Feature Presentations

Feature Presentations

We’re still in the afterglow of Oscar season, when films are serious, celebrities are practitioners and cinematographers’ color choices carry deeper meaning. It’s the time of year when our film discourse prioritizes culture over commerce—unless you live in New Haven, anyway, where many alternative theaters do just that year-round.

The New Haven Free Public Library screens movies across its branches, always free and open to the public. At the Wilson Branch in The Hill, films are generally screened about African American history and social justice, librarian Marian Huggins says in an email. She enjoys seeing films on a big screen in a group setting for the immersion and camaraderie, deepening the community of it all by working with local groups. For example, the library recently collaborated with Showing Up for Racial Justice and Project Longevity on a series of screenings of Reconstruction: America After the Civil War, which finishes up this Saturday, February 22.

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The Whitney Workshop Summer Programs at the Eli Whitney Museum

Downtown at Ives Main Library, where a large collection of domestic and foreign movies can be checked out, a small squadron of staff cinephiles keeps the programming running. In the main screening area downstairs, Tom Smith curates weekly matinees on Fridays, according to a monthly theme. February is Black History Month, March features women’s history and August is always Comedy Month. But the rest are largely up to Tom. “We like to keep current,” he says, adding that the library uses Swank, a movie licensing portal, to secure the rights to screen each film. Free and open to the public, the screenings provide entertainment for anyone who can’t or would simply rather not afford a standard movie ticket.

Seth Godfrey, another librarian at the Ives branch, helps curate more indie and foreign language films. “We started in 2003 right around the Iraq War and showed cultural films on Iraq,” he says, “to help people understand the country.” In 2014, he brought in East German director Siegfried Kühn and screened his films, adding that he enjoys collaboration with local entities as well. (The New Haven Documentary Film Festival, the Environmental Film Festival at Yale and the Latino and Iberian Film Festival at Yale have all made use of the screening space on the lower level.) Sam Register, who also helps with programming, loves the bonus of being able to catch all the movies himself and says “there’s no way we’d have this much programming if it weren’t for such a film-friendly staff.” Meghan Currey, the teen librarian, offers regular programming for young adults, largely based on their recommendations, via a second screening area embedded within her section of the library.

Just a block or so north of Ives, Yale’s Whitney Humanities Center is the main hub for film screenings on Yale’s campus, not just for classes but also for campus groups. The focus, associate director Mark Bauer says, is on critical engagement and not so much on casual entertainment. “We’re not particularly interested in ‘movie nights’… We’re much more interested in having a discussion, with an introduction and discussion afterwards of the film. We’re interested in cultivating a really robust film culture.”

Bauer notes that Whitney is an umbrella for a variety of programs and series. Home to both the Film and Media Studies department and the Yale Film Study Center, the Whitney Humanities Center boasts numerous movie series during the school year and beyond. The YFSC’s Treasures from the Yale Film Archive series is screened here in glorious 35-millimeter, usually with a brief introduction to frame the flick. More specialized series include The Impact of the Atom, a film and lecture program co-presented by the Physics Department and Wright Laboratory that highlights issues and anxieties surrounding nuclear technology. Bauer describes it as a great example of “using film to further understanding and discussion of science.”

Whitney Center A/V manager Tony Sudol, the proverbial man behind the curtain, loves the immersive experience of watching a film on the big screen. And he works hard to bring that to others, not only running the Center’s 35- and 16-millimeter projectors but also monitoring sound levels for any given screening. “I’m on my feet the whole show… People don’t see what I do, but they don’t need to.”

Sudol knows film. His projection booth is stacked high with various reels and apertures, with the ability to screen both film and digital. “For me,” he says, “films should be screened in the medium that they are made. Film has depth, contrast and grain—it sparkles—where digital is flatter and feels almost like a football game.” Then again, film degrades in a way that digital doesn’t, as does the requisite machinery. Sudol’s prized projection equipment is rare, and the supporting components, such as reel markers, are all but impossible to find now.

Not so hard to find is an alternative venue that fully embraces both the analytical and subjective wonders of cinema: Hamden’s Best Video Film & Cultural Center. A nonprofit organization, Best Video offers rental memberships that open the gateways to their vast yet curated film and television collection. But anyone can stop by for a film screening, such as the Monday Secret Cinema series, curated by Robert Harmon, which generally screens cult films for free (donations accepted). Replete with popcorn and even “previews” of other films that relate somehow to the feature presentation, it conjures a more traditional theater experience. Explaining Best Video’s commitment to screenings, executive director Hank Hoffman says, “Movies originated in a context where they were viewed communally. We like to screen films so people have the opportunity to not only see but discuss and share interpretations.”

Sometimes local film buffs step up to the plate. Beginning this Sunday is an every-other-week Garden in Film series that, spanning titles such as Greenfingers (2000) and Tulip Fever (2017), is curated by Eric Larson, former head of Yale’s Marsh Botanical Garden. For an education on “How to Read a Film,” Mark Schenker, a senior associate dean and English lecturer at Yale, curates and leads an intermittent series by that name, introducing each film with a lecture to help frame the viewing. Admission to each of these showings is $7 in part to help defray the cost of the screening rights—which, Hoffman notes, cost at least $100 per film.

If New Haven’s alternative film scene were itself a movie, it would have many more than three acts. In its lecture hall, the Yale Center for British Art occasionally shows films with a British connection; the Charlie Chaplin silent film classic The Gold Rush (1925) was screened in December, and the possible future classic The Souvenir (2019) is scheduled for March 4 along with the enticement of “a pint of beer or glass of wine.” The People’s Center screens a monthly Solidarity Film Series exploring topics in social justice. Whalley Avenue community bookspace People Get Ready holds periodic screenings, including one of the voting rights documentary Suppressed on February 29. Hamden’s Whitneyville Cultural Commons also holds screenings; on March 14, the feature is the locally produced documentary I Am Shakespeare: The Henry Green Story.

It’s all coming to a theater near you.

Written by Allison Hadley. Image 1, of auditorium seating in the Whitney Humanities Center, photographed by Dan Mims. Image 2, of the Yale Center for British Art lecture hall during a broadcast of the 2018 British royal wedding, photographed by Harold Shapiro. Image 3, of a screening area at the Ives Main Library, photographed by Allison Hadley.

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