Get to know the people behind your favorite university cinema in our new blog series, “Meet Your IU Cinema Staff.” Using the format of our exclusive filmmaker interviews — all of which can be found on our YouTube channel — we’ve crafted a questionnaire for our staff to help introduce them to you, our audience. For today’s profile, we talked to the one and only Brittany D. Friesner, our incredible associate director.
What is your job at IU Cinema?
I am the associate director for IU Cinema. I’ve also served as acting director (2015–16 academic year) and as interim director (October 2020 to September 2021). My job has changed quite a bit since I came on board in September 2013 as the Cinema’s first associate director. Over the years, I’ve had a hand in marketing, development, programming, events management, and outreach and engagement. While I have been trained on how to run a digital screening, I’ve never had to (thank goodness!), but I am grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had to get to know every facet of how the Cinema operates. These days, my role is primarily focused on managing our programming calendar (including curation of programs), overall production supervision, and leading our outreach and engagement activities, most notably our Creative Collaborations program.
What part of your job do you enjoy the most?
I really love when I get to program a series or event with a little extra something to make it an amazing experience. A few of my favorites from the past are:
- CatVideoFest. Period.
- Our Back to Back to Back to the Future marathon where we not only screened all three films in forward and then backwards order on Back to the Future Day (October 21, 2015), but I’d also found someone who owned a DeLorean and was willing to have it parked outside of the Cinema for most of the day!
- The Groundhog Day marathon we held in February 2016, where we showed the film over and over and over (and over and over) again (11 screenings in total!), starting at 6 am—the time Bill Murray’s alarm goes off in the film—accompanied with Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” as house music for the entire day. There was another cinema in Iowa who replicated our program idea and some students chronicled their experience for the Indiana Daily Student.
- For the 25th anniversary screening of Jurassic Park in 2019, I located a fan of the film who’d decked out their Jeep exactly as the ones in the original film and was willing to park it outside the Cinema before the film, as well as convinced one of my friends who owned an inflatable T-rex costume to walk the aisles of the Cinema as folks found their seats for the film.
Of the IU Cinema events you’ve been a part of, do you have a favorite?
Well, aside from my answers above, my two fondest memories of working for IU Cinema are lovely moments I experienced while hosting filmmakers Penelope Spheeris and John Waters.
Penelope was the first high-profile filmmaker I hosted, and she and I got along like two peas in a pod. We still keep in touch to this day. During one of our one-on-one dinners, I went to the restroom, and when I came back, she asked if I was ready to go, and I said, “Yep, just let me go pay the check,” to which she responded, “It’s already taken care of.” I was floored. Here I was supposed to be taking care of the bill for everything, and she was doing it! She was even game to be part of a short documentary about IU Cinema filmed by the Provost’s office during her visit. To this date, I consider Penelope one of the coolest humans I’ve had the fortune to meet and get to know through my job.
John Waters was, of course, absolutely delightful to host, and every single event during his time with us was the raucous and fun experience I’d hoped we could provide for audiences. However, the sweetest memory I have from his visit was in a quiet moment while setting him up in his dressing room. On my way back to the Cinema to allow him time to prepare, he stopped me and asked if I would take a photo with him! He explained that his staff was so impressed with all of our pre-planning, with every minute detail being considered, that they told him he couldn’t leave Indiana without a photo. It was so sweet! After his visit, my main contact in his office sent a thank-you card reiterating how lovely it was to work with our Cinema staff and expressed a wish that they could “clone us and have the same experience at all of his engagements.” Oh, and I got to be the person who took John Waters on a tour of the Kinsey Institute, which was a dream I didn’t even know I had until that day.
Do you have a film experience that changed your life or direction?
I have two, and they both involve Seattle. While living there from 2000–05, I volunteered for a local alt-weekly arts magazine, TABLET, which put me in direct contact with the Seattle International Film Festival, which now does year-round programming. The festival itself typically lasts for nearly a month and completely takes over the city. Eventually, I became a member of SIFF, and, one day, reading their paper newsletter, I was introduced to some of their programmers. Light bulb moment — holy crap, I can get paid to watch movies and try to get other people to watch them, too?!? That’s the moment my future vision for my career was seeded.
I started volunteering for any film thing I could from that moment on, and in 2009 found myself back in Seattle, working a four-month contract as a seasonal employee for that year’s festival. Also working for SIFF at that time were three women who’d either graduated from IU’s arts administration graduate program or were interning at SIFF as part of their degree studies. I’d long considered graduate school, but couldn’t settle on a program that made the most sense for my goals. But after that moment, I knew that if by the end of my contract I hadn’t found more paying work in film, I’d be going back to school. I graduated with my master’s degree in arts administration in 2011.
So, thank you, SIFF, you helped change my life on more than one occasion!
In terms of films and/or filmmakers, what or who inspires you?
I am most inspired by storytellers brave enough to explore and share the viewpoints and stories that have not been mined time and time again in mainstream film. I feel most alive when discovering new things about the world around me, so I tend to find myself gravitating toward documentaries and films directed by women and Indigenous filmmakers.
What do you hope audiences leave with after an IU Cinema event?
I hope everyone leaving one of our events departs a different person than when they arrived — ideally, because their empathy has been activated and their worldview has shifted, even slightly. After seeing and hearing whatever they experienced in our space, it’s my wish that each person now knows what it’s like to see the world from another perspective — whether it’s one they feel represents them or, especially, if it’s one they’d never considered before — and that they internalize that new perspective and bring more understanding and openness to their lives. I love film, I do, but what I really love is stories, getting to know the world and its people through the moving image. That’s what inspires me to keep doing what I do and to try to bring more empathy to our audiences so they can bring it to the world. It’s the circle of life (in the movies)!
What is the most powerful aspect of film as an art form?
The brevity film can use to convey emotion, and through that the vulnerability it can inspire. I’ve learned so much about the world, but more so about myself, through film. It’s been an incredible teacher in so, so, so many ways in helping me move through the world with more patience, compassion, and joy.
What would be your dream IU Cinema event or series?
Never ask a programmer this! Oh, boy, I have a loooooooooong list of series I’d love to do someday: Singing Cowboys, Sequelibrium (sequels as good or better than originals), You Say ‘Witch’ Like It’s a Bad Thing, Play Like a Girl (sports films about women kicking ass) … truly, I have A LOT of ideas I’ve yet to make a reality. One of those we lost with the pandemic that I was particularly sore about, though, was an all-day dance movie marathon I had planned for fall 2020, timed to coincide with (and support) IU’s Dance Marathon. I’m still committed to putting that one on sometime — we will have Magic Mike on our screen before I die!
What is the importance of having a place like the IU Cinema?
Community. We all have access to nearly any content we would like these days. What’s unique about places like IU Cinema and community-based arthouse cinemas like ours is the personal — the connections made in those spaces, the opportunities spaces like ours offer to our communities to gather, to share, to experience together.
Which of our IU Cinema exclusive filmmaker interviews is your favorite or is one that you’d recommend?
I love and recommend Cheryl Dunye’s Final Draft interview. Her visit and series of programs was particularly meaningful to me as we were able to partner with both campus, the Black Film Center & Archive, as well as community, Bloomington PRIDE, to bring her to Bloomington. And she was thrilled to not only present her work, but to curate a program from the BFC&A and Kinsey Institute archives and to visit both while she was in town. We also had a great time celebrating with our partners after her last event at The Back Door. Great visit, great collaboration, great interview!