Guest post by Brittany D. Friesner, Interim Director of IU Cinema.
If you asked me one year ago how we might be commemorating the 10th anniversary of our first public screening, my answer, of course, would have included a much different vision than what we have planned this semester.
However, the essential vision of the celebration would have remained the same—an occasion that would bring together our entire team to reflect on and celebrate an extraordinary first decade of uniquely engaging, educational, and entertaining cinematic experiences which have transformed our campus and our community—one we absolutely could not have achieved, quite literally, without you.
Everything we have accomplished has been a team effort, and we consider every single person who has engaged in our program and in our organization over the last decade as critical to what Indiana University Cinema has become—a place for film like no other. Thank you for helping us build it.
Since our establishment, IU Cinema has, at its core, been defined by collaboration and inclusion. Our founding director Jon Vickers envisioned a university cinema unparalleled in its commitment to partnership, the key element to ensuring our program would be the most academically relevant, engaged, and representative of any university cinema.
Collaboration and inclusion are guiding principles every single IU Cinema team member holds near and dear—from our external programming and engagement initiatives to our internal behind-the-scenes operations.
Knowing our 10th anniversary was approaching, early in 2019, I proposed to Jon the idea for a book looking back at our first decade, illuminating the culmination of a decade of what our collaborations had made possible. We spent much of 2020 doing this reflection (and much writing and even more editing), and we are thrilled for the upcoming release of this volume of reflections, Indiana University Cinema: The New Model, which is expected to be published this fall through IU Press.
Below, you will find an excerpt from the book, a sneak peek at our extraordinary journey and all who contributed to building Indiana University Cinema into what it is today.
At this time, when we are all separated and unable to come together in our beloved Cinema, we know it is more important than ever to provide a space for community. While, at the moment, our place for film may be shuttered in physicality, it will never be shuttered in spirit.
I hope you will join us this week and throughout this 10th anniversary year in celebrating all we have created together.
Chapter 1: Setting the Stage
It is a warm October night, and hundreds of people flow into the Teatro Verdi from the streets of Pordenone, Italy—a small city dating back to the Middle Ages, situated about 80 kilometers north of Venice. People make their way to their seats and get comfortable for the European premiere of the 1916 western The Return of Draw Egan. The film stars William S. Hart, who also directed the film and is one of Hollywood’s top leading men. Coincidentally, the film was made one year after students from a university in the Midwest began presenting this new artform—film—in their student union, but we’ll get to that later.
The audience settles into their seats, the orchestra adjusts and applies final tuning to their instruments to accompany the silent film, the auditorium begins to dim, and the magic of light flickers and bursts onto the screen with: TRI STONE PICTURES INC. presents WILLIAM S. HART in THE RETURN OF DRAW EGAN
The rising rumble of percussion leads to strings, woodwinds, and the rhythm of an opening theme materializes, with the sensation of it jumping off the screen. After about an hour, the picture ends with a roar of applause, which leads to a standing ovation. This was a common reaction in 1916 to films presented in moderate-size cities around the world with live orchestra. The silent movies were never silent, and these early days of cinema elicited strong audience reactions.
But this is not 1916–it’s October 11, 2019, and the film score played by the orchestra was commissioned by Indiana University (IU) Cinema and composed by Indiana University Jacobs School of Music (JSoM) alumnus Ari Barack Fisher. Fisher was present for this presentation as a guest of the renowned Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, which selected the film, along with Fisher’s music, to be showcased in its 2019 festival. The world premiere of this new, original score was presented in IU Cinema three years earlier—100 years following the release of the film.
The opening of a state-of-the-art movie theatre (which we will refer to as cinema throughout this book) does not just happen overnight on a large, state university campus. These types of facilities are generally built into masterplans and discussed for decades before they come to fruition. In the case of IU Cinema, it was a combination of building upon IU traditions and the will of a dynamic new leader who launched a bold, new, ambitious venture to support and celebrate film, the seventh art. This chapter pays tribute to the leadership and contributions of countless individuals who have helped make possible the opening and extraordinary growth of IU Cinema in its first decade.
IN THE BEGINNING
The first moving picture show on the IU Bloomington campus was screened on 35mm on December 2, 1914, in the auditorium of the Student Building, initiating a Union movies program. In order to present films in the Student Building, a hole was cut in the wall of the building’s auditorium, and the newly created projector booth was “lined inside and outside with asbestos so as to make it absolutely fireproof,” as the Indiana Daily Student (IDS) reported. The Simplex 35mm projector was installed the day prior, and on that night, four short films—The Mill of Life, The Telltale Knife, Wally Van, and Thanks for the Lobster—screened for a standing-room-only audience of “first-nighters.” There was music to accompany the films throughout the evening.
The IDS wrote, “Motion picture producers have shown an exceptional interest in the Indiana Union movies.” By the spring of 1915, movies were screened every week on Wednesdays and Fridays, making this program at Indiana University the first in the U.S. on a college campus. Union Board Films remains the oldest student-operated film program in the United States.
This is the first inspiration for IU Cinema. Film screenings and movies have been part of student life here at the University for more than half of its life. Based on this alone, it would not seem too far of a stretch to build a facility dedicated to the artform nearly 100 years later.
Join us on January 13 for a virtual conversation and film screening to celebrate IU Cinema’s 10th anniversary. There will be some special surprises for those tuning in for this virtual event—our lips are sealed beyond that, but we hope you’ll tune in and look back with us at a remarkable first decade as your place for film.
You can pre-order Indiana University Cinema: The New Model today before its September release.
Brittany D. Friesner is the founding associate director and current interim director of IU Cinema. She has worked in programming, marketing, and operations for the Sundance Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, and Seattle International Film Festival and served on festival juries for the Heartland International Film Festival and the Indy Film Fest. Prior to joining the IU Cinema, Brittany was the assistant director of development for the Jacobs School of Music. She has also served as assistant editor & advertising manager for the IU Alumni Magazine, program manager for Phi Delta Kappa International, and special events manager for the Pacific Science Center. She began her career at the Arts Council of Indianapolis.