The ubiquitous usage of online streaming services — paired with a local movie theater with a modest selection of current films — might make it difficult to imagine having a wide-ranging cinematic experience in Middlebury. Yet the Hirschfield International Film Series has been providing college and community members exactly that for more than 30 years. On Saturdays, the series screens a range of foreign and independent films in Dana Auditorium.
This year, the series will significantly change its programming approach to draw a larger audience. Instead of deciding on all the films that will be screened for an entire year and having a complete booklet printed out, the Department of Film and Media Culture has started to program the series on a month-to-month basis.
Film distribution is at times unpredictable, so some films that the series had planned to screen months ahead in the past could end up being online on platforms like Netflix by the time of the screening. In order to keep options open, the series has made public only the first three films that will be screened this month, while the next five are tentatively confirmed.
“We are excited … to draw more students out to introduce them to the series,” said Media Production Specialist Ethan Murphy, who spearheaded the new program this year. “And to re-introduce this new plan to students who have kind of written off the series as ‘I’ve got better things to do on my Saturday night.’”
Murphy started a programming committee for the series this year, which comprises students, staff and faculty. The committee discusses film recommendations and reaches out to distributors to gain screening rights. John Gosselin ’20, one of the three students involved in the process, emphasized that the films screened will not be otherwise accessible in our community.
The Academy Award-winning Chilean drama film “A Fantastic Woman” by Sebastián Lelio will kick off the series this year. The film centers on Marina, a transgender woman, and her life after her older partner passes away.
Film and Media Culture Professor David Miranda Hardy said that the film has sparked discussions about transgender rights.
“It’s not only a great film, it proposes very interesting social conversation,” he said. “And it’s interesting for an American audience just to see it through the perspective of another country.”
The two screenings will be followed by a conversation with the film’s screenwriter Gonzalo Maza, who is also a former colleague of Miranda Hardy’s. They met in 2014 when Miranda Hardy was looking for writers for his television show “Bala Loca,” which premiered in 2016. For a year, Miranda Hardy worked with Maza whom he considers to be highly talented.
“Probably his partnership with Sebastián Lelio is one of the best things that happened to Chilean films,” Miranda Hardy said, explaining that the duo has produced more than one award-winning film. In addition to the Q&A after each screening, Maza will be joining a film production class and a screenwriting class next week.
“It’s a great opportunity to see how the stories that are great filmmaking but also very topical get to be made,” Miranda Hardy said.
It seems to be a consensus among the Hirschfield Series’ main drivers that it is, above all, undervalued. The technical excellence that the venue of Dana Auditorium provides, for example, is largely unknown to the public. “I think students also think that we just pop in a Blu-Ray and show it in Dana,” Murphy said.
In fact, the screening venue offers top equipment, such as the high-end digital cinema projection, that can bring the audience a highly enjoyable film watching experience.
The unique, collective experience of watching a film in a movie theater setting is something that series organizers want to convey by creating a community within and beyond the College.
“There is something about the ritual that for people of my generation is very natural — or used to be,” Miranda-Hardy said. “But we hope students can get engaged.”