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November 11, 2011

A series of special guests at the Max Palevsky cinema

“Phenomenal…is what would I call them…unusual, eclectic, fascinating!” These were the words Scott Dunham used to describe the special events of Doc Films. The Special Events arm of Doc has a rich history, seeking to involve and empower members from various student organizations and arts groups.

According to Dunham, the Special Events chair, Doc Films is a hotbed for expression, from the cultural to the downright crazy. “Doc Films is a place for student organizations to show films to a wide audience and to become an outreach venue for international film festivals,” he said. The open and receptive quality of Doc is what enables its special events to be so successful—Special Events provides an opportunity and a forum for the exchange of ideas with the greater campus community and beyond. The Muslim Student Association (MSA) sponsored Fordson, an inspiring film about high school Muslim athletes fasting during Ramadan. The event was graced by the arrival of the film’s director who held a question-and-answer session with those who attended. From a more departmental standpoint, Climate Refugees, supported by the Department of International Studies, takes an environmental route, which includes a panel to introduce the film and provide discussion. Dunham comments that special films such as this “take you out of that detached abstract model of some future hypothetical apocalypse and shows you how communities are disintegrating right now as a result of climate change. That’s a great special event!”

Special Events, however, is not limited projects that involve campus organizations, but also extends to the larger community. One of the unique tenets of Special Events is its ability to create relationships with outside groups, showcasing new things and discovering talent. The recent showing of Gilles Deleuze from A to Z was, according to Dunham, “made possible thanks to the efforts of the Seminary Co-Op and MIT Press. No one but Doc is going to be able to do something like that.” At the start of the quarter, Doc partnered with the Chicago International Film Festival and the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival to bring special screenings to the community. Doc takes the relational aspect of its special events even further by co-sponsoring events with The Pub at Ida Noyes. “Ida Noyes is an amazing space…. There’s the potential for a real synergistic relationship. Jake Spicer, the Pub’s manager, has been incredibly enthusiastic about working with Doc on these kind of co-sponsored events,” exclaimed Dunham.

Special Events makes extensive use of the Max Palevsky cinema, which seats nearly 500 people. The cinema, in Dunham’s view, “is a tremendous opportunity for studios to get their films in front of a huge audience for purposes of getting feedback or generating buzz prior to a film’s scheduled release date. From Doc’s standpoint, it’s just cool.” This quarter, some special up-and-coming films, such as Shut Up, Little Man! and Pearl Jam Twenty, were pre-screened for free at Doc. Dunham lamented that, though such events used to happen with regularity, “it has proved incredibly difficult [to accomplish] in recent years since we’re losing the ‘blockbusters’ to downtown venues.”

The special events hosted by Doc have the tradition of bringing in esteemed directors and stars (Alfred Hitchcock, Robert Redford, Terrence Malick, John Ford, and more!). Yet, Special Events also focuses on lesser-known individuals who have something unique to say. This past weekend Doc hosted Lyle Skosey, the producer of the small film The Truth is Out There, who came and spoke about the different ways in which film projects get funded. Dunham said, “there’s a lot to be learned from the lesser-known names doing the day-to-day hard work to make a living in the film business.” Special Events gives them an opportunity to do just that.

A defining feature of Doc’s Special Events is that each is spontaneous and does not follow a set theme. Dunham explained, “It is all based on what RSOs, community members, film studios, and the like offer us. When people come to me with ideas, I want to help them make it happen.” Yet, whenever there seems to be a theme in one quarter’s special events, it is usually the result of a partnership of Doc and another entity (say the Seminary Co-Op or 57th Street Books) that leads to a series of events, such as book events.

Special Events of Doc generally received good feedback, though many people only sporadically attended the screenings. On the recent showing of Gilles Deleuze, Dunham commented, “Deleuze was the kind of event that people talked about a lot but didn’t really come to. We had a number of people wander in and out throughout the day, but very few who stayed for the whole event.” The student body as a whole recognized the significance of the event. “Students appreciated how cool the event was and how special an opportunity it was, but that was almost enough for them. It was enough to know that it was happening,” Dunham said. “My goal is not to provide things that I think the student body will turn out for in droves, but to provide student organizations with a forum to show films and have discussion,” he added.

Dunham described L.A. Plays Itself as a great example of the quirkiness and beauty of Special Events. Scheduled for Spring 2012, L.A. Plays Itself is an iconic and unsurprisingly graphic gay porn film of the 1970s. Doc is what it is because it provides a forum for a wide variety of voices to be heard and films to be seen. According to Dunham, “debate and discussion are a big part of how Doc operates, and that’s just yet another great thing about the very special organization that is Doc Films.”

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