This post was originally featured in the Fall 2016 print issue of Slope Media Magazine.
I thought it only appropriate that I’d be writing this after coming back from Cornell Cinema. I’ve just returned from a showing of Touch of Zen, and I’m not going to lie, while the film was fantastic in all of its subtitled, kung-fu glory, it was not a movie I would have seen without the Cinema. For all my three years at Cornell, the Cinema has been creating these movie-going serendipities in which I arrive at a screening unknowing, even unsure, and walk out with a new lens through which to view the art of the world. While I’m no full-time film student, the Cinema has given met an incredible film education through showings of movies such as Persona, Citizen Kane, and Ixcanul, as well as dozens of others shot by an amazing variety of directors ranging from Damian Szifron to Orson Welles to Martin Scorsese.
What always seems to escape me, however, is that when I go to these movies, the theater is never full. Currently there exists only a small cluster of dedicated on-campus movie-goers and it is my firm belief the Cinema’s fabulous resources deserve a much greater, university-wide audience. After my own exposure to the Cinema and the experiences of many others it appears vital to me to encourage the many others on campus fail to take advantage of the vivid and vibrant learning environment that Cornell Cinema has created.
Cornell Cinema was founded in 1970 as a university film society, and in the forty-six years since, it has grown to be a media arts center with a national reputation—but strangely enough, its reputation on campus doesn’t seem to match. The Cinema is a community of any and every form of artist, from playwrights to painters and writers to directors. It is geared towards all students of any year or major, and offers the same wonderful experience to all. “After seeing Metropolis at Cornell Cinema, I realized how deep and intricate film is as a form of expression,” Lucrezia Castelli, ‘18, explains. “I work [at the Cinema] now to try to bring this experience to other people, where hopefully two hours from someone’s day can expose them to new perspectives and forms of art.” The Cinema has historical importance not only among students, but among professors as well.
It is the duty of professors to change the way that students think and perceive the world, and the movies at Cornell Cinema are an excellent tool for doing just that. Professor Ernesto Quinonez has attempted to raise awareness for the Cinema throughout his years teaching in Cornell’s Creative Writing Department by incorporating Cinema showings into his class syllabi. “I think Cinema is just another facet of storytelling,” Quinonez comments. “It’s an arm of storytelling that should always be kept alive. Any time an arm of storytelling dies or dwindles, it’s always something we should be aware of and be careful that that does not happen… In classes we assign books and therefore we should also assign movies.” Quinonez further comments upon his hopes for the students that he dispatches to the Cinema; “I send [students] to movies that moved me in my formative years… the years before the world tells you, ‘you know, it kind of sucks to grow up.’ These movies, they empower you and they can also become transcendent… a great movie can screw you up, unlike any love affair. And that’s why I send them, so hopefully [my students] can be moved the way I was.”
But there’s no way to move people, to influence students’ lives, if the theaters are left vacant. Cornell Cinema shows over 150 different films a year, five nights a week, from Hollywood hits to cult classics—which provides plenty of opportunities for students to learn things they wouldn’t expect in a typical semester’s rigorous academic schedule. As an on-campus institution, Cornell Cinema truly excels at its nearly 50-year legacy to “expose Ithaca to alternative forms of cinema… and to provide affordable entertainment for the Cornell Community.” It’s hard to imagine now why we, as Cornell students, don’t treat the Cinema like the integral part of our university that it is. Movies are vital ways to learn not only about the art culture of the modern world, but also about oneself in the process of growing up and preparing to become a part of that world. This is our chance to go and fill those empty seats.