“I’m just gonna start it,” Nick Massari ’18 told a small crowd of 30 or so Kenyon students waiting for the 2012 film Spring Breakers to begin. Cinearts’ screening, held last Saturday, was their first showing of the year, and the turnout was low.
Cinearts screenings supplement the films shown in film classes, though they have no direct affiliation with the department. With the still-new film department working to establish its presence on campus (it was added as a major in 2011), student groups like Cinearts and Kenyon Filmmakers have helped to fill in where the film department is lacking, but the film department is continuing to grow rapidly.
With 60 students currently in Intro to Film, and another 100 trying to squeeze into the other film classes, according to Associate Professor of Film Jon Sherman’s estimates, it is becoming harder for the department to accomidate students.
A young department suffers growing pains
Thomas S. Turgeon Professor of Drama Jonathan Tazewell ’84 graduated from Kenyon with a degree in chemistry, but has been teaching film and drama here since 1997.
“When I was a student, if you wanted to be a filmmaker you were really making film,” Tazewell said. “Only the students who were sort of the most aggressive and passionate really did it. Now, just about everybody carries a camera in their pocket.”
Though Sherman said the number of majors in the department is growing, it still lacks a variety of professors with different specializations.
“We need more teachers, there’s no doubt about it,” Sherman said. “We need to get some more outside perspectives.”
Visiting Assistant Professor of Film Uma Vangal Shivakumar spends one semester each year at Kenyon and the other at L.V. Prasad Film & Television Academy in Chennai, India. Though she provides a bit of this outside perspective, she still expressed her worries that students at Kenyon aren’t receiving a well-rounded film education.
“I would say that [Kenyon students] are very well informed when it comes to Hollywood cinema and cinematic traditions and approaches that are very Western,” Vangal said. “But I would actually say that that’s very limiting because today you are not only making films for a Western audience.”
Filling in the gaps
With Cinearts on campus, students have more access to varying types of films that they otherwise wouldn’t see.
“Like any group, it is a good space for like-minded people to get together and talk,” Julia Horst ’17, one of the leaders of Cinearts, said. “But doing these screenings gives us a purpose. We fill a niche on the campus that no one else is filling.”
Natasha Ritsma, curator of academic programs at the Gund Gallery, started Cinearts during the 2010-2011 academic year. In the beginning, Cinearts was considered part of the Gund Gallery and was dedicated to screening films that connected to the gallery shows.
When Visiting Professor of Film Cory Koller took over in Cinearts 2012, Cinearts began hosting independent screenings along with the screenings in conjunction with the gallery. Their first responsibility, however, remained curating films for the gallery.
“It was almost like they would give us homework that we had to do,” Horst said, “then we could do what we wanted to do.”
Now, Sherman is heading the group, and Cinearts has separated from the gallery.
“We are grateful to them for everything that they helped us with when we were starting out,” Massari said. But Cinearts hopes that moving out from under the wing of the gallery will give them the agency to screen a wider variety of films and contribute more to the campus.
In the future, the group hopes to focus on bringing films to campus that students otherwise wouldn’t see. They have also expressed an interest in representing marginalized voices, focusing on female filmmakers, foreign filmmakers and filmmakers of color — something they feel is often overlooked in the traditional film classes at Kenyon.
Students find a voice
Cinearts is not the only group on campus seeking to fill in these gaps in the film curriculum. Kenyon Filmmakers (KFM), headed by Austin Barrett ’18, is an organization dedicated to helping students produce their own independent films.
Vangal is currently teaching the only production course provided by the film department this semester: The Documentary, a class that caps off at 16 students. For the dozens of other film students looking to learn more about film production, KFM might be the only place to go.
KFM has its own film equipment and, according to Barrett, will give a student filmmaker near complete creative freedom, yet it appears that not many students ever hear about the club.
The group only has two film majors: Barrett and his co-leader Jess Kusher ’19, also photo editor for the Collegian, and the rest of the group if made up of students with an interest in film.
“I don’t know why, but filmmajors don’t join KFM,” Barrett said, “Maybe film majors are just too busy, or they feel like they didn’t really know enough about it.”
Cinearts and KFM each provide a space for Kenyon students, whether or not they are majoring in film, to come together and discuss, watch and create films. This campus-wide collaboration is something that may not be possible in the film classes, as the number of film majors continues to grow and fill up all of the available spaces.
Looking to the future
Although expantion of the department is exciting and encouraging for professors like Sherman and Tazewell, this growth is also bringing problems of its own, like the increasing need for space.
The school plans to solve these by giving the department its own space when it finishes its restoration of the Buckeye Candy Building in Mount Vernon.
“Right now, they have very limited space,” Mark Kohlman, chief business officer, said. “They have no dedicated space for what they do.”
The Buckeye building will begin hosting classes in January, according to Kohlman, and will boast classrooms, studio space and editing bays for the film department, as well as the equipment needed to properly produce and analyze films.
Tazewell and Sherman have worked closely with Kohlman and others to direct the construction of the building. The film department had a say in decisions as major as how large rooms should be, and as small as what color the fold-out desks in the auditorium should have according to Tazewell. (Spoiler alert: they’re going to have a light maple finish.)
For Vangal, who spends half of her semesters in India teaching in a professional-grade film studio that is dedicated to the school, it is easy to see what this building could mean for the film department at Kenyon.
“An industry atmosphere is very important for film students, because they need to be able to know the know the physical demands for setting up a space for shooting,” Vangal said. “I think it is a long overdue space for film majors, and I’m really excited because I think it would make film majors push their boundaries a little more.”