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Attention film nerds and popcorn lovers: WU Cinema is here for you

| Contributing Writer

Tucked away by Brookings near the East end of campus, Brown Hall can feel out of the way. It’s unassuming over there, seemingly in its own little corner. You’d be forgiven for not imagining that the building houses a full-fledged movie theater. If you haven’t taken a film class, there is a solid chance that you would never have had a reason to go inside.  

This year, things are a little different. Brown Hall’s theater still houses screenings for classes and even holds lectures for film majors. But now, every other Thursday, a group called WU Cinema hosts the greatest show on campus that you may never have heard of. WU Cinema is a collaboration between the film department and a handful of students who carefully pick a film that they believe the community will enjoy. This allows them to take the lead and create a moviegoing experience that is truly by and for Washington University.

WU Cinema kicked off the start of the school year with a showing of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated classic Spirited Away. The group has continued to program interesting titles, following up their debut with The Big Lebowski, a showing of Seven this past Thursday, and The Godfather coming up on October 14th. But the full range of the experience WU Cinema provides isn’t just limited to the titles: what they look to guarantee is a unique moviegoing experience. 

“We really wanted to encourage a cinema experience on campus and cultivate that,” said Jack Mayer, a senior who volunteers for WU Cinema. It’s clear that this is, by design, an experience that goes far beyond the films shown or even just the ability to watch these films with a crowd on the big screen. 

Take the Lebowski screening: it was prefaced by a vintage instructional video entitled Parties are Fun as well as the Don Hertzfeldt animated short entitled Rejected. “This is all a big experiment for all of us,” said Mayer, in reference to the pre-film shorts.  

By branching out into so many different avenues for programming, WU Cinema tries to be something that you can’t replicate anywhere. Would it have been easy to take the pioneering concept of being a WashU campus movie theater? Sure, but why stop there? Look at Seven, screened on a 35mm film print, truly distinguishing it in several ways. For one, the visual quality of the film is heightened, something that serves as a point of pride for WU Cinema; the ability to project 35mm film, once the standard, is disappearing. “You can tell it’s on film,” said junior Ava Morgan, another  WU Cinema volunteer. “It’s what people, when they think of cinema and film, this is what they’re thinking of.” 

Even for viewers not well-versed in film, Morgan said that the distinction is noticeable

“I think people do pick up on it, whether or not they understand what they’re looking at,” she said. The other element introduced by Seven’s 35mm projection is that the film was screened with Spanish subtitles, a flourish of randomness that, while not exactly advertent, drives home the point that these are experiences truly designed to be unique. 

From WU Cinema’s prowess in projection to their original promotions — free popcorn for those who wore bathrobes to Lebowski and a “what’s in the box” guessing game for Seven — there’s a passion for cinema that animates the whole endeavor.  Mayer cited the major goals of WU Cinema as “coming together in an appreciation of cinema and the cinematic experience in a theater” and “watching films that are important culturally.” 

“Most universities have a campus cinema,” says Brett Smith, the Film and Media Studies department’s Audiovisual Production Technician (projectionist) who helped get WU Cinema off the ground. “We have this facility, we just thought that it makes no sense that we can’t provide that for students.”

As a first-year student coming to WashU with an interest in film, my experience with WU Cinema has been nothing short of a miracle. It truly is designed for anyone to enjoy, from those with the most basic interest in movies to hardcore cinephiles. In every facet of the design, the magic of going to the movies is front and center. “It’s a labor of love,” said Morgan. “We all just feel it’s really important to make it happen and make it something worthwhile.” 

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