Why are you emptying the ATM across the street from Rumor when you could be watching some French New Wave? Although only in its second semester of existence, Penn Cinema Initiative has already established itself as an important pre–weekend fixture on campus.
Founded by Nikhil Venkatesa (former president, now abroad, C '17) and Ashley Stinnett (current president, C '17) PCI grew out of the their desires to institutionalize their cinematic interests into a film appreciation community. The two met as freshmen in Integrated Studies Program and maintained a correspondence over the summer that brought about PCI in the fall semester.
“Initially I think we were a little dissatisfied with the things we explore on campus,” described Ashley. “There’s a lot of disparate things going on, but nothing in terms of a regular things you can go to every week.”
As a member of a residential program in Harrison College House, Ashley knew the house dean and was able to secure a seminar room for the group to use for their weekly screenings. In addition to securing funding form Harrison, the Cinema Studies department and Kelly Writer’s House kicked in some cash to support the club and help it start up an online film journal, The Moviegoer.
Ashley describes the purpose of Penn Cinema Initiative as being able to “bring people who are nerdy about film together.” A typical screening on a Thursday night begins sometime between 6 and 8 pm, with each film selection being introduced by a student or professor passionate about its artistic merit. Following the screening, a free–form discussion is moderated by the same individual who prefaced the film, in which audience members are invited to share their impressions and formalize their intuitions in conversation with other viewers.
Accessibility is important to Penn Cinema Initiative, as they purposefully try not to load the discussions with jargon or weighty film theory. As Ashley explains, most academic discussions about cinema expect significant background knowledge, an amount of expertise that PCI does not require: “We’ll try to gear it (discussion) more about what did you see the director do, what happened in this shot, how did they frame this, things you can pick up on as a layman.”
Alexander Atienza, director of marketing for PCI, sees this self–taught aspect as one of the group’s finest strengths. “None of the board members, except for one, study film,” he remarks. Alexander himself has not taken any Cinema Studies classes at Penn, but thinks that having film enthusiasts from different backgrounds allows them to inform their own appreciations of film from different areas of expertise, allowing for a richer, more synthetic conversation.
Ashley hopes that Penn Cinema Initiative can also become a hub of film, where people can explore and learn more about movie happenings in the city. A large part of PCI is helping its members learn about the opportunities for continuing engagement, such as the Philadelphia Film Festival that PCI was able to score tickets for and attend as a group. Members also remain in contact with each other about hosting informal screenings at each other’s houses and catching new films in the theaters.
And the prospects for continuing film dialogue aren't left behind in a Harrison seminar room. Alexander Atienza sees this same extended value in PCI as a community of critical film dialogue and enthusiasm about the art. After doing some graphic design work for the group last semester, he joined the board and became involved with their blog, The Moviegoer. The site is updated several times a week, with recent movie reviews and discussions of older selections alike. His work as a writer there has even secured him a press pass for the Tribeca Film Festival, which he’ll jaunt up to after Spring Fling.
While this semester's theme has been predominantly New Wave films, they also included a few other beloved titles like American Beauty and Inherent Vice. “We very much try to at the beginning of each semester choose the sort of films that everybody was like “Oh I really wanted to watch that but didn’t have the time!,” Alexander explains.
And if you’re not doing anything tonight, head over to Harrison M20 to have your heart shattered by PCI’s screening of Blue Valentine. There’ll be snacks to stop your crying.