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March 16, 1990 - Image 22

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1990-03-16
Note:
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experimental film is small and
that he sees the same faces at
every showing. This represents a
change from the '70s, when it was
the thing to see the obscure film.
Shaiman concluded, "It's not as if
Joe frat boy's going to say, 'Aah!
There's a wonderful pair of
French existentialist films
tonight... let's get some beer and
go!"
Although two film groups -
Cinema II and Alternative Action
- folded recently, and Fourth
Avenue's Eyemedia now only
sponsors their summer film/video
festival, the three most prominent
remaining groups have managed
to survive with their personalities
intact. The Ann Arbor Film
Cooperative, referred to among
members as "The Co-op," was
founded in 1970 mostly as a way
to support student filmmakers.
Because the University owned
none of its own filmmaking
equipment, a group of students in
East Quad started the Co-op as a
way of raising money to buy its
own. Showing movies seemed the
best way to raise funds, and as the
students made their own films,
the Co-op started the eight
millimeter festival as a way to
showcase student work. The Co-
op grew and grew, until its peak
in the mid-'70s when it was
showing films each night, usually
selling out on the weekends. At
this point, there were always at
least five successful film groups
on campus.
Currently the Co-op consists of
15 members, both students and
non-students, who run the entire
operation. The group prides itself
on its selection of the
experimental and the odd.
Hallman explains, "our group
tends to be more interested in
cult-type films, or strange, off-
beat, avant garde.".
Cinema Guild, on the other
hand, tends toward classic
American films. Shaiman places
cc somewhere in between
Mediatrics and the Co-op,
because "Mediatrics is doing the

more popular stuff, Co-op has the
avant garde stuff, and we have the
obscure but mainstream type."
Cinema Guild prides itself on its
double features as a primary draw
for audiences: "you'll find people
who look through for the week
and find two films they want to
see, the double with it, and pick
that night to go, when otherwise
it's just wishy washy and they
may get to it or not. Double
features usually have something
very much in common, be it two
French New Wave films or two
by the same director."
Mediatrics, the only University-
subsidized group, strives to tap
into student tastes, regardless of a
film's quality. Mediatrics operates
out of the University Activities
Center in the Union, receiving
funds from the one dollar taken
from every student's tuition for
uAC. Kevin Sandler, chair of
Mediatrics, defines the credo of
popular demand: "To me, the
more people that watch the
movie, the better, no matter what
the movie is, because that means
we're reaching out to a bigger
audience. You also want to show
quality movies, but you want to
show the films people want to
see. Someone told me from one of
the other organizations, 'I would
rather have one person show up at
a Luis Bufuel film than have 500
people show up at Princess
Bride.' No way, that's not me. It
may be artistic integrity, but it's
not like I'm contributing to the
delinquency of cinema today. It's
not my fault that 90% of the stuff
that comes out of the theaters is
shit."
Although this attitude may
offend those primarily interested
in the art of film, it seems the
student body at large agrees with
Sandler. In line to see the recent
showing of Dead Poets Society by
Mediatrics at the MLB, first year
students Caryn Friedman and
Kathy Richman explained "we're
more interested in movies that are
fairly recent."
Most students in line had seen

the film before, or came on the
recommendation of friends. All
those asked had some degree of
familiarity with the movie before
they decided to come, learning
about the showing through the
Daily or in Current. Ward Erwood,
first-year engineering student,
cited long-distance romance and
the big screen as his impetus for
leaving the comforts of the dorm:
"(Dead Poets Society) was out this
summer. I saw it with my
girlfriend, and she lives in
Williamsburg, so I guess I come
here because it makes me feel
closer to her since she's a
thousand miles away. I don't have
a tape machine, for one, and I like
it better in the theater." Erwood
was unusual in the frequency
with which he attends campus
cinema, "about every other
week."
Most of the movie-goers
waiting to pay their $2.50
admission preferred the big
screen to the television set. In
addition to having prior
knowledge of the film, many in
line were students in their first or
second year who had access to
neither a car nor a vCR. Rebecca
Rand, senior in political science,
needed
to get
away
from the
hustle of say, ',h! There'
daily Frencjxistentia
life: "Ilet'sg so
thought
it's here,
it's
happening
right now, and maybe I'll forget to
see it, and I feel like escaping. I
think it'll be more enjoyable, not
for the crowd response necessarily
but for the big screen. If you see a
movie at home, it detracts from a
movie seeing experience. It
becomes a domestic experience.
You relate it to the home. And I
don't want to relate to anything
else except the movie. I want to
be completely taken in by the
movie."

