was to share an experience with the rest of the theater. Those screenings were always communal in a way others could be more reserved and individual. The Cinema might not encourage audience members to throw props at the screen, but those late-night films were always celebratory, a palate cleanser between the more serious screenings.
I saw people from all over Bloomington come to films. I’ve seen the regular couples, the film students, people bringing their whole families, and everyone else popping in for a quick movie on the weekend. I most liked to see people coming in by themselves, because that was so often my position too. If I couldn’t drag a friend along with me to a film, I would go anyways and sit on the edges of the Cinema until the house lights went down. Whenever I saw someone come in on their own, I knew it was for the love of film. And there is no better place in town to see a film.
Watching a movie at the Cinema is different from anywhere else. At its best, the Cinema brings you out of your body, even in a packed house. I have never had a moment anywhere else where I was so brought into the story that I was surprised to remember I was still a person, even in a packed house. Those kinds of moments remind us why we need independent cinemas. The Cinema is transformative. I’ve seen a lot of good movies at chain theaters, but I’ve never had the kind of pure experience that IU Cinema offers. It leaves no doubt that everyone involved truly loves film.
I started taking film classes a semester after I started ushering. I had considered it as a major, but decided that it was too risky of a career path and opted for a safer major instead. When I recognized how unhappy I was, I decided to work on what I was passionate about. I couldn’t continue to watch incredible films and not try to make my own. Not only did the Cinema screen films that I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise, it connected me with students who would be my future classmates and friends. During my time as a student, I got to attend lectures and meet emerging filmmakers who challenged my views of what cinema could be. That the Cinema makes industry figures available to Bloomington for free would be unimaginable elsewhere. Programming highlights not just the art itself, but its creation. It is a place dedicated to the entirety of the medium.
I wish I could have closed out my senior year with a few more screenings. I’m back to watching movies alone at home, without people to share them with. It’s hard to say what the theater industry is going to look like after the coronavirus crisis is over and what sort of places will be deemed important. Small cinemas may well rank low on the list. But our Cinema is adapting to strange times—even now, you can watch films through online broadcasts. Even though we can’t physically be in the building, the Cinema staff is still working to bring film to everyone. And when this is all over, I’ll be back, along with all the others who love this place. Community cinema is more important now than it ever has been. The IU Cinema is based on a love of film and a love of Bloomington. I know no matter where I end up I will always remember that love.
Chris Mura has worked as a member of the IU Cinema Usher Corps since Fall 2017. By volunteering at IU Cinema, you will see some of the finest works of cinematic art for free. You will meet film legends. You will gain experience in cinema operations. And you will join a group of people who enjoy watching and discussing film as much as you do. Anyone can be an IU Cinema Volunteer Ambassador. Visit our website for more information on applying to be an IU Cinema volunteer.
Chris Mura is a senior studying journalism and cinema production. This is Chris’s sixth semester as an IU Cinema volunteer.