As a freshman, Northwestern student Rowan McCloskey attended as many Block Cinema screenings as he could. As a sophomore, he became a Block Museum Student Associate (BMSA) after learning about the program through a posting in The Daily Northwestern’s e-newsletter.
“Both of those things really cemented my relationship with The Block,” he said. “And because I was going to almost every screening that they put on, I got to know the staff pretty well.”
McCloskey’s full-on immersion into Northwestern’s arts culture led him to realize that something was missing: a student-run film society. So along with a friend, Daniel Wolf, he began to conceptualize what one might look like, with the image in mind of University of Chicago’s Doc Films, the nation’s longest-running student film society.
“Our ultimate goal was to create a film society that transcends major boundaries, bringing people together from all over the school,” Wolf said.
In the fall quarter of Northwestern’s 2022-23 school year, McCloskey and Wolf reached out to Block Cinema curators Michael Metzger and Malia Haines-Stewart to seek guidance on how to make his and Wolf’s vision a reality. As it turned out, another group of students with similar aims had already reached out to Metzger and Haines-Stewart: Audrey Henry, J.G. Singhal, and Nick Schoenbrodt. Metzger and Haines-Stewart put the five in contact with one another and from that initial grouping, Northwestern Cinematheque was born.
Another Block Student Associate, Nozizwe Msipa, joined Northwestern Cinematheque after hearing about it from McCloskey at a BMSA meeting.
“I think part of the cinematheque and BMSA program is introducing people into The Block” she said. “Getting students and other people involved in the really cool programming that’s always available – in both roles we really act as ambassadors.”
Northwestern Cinematheque’s first programming debuted in the spring quarter of 2023 at John J. Louis Hall. Part of Northwestern’s School of Communication with two soundstages, a professional electronic newsroom, video and audio editing suites, and theater-like classrooms, the building was perfectly suited to the group’s needs and already well-established within Northwestern’s film and media communities.
The group received financial support for its programming and guest remuneration from the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities and the Pritzker Pucker Studio Lab for the Promotion of Mental Health via Cinematic Arts at Northwestern University.
The Block Museum also provided support for Northwestern Cinematheque, co-hosting a screening of A Self-Induced Hallucination (2018) by director Jane Schoenbrun. The group had always planned to bring a filmmaker to campus as part of their work, and as they conceptualized what their first quarter of programming would look like, they became increasingly interested in Schoenbrun’s found footage work.
“The Block Cinema team was eager to help,” Wolf said. “That help ended up being really essential to ultimately bringing Jane here.”
Schoenbrun’s selection also fit under the theme of “the internet” that had been selected to guide the season. Inspired by other local microcinemas’ programming methods, the group decided to plan their season under a central theme, focusing content on a central idea.
“Having some sort of thematic guide for our programming lets us dive a little bit deeper into the films,” McCloskey said.
The Cinematheque’s spring 2023 featuring films like Demonlover (Assayas, 2002), Pulse (K. Kurosawa, 2001), and Video Diary of a Lost Girl (Denniberg, 2012). To fill an entire quarter’s worth of programming space, each member contributed a film under the guiding theme.
Thematic programming also proved enriching for the conversations the group encourages, both before and after the film, Msipa said.
Northwestern Cinematheque’s mission is to bring people together via screenings and discussions of films from marginalized filmmakers around the world – fostered by shared encounters with art.
“One of my favorite things, and why I love to study film, is that it can bring people together in community,” Msipa said. “Community isn’t built without conversation and mutual understanding.”
In keeping with the group’s idea of the Cinematheque as a space for community, its members envision its future as an expanding, collective space.
“We’re very open to any project, really, that any student has in mind,” Wolf said. “We want to make the club as expansive as possible.”
That includes inviting interested members to contribute to programming, the quarterly zine the group publishes, or any other project they might envision. The goal, Wolf said, is to expand Northwestern’s film culture in a way that’s inviting to everyone.
“No one wants there to be one person deciding everything – it’s definitely a group thing,” Msipa said. “The ideal would be more and more people having a chance to program and chose films.”
The cinematheque’s “all hands on-deck” approach is integral to spreading a love of cinema across campus, McCloskey said.
“The collaborative model can do something beyond just a small group selecting programming ” he said. “It opens it up and allows for some diversification in the programming – what we get to show, and ultimately what the Northwestern community gets to see.”
Though McCloskey is taking a gap year for the 2023-24 academic year, he can’t help but be excited for the parallel futures of the programs he loves.
“I’m really excited for the potential of both Block Cinema, Northwestern Cinematheque, and the Block Museum Student Associate program and the way that it seems like all of them are growing on campus and becoming more popular,” he said. “I’m excited to see where that can go.”