Screening program needs a brighter idea

At issue: Lackluster attendance at Bright Screenings

Our take: It’s a two-way street

In response to dismal student attendance at the visual and media arts department’s Bright Lights program of biweekly film screenings, administrators have decided to ask students in the major to attend at least two events per semester. VMA students can also attend exhibits at the Huret and Spector Gallery, the decade-old art space tucked away in Tufte, to fulfill the guideline. (The department has called it a “requirement,” but there is currently no enforcement or penalty for not meeting it.) Turnout has been so poor that administrators have even expressed embarrassment.

“We have 1,500 undergraduates in VMA, and sometimes we would bring in a guest director and have seven people there,” said Brooke Knight, interim chair of the VMA department.

If the department is going to compel attendance, it has a responsibility to ensure each event offers something students can’t get from their dorm beds. Cutie and the Boxer, shown this week, is a moving and fascinating documentary, but it’s only a click away for anyone with a Netflix account — or a friend or cousin with one. A bigger screen can’t be the only draw. Besides, recent Oscar-nominated favorites are just the kind of thing that film students are likely to catch of their own fruition. To truly enrich students’ out-of-class cinema diet, screenings need to lean heavier on special guests, rarities, and older gems that students won’t seek out on their own. Perhaps actually show more pictures on celluloid. 

While admittedly not all of the Bright screenings reach the caliber of a Ron Burgundy press conference, students are only slighting themselves by skipping out on the events. To make these screenings successful, both students and staff must be willing to make changes. Bright Lights was created to benefit the VMA students and represents Emerson’s constant desire to give students a learning experience that extends beyond the classroom. If aspiring directors, producers, scene designers, and other filmmakers want to get the most out of a school they chose to attend for a specialization in film, it only makes sense that they take advantage of what is offered to them. The films presented and the discussions that take place during the Bright screenings are planned by faculty to provide students with exactly what they wanted in attending Emerson College: a learning opportunity more engaging than collegiate literature and a lecture hall. 

It’s not as if the VMA department is asking its students to participate in something unfamiliar to other disciplines. Journalism students are asked to watch and write about political debates and stay up on current events. Political communication students are encouraged to attend panels on campus. As Knight wrote in an email to students, these screenings have an educational value to them that should not be overlooked.

It is no surprise that when the editor of American Hustle made an appearance at a screening, the room was packed. A famous director or editor is always enticing—but there is value sans spectacle at the Bright screenings. The opportunity to learn from filmmakers in the industry, regardless of their fame, is one all film students should take advantage of. You never know who you could be learning from. After all, no one cared much for Van Gogh until after he passed.