Published August 25, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly posed challenges for instruction at UB, both last semester and for the upcoming fall semester. But it’s been particularly difficult for the Buffalo Film Seminars, which for the past 20 years has been devoted to the idea that movies are meant to be seen on the big screen, in the company of others.
When Western New York shut down and the Amherst Theatre, home to the series, went dark last March, faculty members Diane Christian and Bruce Jackson scrambled to finish the spring semester via streaming access, virtual “Goldenrod Handouts” on the individual films and 15-minute Vimeo introductions for each film.
For the upcoming fall semester, the couple has developed another “workaround” for the series’ 41st edition, which they call the “COVID-19 edition,” running from Sept. 1 through Dec. 1. These dates align with what would have been the regular Tuesday night screenings and discussions at the Amherst Theatre.
All 14 films featured for the fall are available now for online streaming. All UB faculty, staff and students — and anyone else with a UB email account — will be able to access, without cost, 13 of the 14 films through the UB Libraries’ Kanopy portal. The one exception is “Once Upon a Time in the West,” which is available on YouTube for $4.95.
All 14 films are available through Amazon Prime’s streaming service. Some of the films are available at no additional cost, while others require a $3.95 or $4.95 fee for a 30-day rental.
An email notification about each film will be sent out a week before the film’s nominal screening date to students registered for Christian and Jackson’s “Film Directors” class (ENG 381), as well as to the Department of English’s Discussion List and to the Buffalo Film Seminars listserv (email Jackson or Christian to get on the BFS listserv). That notice will include a URL for the pair’s Vimeo introduction to the film and a PDF of that week’s Goldenrod Handout. The notice will also include an invitation to a Zoom session at 7 p.m. on the nominal screening date, which will substitute for the usual post-film discussion in the theater.
The best way to watch a movie is in a darkened theater with friends, family and other film buffs, Jackson says. But the restrictions brought about by the pandemic have put an end to that for now, and he and Christian are forging on — virtually — with the course.
“We have, alas, no choice right now,” Jackson says. “Like everyone else, we’ll work with what we’ve got. We’re fortunate to have access to these streaming services and the Zoom service, which will give us some time to talk about what we’ve seen.
“But, there are some advantages,” he adds. “Students and everyone else will be able, if they wish, to revisit the films after our discussions. And, because everything is online, we’ve had people from Texas, California, Oregon and elsewhere join the list.
“Eventually,” he says, “we’ll get back to sitting in the dark together, watching movies the way they ought to be watched.”
The series opens on Sept. 1 with the 1928 classic silent film “The Passion of Joan of Arc” (La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc), directed by Carl Theodor Dryer. It tells the story of Joan of Arc, who in 1431 is placed on trial on charges of heresy. The ecclesiastical jurists attempt to force her to recant her claims of holy visions.
The remainder of the schedule, with descriptions culled from IMDb and other sources:
Sept. 8: “M” (original title: “M — Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder”: A City Searches for a Murderer), 1931, directed by Fritz Lang. When the police in a German city are unable to catch a child-murderer, other criminals join in the manhunt.
Sept. 15: “Throne of Blood,” 1957, directed by Akira Kurosawa. A war-hardened general, egged on by his ambitious wife, works to fulfill a prophecy that he would become lord of Spider’s Web Castle.
Sept. 22: “The Seventh Seal” (original title: “Det sjunde inseglet”), 1957, directed by Ingmar Bergman. A man seeks answers about life, death and the existence of God as he plays chess against the Grim Reaper during the Black Plague.
Sept. 29: “Black Orpheus” (original title: “Orfeu Negro”), 1959, directed by Marcel Camus. A retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, set during the time of the Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro.
Oct. 6: “The Exterminating Angel” (original title: “El ángel exterminador”), 1962, directed by Luis Buñuel. The guests at an upper-class dinner party find themselves unable to leave the house.
Oct. 13: “Le Samouraï,” 1967, directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. After professional hitman Jef Costello is seen by witnesses, his efforts to provide himself an alibi drive him further into a corner.
Oct 20: Once Upon a Time in the West (original title: “C’era una volta il West”), 1968, directed by Sergio Leone. A mysterious stranger with a harmonica joins forces with a notorious desperado to protect a beautiful widow from a ruthless assassin working for the railroad.
Oct. 27: “Solaris (original title: Solyaris”), 1972, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. A psychologist is sent to a station orbiting a distant planet in order to discover what has caused the crew to go insane.
Nov. 3: “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” (original title: “Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes”), 1972, directed by Werner Herzog. In the 16th century, the ruthless and insane Don Lope de Aguirre leads a Spanish expedition in search of El Dorado.
Nov. 10: “The Stunt Man,” 1980, directed by Richard Rush. A fugitive stumbles onto a movie set just when a new stunt man is needed, takes the job as a way to hide out, and falls for the leading lady.
Nov. 17: “Wings of Desire” (original title: “Der Himmel über Berlin”), 1987, directed by Wim Wenders. An angel tires of overseeing human lives and wishes to become human when he falls in love with a mortal.
Nov. 24: Three Colors: Red (original title: “Trois couleurs: Rouge”), 1994, directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski.
Dec. 1: “The Great Dictator,” 1940, directed by Charlie Chaplin. Dictator Adenoid Hynkel tries to expand his empire while a poor Jewish barber tries to avoid persecution from Hynkel’s regime.
For more information, visit the BFS website.