IU Cinema celebrates IU Day 2021 by highlighting the transformative experiences of its patrons over the years, including the Volunteer Ambassadors who have helped make IU Cinema one of the best university cinemas in the country. Below is volunteer Kathie Durkel’s essay on the enriching encounters she has had since discovering the Cinema in 2015.
Going to a movie, catching a flick, or attending the cinema, films have long been a part of my life. When I was growing up in northern Indiana, my small town had the Art Theater, location of my first date. The film was 1960’s Toby Tyler or 10 Weeks with a Circus as I recall, several years out of first run. Who needs romance when you have Mr. Stubbs the Chimp? My dad didn’t care for movies so my mom would tag me to go along with her to the big spectacles she liked, although I do seem to remember A Star is Born in there somewhere. One childhood film that made a great impression on me was The Incredible Shrinking Man (“Help me!”). My younger brother needed a pal for The Sound of Music, so I gladly took him. I traveled to Gary or maybe to Chicago to see Lawrence of Arabia in Panavision 70 on a screen stretched so wide I sat in the balcony to take it all in without having to whip my head from side to side. Next to the clothes dryer, my mother had a stack of semi-salacious movie magazines that she got passed on from her hairdresser, I think. I’d sneak them out to see what that Elizabeth Taylor was up to. I remember seeing a list at St. Bridget’s Church, behind a door in the corner, of films condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency. I don’t know where I would have gone to see those films even if I wanted to, but the list did kind of make me curious.
Coming here to IU, I had the chance to view mainstream films at several venues. But it was when the Von Lee Theater was on its last shabby legs that it turned into an international arthouse theater — hello, Werner Herzog films. It took me a while to start breathing after Aguirre, the Wrath of God.
The Ryder Film Series and City Lights films in Ballantine Hall also filled the void for stimulating cinema. Whittenberger Auditorium, occasionally. Ever wonder why it’s called the Video Saloon? Well, it used to show movies, such as the “tragic, dark, anti-war satire” Johnny Got His Gun that so traumatized my best friend. Some things you can’t unsee; at least there was beer.
So, what took me so long to discover the IU Cinema? I had been attending live shows and volunteering for lots of arts organizations in town and on campus for many years. Then I saw a notice in the local paper that IU Cinema needed volunteers. So, four and a half years into its history, in September 2015, I bravely ventured in, never one to ignore a direct appeal for help. My daughter came with me to the training. Would I feel welcome, would I be surrounded by movie snobs, was it just for students? Yes, no, and no.
Two days after my training, I was ushering, welcoming people to The World by Zhangki Jia. Two weeks after my training, I was guarding John Waters as he signed stuff for people after his brilliant lecture “This Filthy World: Filthier & Dirtier.” The Cinema wasn’t just “a place for film,” it was a place for me. As I greeted patrons, I saw a lot of familiar faces and soon started to recognize more as regulars. I saw people come in couples, groups, alone, some ready to comment and discuss after the films, some needing time to process it all. I saw every opinion and film style respected and encouraged; none of my film favorites were judged (this means you, Napoleon Dynamite).
I love going beyond the film itself with a Jorgenson Guest Filmmaker Program or a Q&A. With guest filmmakers in the house, I never know who I’ll be rubbing shoulders with — hello, Mira Nair; nice to meet you, Hal Hartley.
Each viewing becomes a family: in this one place at this one time for this one film, we’re in this together. So, if you’re not already a regular, venture into the virtual IU Cinema — with any luck we can be back soon in person. Patron or volunteer, you’re welcome. It’s a place for you.
Our Usher Corps and Promotional Team members donate their time and work days, nights, and weekends to help IU Cinema create world-class cinematic events. Interested in finding out how you can become an Indiana University Volunteer Ambassador? Please visit the “Become a Volunteer Ambassador” page on our website. We’d love to welcome you to our team.
Kathie Durkel graduated from IU and continues to enjoy all that campus and the community have to offer. That doesn’t stop her from exploring other interesting places and making friends around the world.