The International Film Series on the CU-Boulder campus first put films on screen in 1941. That was the year of Orson Welles astonishing first film Citizen Kane, the great Preston Sturges’s comedy Sullivan’s Travels and French director Jean Renoir’s first American film Swamp Water, made in the U.S. because he’d fled the Nazi occupation of France.
Roger Ebert, who was a 40-year veteran of the school’s Conference on World Affairs, liked to say that this was the longest continually-running college film series in the country. Pablo Kjolseth, the longtime curator of the series, says he’s not so sure, and records are scarce, but it is certain that the IFS, as it’s known, has been going for 78 years.
And it’s still going strong.
One great strength of the series is its tremendous range. IFS highlights current films from the U.S. and the rest of the world, screenings of films from the past — from both the U.S. and the everywhere else. And unlike most such series, IFS brings together the unusual, sometimes the scorned, sometimes the kinds of films that so deviate from conventional ideas of normal that without this series and a few museums, these important films would have no place to get an audience.
The current schedule includes the last unfinished film by Orson Welles, The Other Side of the Wind, which was completed just months ago by a team of Welles’s friends and collaborators. And to lead up to that film, IFS will show three other Welles pictures — Citizen Kane, The Lady from Shanghai and Touch of Evil. Spread throughout the semester are retrospective screenings of films by the master of horror films John Carpenter — The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, The Fog and They Live. Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth with David Bowie will show, and Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist.
In the 1950s, the artist and avant garde filmmaker Bruce Connor was a student at CU-Boulder, and he started a companion series to IFS of poetic films, which he called “First Person Cinema.” That program has been absorbed into the International Film Series and in the coming months will bring to the Boulder campus in-person shows by Malena Szlam and Irene Lusztig. On the schedule are many new films — Hirokazu Kore’s Eda’s magnificent Shoplifters and the South Korean film Burning.
You simply cannot see most of what IFS has on tap anywhere else in the area. The schedule includes restorations and even some screenings in 35mm, which is impossible to see anywhere else in these parts and is still a more luminous experience than the digital formats.
Yes, most of what the IFS shows you can find on the internet, But for good cinema, the internet, or your DVD or Blu-ray player at home, are second-rate substitutes. In this series, you can see the world’s best movies on a big screen with an audience of human beings who are mostly strangers to each other. That setting has become a largely forgotten part of the movies, and it’s one of film’s most wonderful mysteries. When a movie catches the audience, you can feel it. It’s electric. Or, sometimes in a movie theater, you have the experience of seeing a terrific film, and then catching the eye of someone nearby — someone you don’t know — and you both understand that something transcendent has just happened. You probably won’t talk, but you will both know that you’ve shared something important with another human being.
Frankly, most mainstream movie theaters and most movies, are just a lot of noise, and the noise is pretty much the same for most of those films. The mainstream theaters also avoid a good chunk of the films that get to people, stir their hearts and engage their thoughts. The cinema is big; it encompasses the world. Give it a shot.