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Feeling the Room

Buffalo’s beloved public film series moves uptown

 Jackson and Christian in front of the Buffalo Film Seminars’ new home.

Jackson and Christian in front of the Buffalo Film Seminars’ new home. Photo: Douglas Levere

“Film is social, and one of the things you lose when you watch Netflix alone in your house is that sense of shared energy with others.”
Bruce Jackson, SUNY Distinguished Professor and James Agee Professor of American Culture

By Lauren Newkirk Maynard

When they were asked by local leaders in 1999 to host a public film class, Diane Christian and Bruce Jackson, UB English professors and longtime film buffs, had no idea what they were getting into. Buffalo Film Seminars has since screened hundreds of films of all genres for thousands of students and community members.

For the past 15 years, the husband-and-wife team has hosted the Tuesday night series at an independent theater inside the historic Market Arcade building in downtown Buffalo. This fall, spurred by the impending sale of the building, which was owned by the city, the series moved upstream to the Amherst Theatre on Main Street across from the South Campus.

Tied to a public film course the couple co-teaches at UB, the series is designed to entertain as well as teach. Anyone may buy a ticket to watch the film and then stay afterward as the couple distributes their trademark “Goldenrod Handouts”—audience notes photocopied on bright yellow paper—and discusses the movie’s plot, cinematography and historical context. The series has featured silent masterpieces from the early days of film, like “Metropolis” and “Nosferatu,” and more contemporary classics, such as the Coen brothers’ 1996 cult hit, “Fargo,” screening later this fall.

What at first felt like a forced eviction from their downtown home, says Jackson, has become a positive new chapter. Dipson Theatres Inc., which operated the theater in the Market Arcade, also runs the Amherst Theatre and remains a close partner with the UB seminars. “Although we are proud to have helped draw thousands of people downtown, Amherst has the added benefit of proximity to public transportation, new suburban audiences and a lot more students,” Jackson says.

One of the most satisfying benefits of hosting the series, says Christian, has been “feeling the room” during the films. “Buffalo moviegoers are very sophisticated and knowledgeable, and they react accordingly,” she adds. Jackson agrees. “Film is social,” he says, “and one of the things you lose when you watch Netflix alone in your house is that sense of shared energy with others.”