Not Just Great Books: Movie Nights in Santa Fe

For the past two semesters, Graduate Institute students in Santa Fe have been gathering once and sometimes twice a week to watch and discuss movies. The group began in September of 2019 when new GI students Justin Spain, Hannah Black, and Kit Rice met they found themselves talking about movies.

“In getting to know each other the conversation eventually got to movies, and since we knew there was a large TV we were allowed to use, we decided to make it happen,” Justin Spain said. 

Last semester, the movies were primarily selected by Mr. Spain. The group began screenings in October of 2019 and, appropriately, he began with a horror theme. They watched The Shinning, The Witch, Hereditary, and The Exorcist. November was dubbed Noir-vember, and the group screened, Double Indemnity, The Third Man, Brick, and Mulholland Drive. 

“December was a bit less focused,” Spain says. “We watched Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, Code Unknown, and Stalker. We also went out as a group and saw The Lighthouse, Parasite, Knives Out, and 1917.” 

This semester the group began with Japan-uary, watching Rashomon and Spirited Away, and they are currently celebrating Black History Month with Moonlight, Do the Right Thing, Us, Daughters of the Dust, and The Battle of Algiers. 

Following each screening the group sticks around to have a brief conversation about the movie they just watched. 

“I tend to divide movies as posing three questions,” Mr. Spain said. “How will it happen? (genre movies where we know the hero will win); what will happen? (mysteries, dramas, etc., whose plots remain unpredictable), and What’s going on? (movies where, far from wondering what might happen, the question is just to pin down what’s going on). I tend to enjoy the conversations engendered from these latter types. So, when watching movies like Mulholland Drive, