Campus News

Buffalo Film Seminars back for its 40th season

Bruce Jackson (left) and Diane Christian pictured in front of the Amherst movie theater where the Buffalo Film Seminar movies are screened.

Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian have been leading the Buffalo Film Seminars for two decades. The screenings were first held in the Market Arcade Film and Arts Center in downtown Buffalo, but moved to the Amherst Theatre in the University Plaza in fall 2014. Photo: Douglas Levere

By SUE WUETCHER

Published January 22, 2020

“We select films that exemplify and give us an opportunity to discuss the key aspects of filmmaking: acting, directing, scoring, editing, cinematography, etc. … By the end of the semester — painlessly, we think — we’ve walked our students through all the major components of a feature film. ”
Bruce Jackson, SUNY Distinguished Professor
Department of English

The Buffalo Film Seminars returns for its 40th season next week, and cultural tour guides Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian are presenting their usual bang-up lineup of films.

Forty seasons translates to 40 14-to-15-week semesters. That’s a lot of movies.

So how do the UB faculty members select the films for the series, which over the past 20 years has become a popular course for undergraduates, as well as an informative evening out for film buffs in the community?

Jackson, SUNY Distinguished Professor and James Agee Professor of American Culture in the Department of English, says the films screened each semester are not organized around any specific theme. But there is one specific requirement: “We don’t present any film that we don’t both think are superb,” he says.

“We select films that exemplify and give us an opportunity to discuss the key aspects of filmmaking: acting, directing, scoring, editing, cinematography, etc.,” Jackson explains. “We’ll talk — in the introduction, in our post-screening comments and in the Q&A — about all those things, but some films provide particularly good occasions to focus our comments.

“By the end of the semester — painlessly, we think — we’ve walked our students through all the major components of a feature film.

“Time and again, we’ll encounter someone in Wegmans or the post office or the airport, and they say, ‘I learned how to watch a film in that class,’” he says.

“In the past two weeks, each of us has gotten emails from students who took the class a decade ago saying just that. And that is what we’re trying to do.”

While the series is not focused around themes, it does have a temporal structure, Jackson says.

The semester usually opens with a classic film from the pre-sound era that gives the professors “an opportunity to talk about the great cinematographic language developed then that was sorely hampered in the early years of sound.”

“We try to hit major filmmaking modes in each of the decades to present a wide variety of genres and include enough international films so the audience understands that Hollywood is just one component in an international endeavor,” he says.

During the past few years, the couple has selected a recently released film as the semester’s penultimate film. “That,” Jackson says, “gives us a chance to point out that all the key parts of filmmaking we’ve been talking about since week one are still very much in play.”

And each semester’s offerings usually end with a film that is out of sequence, “but which we think is just a bang-up dilly of a movie,” he says.

This semester, Jackson says one film hit both marks — “Pain and Glory,” which was released in October 2019 — so it’s the final film and keeps the series in uninterrupted chronological order.

Jackson calls the final films of the previous five semesters — “Some Like it Hot” (1959), “The Young Girls of Rochefort” (1967), “The Man Who Would Be King” (1975), “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (2004) and “Moulin Rouge” (2001) movies “that let you hit the street feeling good, movies that let you know you’ve just been somewhere you couldn’t have imagined you’d ever be” he says.

He stresses that he and Christian only present film they both think are outstanding. But their reasoning isn’t static. “There are films one of us loved and the other didn’t that, five years later or 10 years later or 15 years later, we both loved and immediately agreed must go in.

“I haven’t been able to talk Diane into ‘Jaws’ yet,” he says, “but maybe in four or five years she’ll be ready for it.”

Spring semester opens with Chaplin film

Promotional poster for the 1931 film, "City Lights.".

In keeping with tradition, this semester’s series opens on Jan. 28 with “City Lights,” the 1931 silent classic written, produced, directed by and starring Charles Chaplin that many feel is Chaplin’s greatest work. The film tells the story of a tramp who falls in love with a beautiful blind girl whose family is in financial trouble. The tramp’s on-and-off friendship with a wealthy man allows him to be the girl’s benefactor and suitor.

