Film Fridays to fill cinema void with alternative movies

The fourth series of Film Fridays at the Varsity Center for the Arts begins this week and will once again bring alternative programming to Carbondale.

Susan Felleman, associate professor of cinema, said the program has evolved since she began it in 2010, and this semester promises to provide interesting viewing.

“(It’s a) collection of challenging, edgy, occasionally really radical stuff,” she said.

The program consists of five screenings from this Friday to April 27, each one based on a different theme. Themes this year include “Constructing Situations and Making a Scene” and “Kid on Hip, Camera in Hand.” Most of the screenings consist of a series of short film or video works, and each is followed by an open discussion with the curators.

Felleman said the program succeeds in providing access to art cinema in a city that in recent years has been in a drought of alternative film.

“There’s really nothing that’s arty or independent at all,” she said.

She said successive theater closings, from the Fox Easgate to the Varsity in its original incarnation as a working cinema, have almost killed the independent cinema scene in Carbondale.

Now, art film in Carbondale usually consists of relatively mainstream works like Woody Allen films and last summer’s “Tree of Life,” which often have truncated runs, she said.

Cade Bursell, associate professor of cinema, said she often has to drive to St. Louis or Paducah to see art or an independent film.

She said Film Fridays has been a great project, but she’d really like to see regular year-round programing of art films in Carbondale.

“I would love to see more, but it takes a group of people, and it takes support,” she said.

The Big Muddy Film Festival provides a chance to see a great deal of art cinema, but in general, Carbondale still does not offer a lot of opportunities to see alternative films, said Mike Kartje, a graduate student in cinema from Murphysboro and a Film Fridays assistant.

“It’s lacking, certainly,” he said. “There’s still that void.”

Felleman said there are a number of economic factors contributing to the decision by AMC,  local theater owners, to run less art programming in Carbondale, and when there was some art cinema, typically at the old Varsity theater, it was not well-attended.

Attendance for Film Fridays progressed in the first year, she said, and is now more uneven based on what’s being shown and what else is happening in town.

She also said the audience is not limited to those involved with the university’s cinema program.

“It’s a real mix of town and gown,” she said.

The series offers something for everyone, and the programs address universal themes, said Deron Williams, a graduate student in mass communications and media arts.

While local theaters are in a tough economic situation with regards to screening art cinema because of the cost of showing films, there’s a sizable group of adventurous moviegoers in Carbondale who can support the program, said Williams, who began Film Fridays with Felleman and Derek Smith, fellow graduate student in mass communication and media art.

Williams said he and Smith have developed as curators since the series began in 2010.

“Derek and I especially have gotten more daring or willing to to program things that might be more provocative,” he said.

Williams is curating the first and last programs this semester. Friday will be “Constructing Situations and Making Scenes,” which he said is a set of works dealing with social interactions. He said he hopes the more experimental films can inspire people to see that they can look at these subjects in different ways.

Felleman said she is going on sabbatical next semester, and both Williams and Smith will be finishing their master’s programs, so Film Fridays will have to be passed into new hands.

Williams said there are several people, including Kartje, who would be able to pick up the reigns and continue the program.

Kartje said he’d like to step into Williams or Smith’s role, and would like to increase the already rising attendance.

“To me it feels like there’s a definite interest in it,” he said.


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