Published August 17, 2022
The uncertainty of the pandemic is keeping the Buffalo Film Seminars remote again this fall.
But that’s not entirely a bad thing, according to the UB faculty hosts of the popular film series, which opens its 45th edition on Aug. 30. While Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian maintain that movies are meant to be seen on the big screen, in the company of others, the series’ online screenings and discussions during the past two years have opened the series to viewers who would otherwise not have the opportunity to participate.
The unique environment for the Buffalo Film Seminars — the series traditionally has taken place in the Dipson Amherst Theatre across Main Street from the South Campus — played a role in the decision to remain remote this semester.
“The COVID situation was still volatile” when it came time earlier this year to finalize the location for the class, explains Jackson, SUNY Distinguished Professor and James Agee Professor of American Culture in the Department of English. “There had been a recent spike in the numbers. We didn’t know if people would be wearing masks in theaters in the fall,” he says, noting that it would be “impossible” to have a discussion in a large theater with all, or much of the audience, masked. “We miss the big screen, but we like the certainty of access remote provides.”
Staying remote has allowed the class size to increase from 35 to 50 students, Jackson says, pointing out that when the series is held in the theater, student seating has to be limited to leave enough seats for the general public for the event to be economically feasible for the theater operator.
Jackson says he and Christian have found that students participate “much more vigorously” in the discussion when access is remote. And since the introductions and the discussions for the films are available on Vimeo, anyone can access them at any time.
“People adjusted to seeing films separately from introductions and discussion,” says Christian, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor in the English department. “And there has been such powerful interest in sharing them by Zoom that our audience has really expanded.”
She notes that many former students and UB alumni want to stay in touch via serious film discussion. “I think it could be a real alumni project,” she says. “Many might not want to do the whole series but might check in for a favorite or new film.”
Jackson adds that UB alumni from all over the country are taking part in the series — alumni residing in Vancouver, Seattle, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, New York City and elsewhere are now “remote BFS regulars.”
“It’s a tradeoff,” he says of conducting the series remotely, versus in the theater. “In the future? Who knows?”
The weekly discussions of the films this fall are taking place via Zoom at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays from Aug. 30 through Dec. 6.
An email notification about each film will be sent out on the Saturday before the Zoom discussion date to students registered for Christian and Jackson’s “Film Directors” class (ENG 381), as well as to the English department’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 the Zoom discussion.
All films are available for rental on Amazon Prime (with membership), except for “The Wind Rises,” which is available for purchase only ($12). Most films are also available for rental on other streaming services (Apple, Hulu, etc.) as well. Some are available free or for rental on YouTube; often (not always) the free versions on YouTube are far lower resolution than the rental versions.
Several of the films will also be available free to UB email account holders through the UB Library’s Kanopy and Swank portals; that list will go out later this summer.
The series opens on Aug. 30 with the 1927 film “Wings,” which continues the BFS’ tradition of having a silent film open the series each semester. Directed by William Wellman, it tells the story of two young men — one rich, one middle class — who are in love with the same woman and become fighter pilots during World War I. The film won the first Academy Award for Best Picture. A young Gary Cooper appears in a small role that helped launch his career in Hollywood.
The remainder of the schedule, with descriptions culled from the IMDb online movie database and other sources:
Sept. 6: “Rules of the Game,” 1939, directed by Jean Renoir. At the onset of World War II, the rich and their poor servants meet at a French chateau.
Sept. 13: “Casablanca,” 1942, directed by Michael Curtiz. A cynical American expatriate encounters a former lover in Casablanca in 1941 — with unforeseen complications. Stars Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.
Sept. 20: “In a Lonely Place,” 1950, directed by Nicholas Ray. Humphrey Bogart returns to star in the story of a potentially violent screenwriter who is a murder suspect until his lovely neighbor clears him. However, she soon starts to have her doubts. Billed as “the Bogart suspense picture with the surprise finish.”
Sept. 27: “Viridiana,” 1961, directed by Luis Buñuel. Viridiana, a young nun about to take her final vows, pays a visit to her widowed uncle at the request of her Mother Superior.
Oct. 4: “Chimes at Midnight,” 1966, directed by Orson Welles. The film, in which Welles stars as well as directs, centers on Shakespeare’s recurring character, Sir John Falstaff, and the father-son relationship he has with Prince Hall, who must choose between loyalty to Falstaff, or his father, King Henry IV.
Oct. 11: “Young Frankenstein,” 1974, directed by Mel Brooks. An American grandson of the infamous scientist, struggling to prove that his grandfather was not as crazy as people believe, goes to Transylvania, where he discovers the process that reanimates a dead body. A parody of the classic horror film genre, the picture ranks 13th on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 funniest American movies.
Oct. 18: “Night Moves,” 1975, directed by Arthur Penn. A Los Angeles private investigator uncovers a series of sinister events while searching for the missing teenage daughter of a former movie actress.
Oct. 25: “Tootsie,” 1982, directed by Sydney Pollack. An unsuccessful actor disguises himself as a woman to land a role on a trashy hospital soap opera. Stars Dustin Hoffman and Jessica Lange.
Nov. 1: “Ran,” 1985, directed by Akira Kurosawa. In this epic adaptation of Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” an elderly Japanese warlord retires and divides his fiefdom among his three sons. The two corrupt ones turn against him.
Nov. 8: “Goodfellas,” 1990, directed by Martin Scorsese. The story of Henry Hill and his life in the mob. Stars Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci.
Nov. 15: “The Wind Rises,” 2013, directed by Hiayo Miyazaki. A look at the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II.
Nov. 22: “Selma,” 2014, directed by Ava DuVernay. A historical drama based of Martin Luther King Jr.’s campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965.
Nov. 29: “Parallel Mothers,” 2021, directed by Pedro Almodóvar. The story of two mothers who bond in an unexpected way after giving birth the same day.
Dec. 6: “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” 2000, directed by Ang Lee. A young Chinese warrior steals a sword from a famed swordsman and then escapes into a world of romantic adventure with a mysterious man in the frontier of the nation. In a 2016 story in UBNow, Christian and Jackson call the film’s fight scene “one of the most beautiful fight scenes ever choreographed. Utterly impossible, but utterly believable. Movie magic!”