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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Behind the scenes at SUMO: Student showrunners

The posters are up. The campus announcement has been sent. Some students may groan while others rejoice, but in any case, the lights will go down on Friday and Saturday night in the Weitz Cinema, and the screen will come to life. And if Josh Grossman ’24 and Loren Friedman ’25 made their choice correctly, the audience will walk out of the theater happy.

Grossman and Friedman are the SUMO (Student Union Movie Organization) Programming Assistants, making them responsible for choosing what’s played in the free movie showings offered to students every weekend. While the process of choosing movies may seem trivial, it entails far more than just bickering about their own favorite films.

Every term, SUMO sends out a survey asking students for movie requests. Grossman and Friedman then sift through the 500-600 responses, picking out the most popular movies. From there, they negotiate the licensing rights with the potential film’s distributors, a step of the process that can stop a potential showing in its tracks. 

“At one point, I really wanted to do a SUMO showing of “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” on the last days of Fall Term in Weitz, which I thought would be really fun,” Grossman said. “Apple TV owns all of the rights to “Peanuts”, and you cannot buy it, even to show at school, even for any absurd amount of money. They just don’t give it up.”

Still, SUMO has gotten the rights to showing a variety of recent popular releases, as well as older and lesser-known films. This term, the SUMO lineup included names such as “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” “Moonlight” and “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.”

“I think we’ve done a pretty good job of trying to have a kind of diverse spread of films,” Grossman said. “It’s not perfect. I think finding a balance between good movies and popular movies is the main thing we tussle with.”

While what movies are “good” or “popular” may differ depending on who you are and what school you’re at, according to Grossman, Carleton’s film preferences aren’t as different from the general public as one might expect given the student body’s reputation for being “quirky.” Studio Ghibli movies or classics like “Dr. Strangelove” can be highly requested and attended, but ultimately, box-office hits always draw the biggest crowds in the Weitz. 

Since Carleton has no other movie theater within walking distance, SUMO screenings are often students’ only means of watching movies on the big screen. Nicholas Vlahos-Sten ’26 says that since coming to Carleton, he’s used SUMO as an opportunity to watch movies with his friends.

“It’s a lot better in the movie theater,” Vlahos-Sten said. “You’re not going to be distracted when you’re at a theater because you can’t pull out your phone. You can’t look at other things and you’re forced to just look at the movie. And that makes it better.”

When he goes to a SUMO screening, Vlahos-Sten is one of the approximately 200 students that attend the screenings over an average weekend. However, despite its popularity  among viewers, SUMO’s operation remains relatively small.

Grossman, who’s been working as programming assistant since Fall 2021, is a cinema and media studies major. He said he was specifically interested in applying for his current position because he wanted to expand the variety of movies that were accessible to students. 

Friedman joined Fall Term this year, due to the responsibilities of programming assistant being difficult for just one person. He said that one particular moment that inspired him to apply was seeing “2001: A Space Odyssey” in the Weitz Cinema last winter. SUMO showed a restored version of the film and, combined with the theater’s 7.1 surround sound, a system that allows the viewer to hear different parts of a film’s audio from different parts of the room. Friedman says the SUMO screening is completely different from the experience of watching the film on a laptop. 

“I saw that movie and I was like, man, that is cool!” Friedman said.

Beyond the screen quality and the speaker system, Grossman and Friedman say that their goal is to give students something worthwhile to do on Friday and Saturday nights. They encourage students to fill out the survey for movie requests, ultimately trying to please as much of the student body as possible.

“We care. We care a lot about our picks,” Grossman said. “We do our very best to make sure that you will not feel that your time was wasted.”

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