A Not Very Brief History of the Western Film Society

For many years the Western Film Society was showing films on a weekly basis during every fall and winter semester in Sangren Hall. Tim Allen recalled that venue in an episode of his television show "Home Improvement." Allen and his TV wife, Jill, reminisced about their first date -- a film in Sangren --; and if they had wanted they might have mentioned the years of cutting-edge, non-commercial film festivals being presented in Sangren and, later, in Knauss Hall under the variety of names that some of you will recall: "the Humanities Film Series," "the University Film Series," "the International Directors Series," and "Recent International Directors." Perhaps you'll recall a festival focusing on a single director [Bergman, Antonioni, Fellini, Truffaut, Kurosawa, John Ford], a genre [comedy, the musical, film noir, science fiction], or maybe on a theme such as "the American dream" or "the American nightmare."

During the course of more than three decades, Western's ongoing festivals featured fine films made by other directors as well: Giuseppe Tornatore, Joseph Losey, Joel and Ethan Coen, Pedro Almodovar, Etienne Chatiliez, Gabriele Salvatore, Xavier Koller, John Singleton, Jim Jarmusch, Nikita MIkhalkov, Michael Verhoeven, Alfonso Arau, Carlos Saura, Jocelyn Moorhouse, Joseph Vasquez, Julie Dash, Barbet Schroeder, Baz Luhrmann, Giuseppi Bertolucci, Krzysztof Kielowski, Kenneth Branagh, Mike Newell, John Duigan, Pavel Lounguine, Morgan Freeman, Robert Rodriguez, Lasse Hallstrom, Michael Raeburn, Gillian Armstrong, Volker Schlöndorff, Jane Campion, James Ivory, Robert Altman, Darnell Martin, Lee Tamahori, and Margarethe von Trotta.

In more recent years, the Western Film Society expanded its activity by working closely with the Kalamazoo Film Society -- a lively group representing a large community of film lovers from Kalamazoo and environs. Since 1988, the Kalamazoo Film Society had been seeking a home as it migrated from the Bijou, to the State, the Beacon, then to the Kalamazoo Art Center. In 1990, Western invited the community society to show films in Knauss Hall on a monthly basis during weekends throughout the year.

Cinema was alive and well on Western's campus, as the above outline suggests. For decades, though, film lovers had been forced to view films in Sangren and Knauss's lecture halls with classroom equipment -- with muffled, monaural speakers and 16 mm projectors that films into a format which slices off the sides of films originally
intended to be shown in 35 mm format.

In the mid-nineties Dr. Diether Haenicke, Western's President at the time, initiated a huge cinema project. Dr. Haenicke, the State of Michigan, the Gilmore Foundation, and others, were making it a top priority to offer both the University and the Kalamazoo community a wonderfully new and inviting environment in which to show cutting-edge films with state-of-the-art equipment. The result was The Campus Cinema, located at the corner of Oliver and Oakland. On Friday, September 5, 1997, Dr. Bob Hinkel [Chair of the Western Film Society from 1975-2000] and Mr. Harold H. Holland [Vice President of the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation] joined Dr. Diether Haenicke on the stage of the new cinema to offer words of welcome and to introduce a very special film: "Cinema Paradiso." In the summer of 2000, the Campus Cinema was given a new name, the Little Theatre; and the Western Film Society was reorganized and made into an organization run primarily by students. Bethany Gibson, a graduate student in English, became the new chair. Drew Bazini succeeded Bethany in late 2003. Justin Gibson followed in 2004 on through 2006, when he chose Lauren Reile to replace him. Eric Arnsman followed in 2007, and then Chad Webb in 2008. Then in 2009, Justin Gibson returned to the presidency Grover Cleveland-style.