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