In December 2022, New City Magazine shared its list of the 50 most influential professionals in Chicago’s film and media community, including Block Cinema’s own Michael Metzger, Pick-Laudati Curator of Media Arts, and Malia Haines-Stewart, Associate Film Programmer. The magazine includes an essay articulating Block Cinema’s work and unique impact.
Michael Metzger and Malia Haines-Stewart
Pick-Laudati Curator of Media Arts and Associate Film Programmer, Northwestern University Block Museum of Art
As the Curator of Media Arts at the Block, Michael Metzger organizes gallery exhibitions, works with the Block’s collections, and directs the Block Cinema screening series. Block Cinema organizes fifty or so unique film events every academic year, including in-person appearances by guest filmmakers and scholars. Metzger and associate film programmer Malia Haines-Stewart watch, research and discuss films, often in partnership with Northwestern students and faculty; track down the best available materials from archival film prints to digital restorations; develop resources and campus involvement for in-person visits of filmmakers, researchers and curators; and host conversations that generate insight into the films they screen. “Before I became a curator, I was an academic; before I was an academic, I was a teacher; before I was a teacher, I was a video store clerk. The work I do at Block Cinema draws equally on those experiences, Metzger says. “Our upcoming programs reflect the capacious model of film history that I absorbed at the video store. We’re very conscious of the valuable role that university cinemas like ours can play in the ecosystem of non-theatrical film. We look for opportunities to support and showcase the work of distributors who are expanding access to adventurous cinema, archives that are preserving endangered cinematic legacies and scholars and filmmakers who are promoting a more inclusive film culture. We try to act as a conduit between that international community of passionate cinema workers, and diverse local communities at Northwestern and beyond, who see cinema as a way to encounter the world and exchange ideas,” Metzger says.
“I love teaching with film, and if Block Cinema can feel like a classroom sometimes, I’m glad! The accessibility and immediacy of cinema can make it a powerful tool for generating knowledge, because it’s a way of learning through sensation. We’re lucky to work with diverse educators, students, and audiences who share our passion for cinema and its teaching potential, whether in examining the enduring effects of colonial violence, conveying the lived experience of climate emergency, or affirming histories of struggle and practices of joy in the face of these realities. Since Block Cinema programs are free and open to the public, it’s great that we can share some of Northwestern’s resources for teaching and learning with the larger community; equally importantly, our emphasis on audience discussion puts us in a better position to learn from the community as well.” He sees the exhibition community as strong. “Chicago exhibitors support the work of local filmmakers, who are able to show their work across town at festivals, art-houses, colleges and microcinemas. Rather than being proprietary, exhibitors recognize that it’s in everyone’s best interest to foster and elevate great filmmaking in the region, because it’s such a powerful driver of audience interest and enthusiasm for film. That was the spirit of solidarity when the Chicago Cinema Workers Fund came together during the lockdowns—individuals and institutions across Chicago collectively working to reaffirm the importance of cinema as a social experience. The Block may not technically be in Chicago, but we’re definitely playing a part in that united effort.”
Associate film programmer Malia Haines-Stewart works on free film screenings for the university and wider community of moviegoers in Chicago and Evanston. “Together with my colleagues and collaborators, we seek to create a space for encounters for our audience, with highly varied moving image works, as well as artists, filmmakers and scholars, so conversation and the ways in which the films are exhibited are very important to us,” she says. “We are especially eager to leverage the structure of our screenings to platform working artists and facilitate intergenerational dialogues. Another area we focus on is recent and past work that imagine pathways of resilience in film as well as works that have been de-centered historically. Whenever possible, we work with colleagues, community members, Northwestern students and faculty to realize moving image events that engage with and support their scholarship and interests.” Filmmakers are important to the mission, too, as the Block finds ways “to support the ecosystem of independent moving image arts in Chicago and beyond by working directly with artists and filmmakers whose living is tied to university and museum screenings, as well as booking films from small distributors and organizations doing the work of recuperation through the restoration and digitization.” Before the Block, her cinema work in Chicago was programming and organizing filmfront, a microcinema in Pilsen, that was also committed to free, community-oriented, discussion-driven screenings. “That feels like a relevant but somewhat unexpected lineage to a position at a university-museum film venue, but the values that go into the work are connected. We will continue to look to create more sustainable pathways within film programming by sharing film prints and coordinating with other organizations to share filmmakers and guests.”