The remainder of the schedule, with descriptions culled from IMDb and other sources:

  • Feb. 4: “42nd Street,” 1933, directed by Lloyd Bacon. A director puts on what may be his last Broadway show, and at the last minute a naïve newcomer has to replace the star. The musical’s cast includes Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell and Ginger Rogers, with choreography by Busby Berkeley.
  • Feb. 11: “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp,” 1943, directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. From the Boer War through World War II, a soldier rises through the ranks in the British military. The film is particularly noteworthy for its Technicolor cinematography.
Scene from the 1950 film, "Sunset Boulevard.".

“Sunset Boulevard”

  • Feb. 18: “Sunset Boulevard,” 1950, directed by Billy Wilder. A screenwriter develops a dangerous relationship with a faded film star determined to make a triumphant return. Stars William Holden as Joe Gillis and Gloria Swanson as Nora Desmond.
  • Feb. 25: “The Wages of Fear,” 1953, directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot. In a decrepit South American village, four men are hired to transport an urgent nitroglycerine shipment without the equipment that would make it safe.
  • March 3: “The Leopard,” 1963, directed by Luchino Visconti. The Prince of Salina, a noble aristocrat of impeccable integrity, tries to preserve his family and class amid the tumultuous social upheavals of 1860s Sicily.
Scene from the 1964 film, "Kwaidan.".

“Kwaidan”

  • March 10: “Kwaidan,” 1964, directed by Masaki Kobayashi. A collection of four Japanese folk tales with supernatural themes. Received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.
  • March 17: Spring break; no screening.
  • March 24: “Midnight Cowboy,” 1969, directed by John Schlesinger. An unlikely friendship develops between two hustlers: naive prostitute Joe Buck (Jon Voight) and ailing con man “Ratso” Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman).
Promotional poster for the 1971 film, Klute.".
  • March 31: “Klute,” 1971, directed by Alan Pakula. A small-town detective searching for a missing man has only one lead: a connection with a New York prostitute. Stars Donald Sutherland and Jane Fonda, who won the Oscar for Best Actress.
  • April 7: “McCabe and Mrs Miller,” 1971, directed by Robert Altman. A gambler and a prostitute become business partners in a remote Old West mining town, and their enterprise thrives until a large corporation arrives on the scene. The film, which stars Warren Beatty and Julie Christie, has been preserved in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
  • April 14: “King of Comedy,” 1982, directed by Martin Scorsese. Rupert Pupkin is a passionate, yet unsuccessful comic who craves nothing more than to be in the spotlight. To achieve this, he stalks and kidnaps his idol to take the spotlight for himself. Stars Robert De Niro and Jerry Lewis.
  • April 21: “Land of Plenty,” 2004, directed by Wim Wenders. A drama that looks at anxiety and disillusionment in America. Stars Michelle Williams and Paul Diehl.
Scene from the 2018 film, "Isle of Dogs.".

“Isle of Dogs”

  • April 28: Isle of Dogs,” 2018, directed by Wes Anderson. Set in Japan, this animated film follows a boy’s odyssey in search of his lost dog.
  • May 5: “Pain and Glory,” 2019, directed by Pedro Almodóvar. A film director reflects on the choices he’s made in life as the past and present come crashing down around him.

Each session of the Buffalo Film Seminars begins at 7 p.m. in the Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main St. in the University Plaza, directly across the street from the South Campus.

Jackson and Christian, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Department of English, will introduce each film. Following a short break at the end of each film, they will lead a discussion of the film.

The screenings are part of “Film Directors” (Eng 381), an undergraduate course being taught by the pair. Students enrolled in the course are admitted free; others may attend at the theater’s regular admission prices of $10 for adults, $8.50 for students and $7.75 for seniors. Season tickets are available any time at a 15% discount for the cost of the remaining films.

“Goldenrod handouts” — featuring production details, anecdotes and critical comments about each week’s film — are available in the theater lobby 45 minutes before each session. The handouts also are posted online one day before each screening.