At the U of C the pictures may move, but you don’t really have to; there are plenty of excellent resources for the collegiate cinephile right on campus. If you’re not looking to stray too far from the Midway, Doc Films is an exceptional choice. Doc began in 1932 as a student-run film club that exclusively screened documentaries (or as its founders called them, “the realist study of our time via nonfiction film”). In 1940, the organization became firmly established as the International House Documentary Film Group. Since that time, Doc has switched its focus and now plays everything from flops to favorites of all genres.
Roger Ebert, an Illinois native and brief U of C alumnus himself, once called Doc Films “cinephile heaven,” and at $5 per ticket or $30 for a quarterly pass, it’s hard to disagree. Many esteemed directors from Woody Allen to Alfred Hitchcock and, more recently, Darren Aronofsky, have even graced Max Palevsky Cinema with their presence and led discussions about their films.
Films play every night throughout the entire quarter (excluding the dreaded finals week). Doc features five film series a quarter, one for each night of the week, and covers a highly varied cinematic ground. This past year students enjoyed Melville in the fall, Spaghetti Westerns in the winter, and Tarkovsky & Malick in the spring. Doc also played a premiere screening of Lena Dunham’s Girls, a Renoir mini-series, and the 453-minute Gilles Deleuze from A to Z. On the weekends Doc screens more recent releases, alternating between blockbusters and classic, established crowd-pleasers—just about anything you could think of from Easy A to Casablanca. Doc is run by U of C students and community members whose encyclopedic knowledge of the moving picture is laudable, and it’s worth noting for the benefit of the thrifty film-buff that Doc volunteers are rewarded with free entrance to all Doc shows in a given academic quarter.
The Max Palevsky Cinema is also often used to play movies produced by Fire Escape Films, the student filmmaking RSO at the U of C. New Fire Escape members make their first project with the help of a more seasoned member and the projects are played at the beginning of each quarter. Those who have completed these introductory works are allowed to propose projects of their own, subject to approval by the Fire Escape Films Committee.
If you’re not too keen on making your own film, but would like to watch as many as your heart desires—free of charge—the Film Studies Center is an excellent alternative. Located on the third floor of Cobb, the FSC boasts a wide variety of films, from the highly decorated to the relatively obscure. Better yet, you don’t have to be a Cinema and Media Studies major to borrow from their cinematic archives. The FSC also conducts events and film screenings, including those produced by members of Fire Escape.
If all that wasn’t enough, a new movie theater is being built as part of Harper Court (located at East 53rd Street and South Harper Avenue), and is slated to open in fall 2012. It will be run by The New 400 Theaters, an independent movie theater company with only one other location in Chicago (Rogers Park), which features alternative, children’s, and wide-release films. There will be five screens, and one of the theaters will have tables between the seats so that audience members can munch away while soaking up the silver screen. While their Rogers Park location offers special deals if you want to use their space (and screens) for a birthday party, there’s no word yet on whether the Harper Court theater will feature similar celebratory perks. In short, there is no need to fear a cinematic dry spell at the U of C. Your next great flick is not as far off as you may think.