Columns / Discourse / November 16, 2011

Check the Reel: Reviving a cinematic ‘dead cheetah’

(Note: I want to thank my friends Jon Hewelt and James Sheppard for providing me with the idea and argument for this column. I would not be able to talk about this issue so clearly without you guys.)

If Alumni Hall is the “dead elephant” of Knox College, Twin West Cinema is the dead cheetah: not as immediately noticeable, but still oozing with wasted energy and potential.

Its corpse sits on Prairie Street across from Wells Fargo — a polished, well-maintained bank — next to a collection of neat, specialty shops still in business. Slang and profanity are carved into its dusty doors. The display boards show shred-marks from when the last movie posters were taken down 10 years ago. For over a decade, Knox has been deprived of what is an integral part of media in higher education: the local, independent cinema.

“But Ivan!” you say. “Why should we care about a closed-down movie theatre? Clearly the economy has been unkind to certain businesses, but there are more pressing, academically relevant issues for Knox to attend to.”

If this were only a matter of having a nearby theatre to watch the newest romantic comedy or action flick, I would agree. But this is an academic issue. With no venue for smaller, low-budget films, there’s no consistent venue for student film screenings, and, by extension, no venue for student filmmakers.

Even considering the limitations posed by Knox being a liberal arts college, without the resources for a costly filmmaking program, the program we do have remains painfully undeveloped. Film studies is still offered only as a minor, with a limited number of classes listed on the schedule.

There are several classes for graphic design and photography, but not a single course geared towards moviemaking. If a student wants to make a film on campus, the school has no system aside from nonspecific grants to help assist in their efforts.

To Knox’s credit, it has slowly begun to place more interest in film studies. There’s now a distribution list — — devoted to informing students of film festivals, student films, graduate film schools and other academic opportunities involving cinema.

Professors here clearly have a strong appreciation for movies, and are offering more and more film screenings for their classes. You can find these screenings in locations like Kresge, CFA’s Round Room, Wilson House, theme houses, individual classrooms …

Here we reach our first major problem. There is no one screening location with which we could circumvent confusion about where one goes to see which film and how long it takes to get there. If a location like this were chosen, then posters for screenings would only need to specify the film and time, and students would know precisely where to go. And what better screening location than an actual cinema?

The same applies to films made by students. Once the movie is finished, where does one display it? Like with non-student films, the options are currently scattered across campus. Whereas student bands have specific venues (the Rog Lodge, Gizmo) and events (Lincoln Fest, Off Knox, Homecoming, etc.) to showcase their talents, filmmakers must struggle to even be noticed. For a college devoted to accommodating every student’s goals and interests, that is a major shortcoming.

Just like art students have The Box, an off-campus building funded by and belonging to Knox, to work in and display their creations, it is my belief that Knox, and specifically Student Senate, should set aside funds to purchase Twin West Cinema and reestablish it as the center for all student-oriented films: independent documentaries and narrative films geared towards a college audience; screenings for class and clubs and films made by Knox students for Knox students.

Even if students have no obligation to attend a screening, the theatre would provide a great opportunity for school-sanctioned, weekend entertainment. Want to see a movie but don’t have a car to drive to AMC? Walk one or two blocks on Friday night and attend a film festival or double feature. It would make for a much more satisfying, romantic date than slumming around the Gizmo, at least.

Twin West Cinema is an environment designed specifically for movies. Establishing this as the universal location for film screenings, student-made or otherwise, would create a clear, uniform system of advertisement. It is an academically viable option that I urge Student Senate to pursue and all other students to support. To let the theatre decay for much longer would be a terrible waste for everyone.

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