L IGHTS, CAM-
era, and action may
have to give way to
bars, the couch, and
(agh!) studying.
Although few students know
this, Ann Arbor enjoys a
starring role in the fanfare of
film viewing and is widely
regarded as a center for
innovation and creativity in
film - but it seems we're
losing interest here. Students
just aren't making that extra
effort to get to the MLB, Lorch,
or Angell auditoriums to
patronize the campus film
groups that make our film
community great.
Fifteen years ago, students who
finished their homework early on

a Tuesday night had as many as
five or six on-campus films to
choose from. Today, the same
students are lucky to have one.
Since the early '80s, the
University has seen a sharp
decline in campus cinema. Two
theaters and two film groups have
folded, largely due to lack of
student interest and attendance.
Even those groups that have
stayed afloat have reduced their
showings by up to 80 percent. Yet
at the same time, the University's
Program in Film and Video
Studies is enjoying
unprecedented success in
enrollment and funding, first-run
films boast box office records each
year, and video rentals continue
to draw huge revenues.
In its heyday, the Ann Arbor
film community prospered with
seven film groups. The film
groups filled auditoriums from the

MLB to Angell Hall, most showing
on each night of the week, not
just weekends. There were five
movie theaters in the campus
area: the State Theater (now
Urban Outfitters); the Campus
Theater on South University
(soon to be - you guessed it - a
mini mall); the Michigan Theater,
run by its former management,
the Butterfield Theaters; and the
Ann Arbor 1 & 2. The Campus
Theater and the State Theater
closed for financial as well as
business reasons, and the
Michigan had to change its
ownership and format before it
began to succeed as a not-for-
profit organization.
The easy scapegoat for this
drop, of course, is the VCR. More
students than ever have their own
VCRs, especially since prices fell in
the mid-'80s. Still, many students,
especially first and second year

students in residence halls, don't
own machines. Even if students
had access to a VCR, many of the
more obscure campus films are
unavailable on videotape. Box
office receipts set new records
each year, but a student is hard
pressed to get to The Movies at
Briarwood, Showcase Cinemas or
Fox Village Theaters without a
car. Seeing first-run features
poses difficulties even for those
who want to get out to the
movies.
students are unaware
of the different film
groups, each prides
itself on a unique
identity, offering a selection of
films that distinguishes one group
from another. These groups have
served to establish Ann Arbor as a
well-known center for film

activity, long recognized
nationwide in academic circles
and among film buffs. Phil
Hallman, nine-year member of
the Ann Arbor Film Co-op and
teaching assistant for film courses
explains, "If you look in Leonard
Maltin's (film critic on
Entertainment Tonight) book, there
are several parts where he
acknowledges that, other than the
coasts, Ann Arbor is one of three
best places to see a variety of
films, Madison and Austin being
the other two. But it seems like
students that are just arriving to
Michigan just don't know about
campus cinema."
Most campus film groups
attribute the loss of interest to
changing tastes and values. Mark
Shaiman of Cinema Guild notes,
"there's less of a draw of an art
crowd." Shaiman says the number
of film-goers interested in

by Jen Bilik with
Brent Edwards
illustrations by
Kevin Woodson

w

8

WEEKEND March 16, 1990

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