Screens

Cinémathèque Hoosiere: IU Cinema

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The birthplace of Hoosier New Wave? IU Cinema just opened in Bloomington. Submitted photo.
  • The birthplace of Hoosier New Wave? IU Cinema just opened in Bloomington. Submitted photo.

If the French New Wave grew up in any one place, it was at the Cinémathèque française, where guys like Truffaut, Godard and Rivette shared the front row, eagerly gobbling up whatever happened to be showing on a given night.

The term "cinematheque" has long entered American parlance, and Jon Vickers, director of the new IU Cinema, which opened last month on the Bloomington campus, hopes that his new theater will become "one of the best-recognized cinematheques in the country," a combination art house and repertory theater that other cinemas will look to for inspiration.

And who knows? — maybe in 20 years we'll talk of a Hoosier New Wave, of homegrown filmmakers and critics who supplemented their diet of DVDs with director retrospectives (in glorious 35mm), filmmaker lectures and films drawn from the archives of the Kinsey Institute and Lilly Library.

Like a historically aware young filmmaker, the cinema, located in the renovated University Theater space immediately east of the IU Auditorium, looks toward both past and future.

"It's a 1930s stage theater that's been converted," Vickers explains, "so the beautiful, modern lines of a WPA project and the four Thomas Hart Benton murals make it pretty much unlike any other cinema I've ever been in."

Two Benton murals flank a curtained screen, with another two mounted on the back wall of the auditorium. The cinema has the look and feel of an pre-megaplex movie house, albeit one equipped with the latest in motion picture technology, including a high-end Kinoton film projector for 16 and 35mm film, the highest-resolution digital projector on the market and a playback deck equipped for every digital format out there.

"To have an older building like this converted into a THX-certified cinema is relatively uncommon these days; most of the cinemas that go with high-end equipment as we have are typically in new buildings designed as cinemas," Vickers says of the cinema, one of two in the state that THX has certified as capable of providing a consistently high-quality audio and visual experience.

Vickers says the cinema plans to use its high-end equipment to present both art house (international, documentary, independent film) and repertory programming.

"We also are going to have a very heavy, if not heavier, repertory program: classic films, director retrospectives, digging into genre studies and really looking at older film, traditional film, as an artform," Vickers explains. "We have the budget to bring in filmmakers to present their works and engage with students and community members."

The cinema has already presented retrospectives of films by David Lean (including Lawrence of Arabia, a screening of which opened the cinema Jan. 14) and John Ford, whose papers are housed at the Lilly Library. Peter Bogdanovich, whose archives are also held at the Lilly, spoke during the formal dedication of the cinema Jan. 27.

Experimental film pioneer Kenneth Anger, Grey Gardens documentarian Albert Maysles and Taxi Driver screenwriter Paul Schrader are scheduled to lecture and present films in the coming months; many screenings by guest filmmakers are sold out, but lectures are open to the public and unticketed (see sidebar).

Inside: a converted 1930s stage theater makes for a beautiful screening venue. Submitted photo.
  • Inside: a converted 1930s stage theater makes for a beautiful screening venue. Submitted photo.

What to do with Kinsey

The opening of the IU Cinema comes during a time of renewed interest in film on the IU campus. The campus's film holdings were recently moved from a converted bowling alley, "which was not ideal for film," according to Vickers, to a new facility with temperature and humidity control.

The move should add roughly 250 years of life to the archived films, which include the collections of the Black Film Center and the Kinsey Institute, and one of the nation's largest archives of educational films. For the first time, efforts are underway to preserve films that are most in need, and to digitize some of the archive's public domain holdings to make them available online.

From an exhibition perspective, some archives are more problematic to work with than others. Has Vickers figured out how to present Kinsey's film archive, which includes roughly 2,000 stag reels, along with sex-ed titles, art-house classics and landmarks of queer cinema like Anger's Scorpio Rising and Fireworks (both screening at a sold-out engagement Friday)?

"What I would consider off-limits at this point as a programmer — and different programmers might have different takes on this — is I would not just program a series of stag films and open it up to the public and not have any kind of context to it," Vickers says. "However, if there was a series of stag films that an academic wanted to program, and use it to discuss a theme — whatever it might be, human behavior, social values, for that period — then we would think that, yes, that's something we might consider. When working with material in the Kinsey, most of it has to be brought into an academic context for us. However, there are many things in the Kinsey that are also very artistic; Kenneth Anger is a good example."

Vickers notes that other archives, including '50s-era social guidance films held by the IU library that purport to teach impressionable youths how to date or find a job, are a little easier to program.

"You could program some films out of the educational collection as pure camp and get away with it — it'd be much less risky...What I tell people is, we're in this for the long haul, and with 82,000 reels of film in the collection, we're open to ideas and we can take projects as they come."

And Vickers won't always solve problems about how to program the cinema alone. Up to 40 percent of the cinema's programming will be presented in partnership with campus groups and schools on campus.

The other 60 percent of programming is reserved to the cinema, to "build up its own identity," according to Vickers, who has a few ideas up his sleeve for coming semesters — a series called "Beyond Epic" consisting of films lasting four hours or longer (the new French thriller Carlos, a Soviet version of War and Peace, BelaTarr's seven-hour, post-Soviet slog Satantango); director retrospectives devoted to Jean Renoir, Ernst Lubitsch, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles and Stanley Kubrick.

"Everybody questions — how come we didn't have this or that in the series?" Vickers laughs. "And the reason is that there's only limited slots. We will get to everybody over time."

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