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Insiders’ view to be presented in film series


Published August 15, 2013

The Buffalo Film Seminars (BFS), the semester-long series of film screenings and discussions hosted by UB faculty members Diane Christian and Bruce Jackson, will offer participants a unique opportunity this fall to get an insider’s perspective of one of the films being screened.

That perspective will be offered by Christian and Jackson, who directed and produced “Death Row,” a 1979 documentary of life on cell block J in Ellis Unit of the Texas Department of Corrections that will be shown on Oct. 22.

The film examines how men get by on death row: how they spend the years between sentencing and the ultimate resolution: whether freedom, commutation or death. Some of the condemned men discuss their relationships with their families and attorneys; they talk about the waiting, and how they keep from going crazy.

Christian and Jackson had unsupervised access when making “Death Row”; no guards or other officials were in the cells when they were filming and interviewing. No other documentary film offers this view of the American criminal justice system; it would be impossible to make such a film now.

“Death Row” was used by former French President Francois Mitterrand during his campaign in the 1980s to rid France of the death penalty, as well as by Amnesty International to make a similar point. The film has been broadcast by public television stations in the U.S., France and Germany, and exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art and other institutions.

The crowd that attended The Jazz Singer's 1927 premiere jammed New York City's Times Square.

The BFS’ screenings of “Death Row and the 13 other films being presented as part of the series’ 27 season will begin at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays, beginning Aug. 27 and running through Nov. 26, in the Market Arcade Film and Arts Center, 639 Main St. in downtown Buffalo.

Christian, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Department of English, and Jackson, SUNY Distinguished Professor and James Agee Professor of American Culture 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 438), an undergraduate course being taught by the pair. Students enrolled in the course are admitted free; others may attend at the Market Arcade’s regular admission prices of $9 for adults, $7 for students and $6.50 for seniors. Season tickets are available any time at a 15 percent reduction for the cost of the remaining films.

Free parking is available in the M&T fenced lot opposite the theater’s Washington Street entrance. The ticket clerk in the theater will reimburse patrons the $3 parking fee.

“Goldenrod handouts”—four- to eight-page notes on each film—will be posted on the seminar’s website the day before each screening, and will be available in the theater lobby by 6:15 p.m. the day of the screening.

The series will open on Aug. 27 with “The Jazz Singer,” the 1927 film that was the first feature-length motion picture with synchronized dialogue sequences.

The film, directed by Alan Crosland and starring Al Jolsen, tells the story of Jakie Rabinowitz, a young man who defies the traditions of this devout Jewish family. It was added to the National Film Registry in 1996.

The remainder of the BFS schedule, with descriptions culled from the IMDb movie database and other online sources:

  • Sept. 3: “It Happened One Night,” 1934, directed by Frank Capra. A spoiled heiress, running away from her family, is helped by a man who’s actually a reporter looking for a story. The romantic comedy starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert was the first film to win all five major Academy Awards: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay.
  • Sept. 10: “The Grand Illusion,” 1937, directed by Jean Renoir. During World War I, two French soldiers are captured and imprisoned in a German POW camp. Several escape attempts follow until they are sent to a seemingly impenetrable fortress.
  • Sept. 17: “Double Indemnity,” 1944, directed by Billy Wilder. An insurance rep lets himself be talked into a murder/insurance fraud scheme that arouses an insurance investigator’s suspicions. Stars Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson.
  • Sept: 24: “3:10 to Yuma,” 1957, directed by Delmer Daves. After an outlaw leader is captured in a small town, his gang continues to threaten. A small-time rancher takes the outlaw in secret to a nearby town to await the train to court in Yuma. Once the two are holed up in the hotel to wait, it becomes apparent the secret is out, and a battle of wills begins.
  • Oct. 1: “Fires on the Plain,” 1959, directed by Kon Ichikawa. In the closing days of World War II, remnants of the Japanese army in Leyte are abandoned by their commanders and face certain starvation.
  • Oct. 8: “The Last Picture Show,” 1971, directed by Peter Bogdanovich. A group of 1950s high school students come of age in a bleak, dying West Texas town.
  • Oct. 15: “Network,” 1976, directed by Sidney Lumet. A TV network cynically exploits a deranged ex-TV anchor’s ravings and revelations about the media for its own profit. Written by Paddy Chayefsky, it stars Faye Dunaway, William Holden and Peter Finch.
  • Oct. 22: “Death Row,” 1979, directed by Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian.
  • Oct. 29: “Dead Man,” 1995, directed by Jim Jarmusch. On the run after murdering a man, an accountant encounters a strange Native-American man who prepares him for his journey into the spiritual world. Shot in black and white, some consider the film to be the ultimate postmodern Western.
  • Nov. 5: “Talk to Her,” 2002, directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Two men share an odd friendship while they care for two women who are both in deep comas. Almodóvar wrote, as well as directed the film, which won the 2002 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and the 2003 Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign-Language Film.
  • Nov. 12: “Synecdoche, New York,” 2008, directed by Charlie Kaufman. A theater director struggles with his work and the women in his life as he creates a life-size replica of New York City inside a warehouse as part of his new play.
  • Nov. 19: “Pina,” 2011, directed by Wim Wenders. A 3-D documentary about German contemporary choreographer Pina Bausch. Bausch died unexpectedly during preparation of the documentary, but her dancers convinced Wenders to continue with the film, which showcases these dancers performing some of Bausch’s best-known pieces.
  • Nov. 26: “The Great Gatsby,” 2013, directed by Baz Luhrmann.  The most-recent adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire. A Midwestern war veteran finds himself drawn to the past and lifestyle of his millionaire neighbor.

For more information, visit the Buffalo Film Seminars’ website.