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Film Buffs, Join the Club

Story by
Ilona Idlis

The first winter quarter meeting of UW Film Club starts off hot. Cinephiles of all ages, whether returning alumni or the new batch of freshmen attendees, pile into a room in Allen Library, with the boisterous debate leaking out the sliding doors.

The Oscar nominations are in. And everybody has something to say about it.

“If there was any justice in the world, [blank] would be nominated.” “Movies just don’t breathe nowadays.” “You have to see that!” Bold comments and impassioned recommendations fly about the room as club co-directors Jordan Augustine, an English major, and Jacob Lichty, a Cinema Studies major, set up the finicky audiovisual equipment.


Film Club co-presidents Jacob Lichty (left) and Jordan Augustine point to where the screening magic happens. Media credit: Ilona Idlis

The energy simmers down briefly as the group screens a Charlie Chaplin short. But as soon as the funnyman pratfalls his way to the credits, the conversation roars to life again. This time it’s on the virtues of award show hosts and whether the club should stage a mutiny against a film club president who hasn’t seen Psycho.

“There’s a joy to yelling about movies,” Augustine jokes. “We’re sort of a support group for film addicts.”

Considering the energy present, it’s hard to believe the UW Film Club almost ceased to exist three years ago, when Lichty and Augustine joined its faltering ranks during their freshman year. “The film club that we knew was on the tail end,” Lichty
recalls. Meetings and attendance were sporadic, with club officers and most active members having graduated.

The following year, Lichty and Augustine partnered to lead the club. The duo hadn’t interacted much before, but both yearned for a film community on campus. “We wanted so badly to have something like this,” Lichty says. “And if you want to get something done, do it yourself.”

The passion of its new leadership notwithstanding, the club still experienced its share of growing pains. From reserving cinema-friendly spaces on campus to convincing students the club was not in fact on hiatus, keeping the dream alive proved challenging. Luckily, an internship at the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) helped Lichty get the hang of event management and score some awesome prize connections for the Film Club’s competition events, including an annual festival featuring UW student films, which has been in place since the club's inception in the 1990s.

Armed with better tactics and SIFF swag, Lichty and Augustine resolved to do better—and they have. This year, the Film Club is a new beast. Rather than relying on its reach alone, the organization is staging events with other groups on campus. Last quarter, the club cooperated with the ASUW Arts and Entertainment Commission to bring director, screenwriter, and actor Tommy Wiseau to the UW.

Wiseau earned bonafide celebrity status when his movie The Room gained a cult following. Augustine likens the film’s screenings to a Rocky Horror Picture Show experience—people shout their favorite lines, sing along, and throw plastic spoons at the screen.

With over 200 students and the artist himself in attendance, the UW screening delivered raucous audience participation and a memorable Q&A session. That the event boosted the Film Club’s reputation is evident in the noisy, 20-plus person turnout for the club's first winter quarter meeting.


Film Club members turn to Netflix (projected on the screen) for the night's movie viewing choices. Media credit: Ilona Idlis

“This is amazing to us,” Augustine admits. “This time last year, there were about five of us.”

Alumnus Peter Lipay affirmed the transformation at the last meeting. “I was in the early Film Club meetings, in the dark times, so I can tell you that [they have] very much turned things around and you’re very lucky,” he told the group’s new members. But rather than rest on their laurels, the club’s officers have big plans for the rest of the year. In addition to more cross-listed screenings, Lichty and Augustine are stressing student film production as well as appreciation. The co-directors have put on screenwriting workshops and a Five Second Film Contest. Next up are new workshops on story-boarding and production and potential short film contests. The goal is to encourage fellow students to try their hand at moviemaking without making involvement seem too daunting.

“We want to build a cultural space where people can express themselves,” Augustine explains. “It’s really gratifying to make something, to have an idea and see it come to fruition and then have other people look at. It is really kind of empowering.”

For these co-directors, the true test of Film Club’s success will come at the end of spring quarter, when the Chien D’Or trophy (a plastic dog toy painted gold and mounted on balsa wood) will be awarded to an aspiring student filmmaker. The competition had just over 20 entries last year, and the officers want to see that number double.

“The top of the mountain for us is going to be that student festival—to pack that house,” Lichty says. “We’re going to top Tommy Wiseau.”

The UW Film Club is open to all interested cinephiles. For up-to-date information about meetings and other Film Club activities, visit the UW Film Club's facebook page.