At the end of this month, IU Cinema will be saying goodbye to our founding director, Jon Vickers. His presence and leadership will be sorely missed, but we will forever be grateful for everything he has done to make IU Cinema the place for film. The following is a tribute written by regular blog contributor Jesse Pasternack.
I’ve known Jon Vickers since my first tour of IU’s campus. I had moderated filmmaker panels at the Traverse City Film Festival and, eager to do the same thing at the IU Cinema (an institution that I wrote about on the essay portion of my college application), sent him an email containing footage from my moderating.
I was standing with my parents by the Hoagy Carmichael statue when I suddenly heard a voice: “Excuse me, but I think I recognize your son.” It was Jon. That was the week that he was overseeing the visits of Meryl Streep and Roger Corman to campus. He had just said goodbye to Streep and had 5-10 minutes of free time before he had to drive to the airport to pick up Corman. Instead of relaxing in his office, he used all of that free time to give my parents and me a tour of the Cinema. Jon also invited me to attend a private master class that the legendary Corman gave to IU students. By the end of that visit, I had a large bag of IU Cinema swag from Jon and Associate Director Brittany Friesner and a burning desire to be involved with the Cinema in any way that I could.
I became a volunteer usher during my first semester at IU and remained one until I graduated. From the first semester, I loved the sense of community that Jon and the incredible staff fostered. That sense of fellowship helped me make some of my best friends at the Cinema, one of whom I met during that first campus tour. I set the record for most ushering shifts during my freshman year not just because it meant I would get a seat in the Cinema with my name on it, but because it meant that I was able to spend more time at my favorite place on campus.
As a part of the IU Cinema family, I eventually got to do other things than usher. I introduced screenings of films such as Z and Dragon Inn. When this blog launched, I became the only undergraduate contributor. I even conducted a Q&A with Eric Zala from the documentary Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made. Jon’s invitations and encouragement to do these things meant the world to me and gave me experience that remains invaluable.
Through it all, Jon remained kind and encouraging. I always felt like I could stop by his office and talk to him about an upcoming film or series. One of my favorite things that I did during my sophomore year was have lunch with him. His mixture of kindness, knowledge of his field, and stories from his years running incredible movie theaters made every conversation with him a delight.
Some of my best experiences at IU happened because of Jon. Thanks to him I was able to have lunch with legendary filmmaker John Boorman; see rare movies such as The Arch and Chimes at Midnight the way they were intended to be seen; and work as a researcher on the Netflix documentary They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead directed by Morgan Neville. That documentary is about Orson Welles and his efforts to finish The Other Side of the Wind (a film I had been obsessed with since I was 14 years old). It was my first job in the film industry, and the experience of seeing my credit onscreen at the New York Film Festival was an incredibly thrilling experience that I owe entirely to Jon.
As Founding Director of the IU Cinema, Jon has helped create a wonderful place for IU students, faculty members, and the Bloomington community to see great movies and programs in an environment aptly described by visiting filmmaker Peter Weir in the following way: “If the ancient Greeks had invented cinema, they’d have a temple like this.” It is an excellent legacy, and one for which so many people — myself included — are grateful.
Join IU Cinema on September 29 for an outdoor screening of Cinema Paradiso at Memorial Stadium as we say farewell to Jon. For full details, including ticketing and parking, visit our website.
Jesse Pasternack is a graduate of Indiana University. During his time at IU, Jesse was the co-president of the Indiana Student Cinema Guild. He also wrote about film, television, and pop culture for the Indiana Daily Student. Jesse has been a moderator at Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival and is a friend of the Doug Loves Movies podcast. An aspiring professional writer-director, his own film work has appeared at Campus Movie Fest and the Anthology Film Archives in New York City.