If you have taken a course in the Film & Media Culture Department, enjoyed a movie on the big screen in Dana Auditorium or snuck into Axinn 232 on a Friday night with some friends, popcorn and a six-pack, you should thank Ted Perry.
On Friday, May 3, a group of faculty, staff, students, toddlers and President Laurie L. Patton gathered at the Axinn Center to hang a plaque honoring Perry, Fletcher Professor of the Arts Emeritus, for his many contributions to all things film at Middlebury, including the founding of the department in 2008.
“I’m sure it wouldn’t have happened without him,” said Film Professor Leger Grindon.
Perry arrived at Middlebury in 1978 as a dean with tenure and teaching duties. He had previously been the director of the Film Department at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and chaired the Cinema Studies Department at New York University. His proposal to teach film classes upon his arrival initiated film studies at the college.
The plaque now hangs outside the Film & Media Culture offices in Axinn, beside a poster of “The Passenger” (1975), a film by Michelangelo Antonioni, a director who has been at the center of Perry’s own scholarship.
“As students would say: this is really cool,” Perry said on Friday.
In brief remarks, he reflected on the decades-long fight for film studies at Middlebury, noting that over the years, some college administrators had been supportive of the department’s work, while others questioned its place at the college. Ten or 15 years ago, Perry said, a senior administrator approached him and said that once Perry retired, the college would eliminate the department.
“I had to then wait until that person retired before I could retire,” he said to laughter and applause, “but today, it wouldn’t be done away with because there’s such outstanding teachers, scholars and filmmakers in the department. I think it really has a life and I’m very proud of it.”
Members of the Film & Media Culture Department decided earlier this year to purchase the plaque using department funds.
The plaque notes Perry’s founding of the film-video program, the precursor to Film & Media Culture, in what was then the Department of Theater, Dance and Film-Video. Perry also raised funds to endow the Hirschfield International Film Series and helped lead the planning and design of the college’s film facilities. He retired in 2012.
“Ted had begun his work in the administration and was an excellent negotiator with the powers that be and the ebb and flow of those powers,” Grindon said, noting that the department now has seven faculty members. “Without Ted’s continuous and persistent effort, this would not have happened.”
At Friday’s dedication, Emmie Donadio, formerly the chief curator of the Middlebury College Museum of Art, thanked Perry in particular for the films and speakers he brought to campus over the years, noting that he helped Middlebury become “a very stimulating place to be.”
“This was a really nice place to raise kids, because there were films to be seen; they didn’t have to go to New York,” she said. “You have no idea how many people you have affected deeply.”
Editor’s note: Will DiGravio, a Film & Media Culture major, worked as a research assistant to Prof. Perry in the spring of 2018.