Campus News

Pandemic brings changes to Buffalo Film Seminars

Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian adapt their Buffalo Film Seminar to online presentations and discussions.

Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian provide their Zoom audience an introduction to “Exterminating Angel,” the film for Oct. 6.


Published December 15, 2020

“We’ve lost the focus of the theater and power of the big screen. That was then; this is now. Now, anyone can play, wherever they are, and it’s not locked into a single evening after which it all evaporates, except for the handout. ”
Diane Christian, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor
Department of English

Gone, for now, are the collective Tuesday night film celebrations, where UB undergrads mix with vintage film devotees in the lobby, parking lot and huge-screen theater of the Amherst Dipson across Main Street from UB’s South Campus.

In its place, for now, is the remote edition of Buffalo Film Seminars — BFS Zoom. Like its predecessor, the current version is guided by UB English professors Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian, who incidentally are married, and have hosted the increasingly popular film screenings and discussions for the past 20 years — 40 consecutive semesters. Like so much in 2020, the pandemic means change.

“The series has morphed,” says Christian, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor.

It’s hard to replace what has become a Buffalo institution, an intellectual and cultural destination point that injected life into otherwise cold and sleepy Tuesday nights.

But wait. The 2020 Pandemic incarnation of Buffalo Film Seminars has found its legs, accepting the tradeoff of letting go of the theatrical experience for the advantages of asynchronous remote learning. It just didn’t come easy.

“Last spring, we were going nuts trying to replicate the theater experience online,” says Jackson, SUNY Distinguished Professor and James Agee Professor of American Culture. “Time was out of whack. We were juggling two films in our heads. It was like dating two people on the same night, not in succession, but alternatively. ‘What did I just say to whom about what?’ So we reconceived the series for an asynchronous world.

“In the theater, it was a one-shot experience,” he says. “Socializing in the parking lot, lobby and aisles before screening; picking up the Goldenrod Handout; our intro; the screening; the discussion; the socialization in reverse. It’s now us making a video of our intro, posting it to Vimeo, sending out a note Saturday with a link, the handout as a PDF, then Tuesday open Zoom discussions.”

Fewer people take part than Tuesday nights at Dipson — couples often told Jackson and Christian, “This is our date night.” But it means Jackson and Christian can open BFS to anyone interested via remote connection. Anyone can connect whenever they like. Jackson and Christian’s “riffs” are more conversational now. And the components are online.

Then, and now

A recent Tuesday session included UB students taking ENG 381, as well as fans from Buffalo, New York City, California, Boston, Pittsburgh, Cape Kennedy and more.

‘We’ve lost the focus of the theater and power of the big screen,” Christian says. “That was then; this is now. Now, anyone can play, wherever they are, and it’s not locked into a single evening after which it all evaporates, except for the handout.”

“Someone in Godforsaken-wherever can, in the heart of summer, do the entire thing or any of the various parts,” Jackson says. “That’s cool.”

Anyone looking for UB people not letting the pandemic get them down has to include Jackson and Christian, whose self-assessment of talents would not include 2020 Wi-Fi home wiring.

Jackson and Christian live in a big old house with thick walls. They have an extensive Linksys Wi-Fi, but kept losing signal.

“We’d be in the middle of a sentence and everyone would disappear,” Jackson says. “One time, the signal was so lousy we went upstairs to my study to log back on from there. They’d been carrying on the conversation in our absence. The situation was untenable.”

“It was clear we’d be in this situation for at least another semester,” Christian says. “We asked the cable company to run another direct line to the study. Then Bruce thought reconfiguring the nodes might solve the problem. He moved the TV room node into the front corridor, a distance of six feet, subtracting one wall from the signal path. No more problems with drop-off.” 

BFS faithful — old and new – are more than grateful for their perseverance.

Edward “Bud” Kliment is among the new ones. Kliment reviewed Jackson’s “The B-Side” theatrical production for a Columbia University blog. That led to Jackson becoming Kliment’s external adviser when he did his oral history master’s thesis at Columbia. When BFS went remote, Kliment signed up.

Other couples’ inspiration

“If I lived there, I would absolutely have been there every week,” says Kliment, deputy administrator for operations and prize process for the Pulitzer Prizes, which is presented by Columbia. “I love talking about movies, and there is not much opportunity to do that these days.”

Kliment, who calls Jackson and Christian “wonderful, wonderful people,” watches the movies Saturday nights with his wife, something they can share at a time their entertainment options in New York City are limited.

“This is definitely something that has given our weekly lives structure and purpose,” says Kliment. “We all need structure and conversation, but we really need those things now.”

Kliment recounts the appeal of the semester’s films in detail. Equally important is praise for Jackson and Christian.

“If you were a couple spending the pandemic together, it’s inspiring to see another couple living and working in a collaborative effort,” he says. “To see them sharing this with such enthusiasm, to see another couple making their way through this and making something really positive about it, that’s inspiring, too.”

The BFS spring 2021 series starts Feb. 2. To be added to the weekly mailing list, which offers access to film notes, link to Jackson’s and Christian’s Vimeo introduction, and Tuesday’s Zoom discussion, email bruce@buffalofilmseminars.list, with SUBSCRIBE in the subject line.

For more information on the series, visit its website.