Carleton Film Society has made a triumphant return after over five years of dormancy. On Sunday, October 9, the organization hosted a screening of David Lynch’s 1977 cult classic “Eraserhead” for a bemused yet rapt audience of several dozen students. But what exactly is Film Society, and what niche does it fill on a campus that already seems rife with free film screenings?
Film Society is meant to be a casual environment for students ranging from hardcore cinephiles to casual viewers. The organization plans to hold three to four free screenings per term (subject to budget constraints for licensing), with a focus on pushing the envelope with its cinematic offerings. A major appeal of the club is the movie-theater-esque experience afforded by its use of the Weitz Cinema. Screenings will also be followed by optional, informal discussions about each film.
Brett Olson ’24, Scott Hudson ’24 and Josh Grossman ’24 decided to revive Carleton Film Society at the start of this school year. The organization’s comeback was sparked mainly by “our passion for film and love for seeing movies in theater,” Olson said. A key role of the club, she added, is providing an environment for screenings that “can’t really be shown through SUMO due to, you know, a different audience … we wanted people to have a space where they could seriously talk about film and enjoy film with other people (outside of just being in CAMS).”
While it’s actually existed since the 1970s, Carleton Film Society kicked into high gear in 2011, shortly after the opening of the then-new Weitz Cinema. The previous iteration of Carleton Film Society was most active in the early 2010s and held free, weekly screenings on Saturday evenings in the Weitz cinema, which were followed by student-led discussions. After a lull during which no public screenings were held from 2008-2010, Josiah Burns ’12 took the role of Carleton Film Society president, sparking a modest comeback until the club effectively fell off the map several years later.
Among the films screened during this brief revival were the 1922 Danish docudrama “Häxan,” the experimental horror comedy “House,” the French New Wave classic “The 400 Blows” and the music documentary “Fela Kuti: Music Is The Weapon.” In an interview at the time, Burns noted that the club sought to bring attention to “underexposed or arthouse cinema,” with the ultimate goal of upping its typical viewership from 30 viewers per screening to 50.
But the current version of Film Society plans on blazing a new path rather than taking cues from the club’s decades-long history, with tentative plans in the works for collaborations with other student orgs. And while the decision to carry over the organization’s name was made to “[recognize] the importance of bringing back something that was already established,” a sort of hat tip, the club’s new primary goal is appreciation (“an audience that cares”) rather than raw numbers. Olson commented, “not all films are meant for all audiences, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be receiving of one.”
Indeed, selections such as “Eraserhead” aren’t likely to draw crowds as large as this term’s upcoming SUMO screenings, which include a double feature of “Top Gun” and “Top Gun: Maverick,” as well as “The Big Lebowski.” Most viewers, however, expressed positive feelings about what they watched during the post-screening discussion on Sunday, which seemed to be an auspicious start to the series of “just-for-fun” conversations held in the CAMS lounge.
Audience members traded interpretations about the film’s notoriously opaque motifs, from the Man in the Planet and his levers to the grotesque, lizardlike baby. Olson, who helped lead the discussion, noted that while the chats may help viewers “further enjoy the films and get a deeper understanding,” at the end of the day they’re optional, in large part because films like Lynch’s “are just enjoyable to watch as like pure form.”
The rest of this term’s planned showings are perhaps a bit less left-field. Besides “Eraserhead,” the selections for the remainder of Fall Term include the LGBTQ rock opera “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975) and the famously so-bad-it’s-good “The Room” (2003). While these films are certainly cult classics, they also have enough mass appeal to get more students’ feet in the door, allowing the club to potentially push its audience even further out of their comfort zone with more experimental works in the future.
Also under consideration is the thought of doing various “themes” based on suggestions from participating members. One idea being floated is a program on Taiwanese New Wave Cinema, where specific directors’ works will be focused on for the duration of a term. Ultimately, though, “it really depends on, moving forward, what members are most excited about discussing and seeing.”
While the screenings are not currently open to the general public due to licensing restrictions, Olson made sure to emphasize that they are “definitely open to anyone outside of Carleton Film Society,” meaning that any interested students are encouraged to show up. “You could show up for one movie and never see us again,” she said. Make sure to stay on the lookout for the upcoming, free showings of “The Room” and “Rocky Horror” presented by Carleton Film Society.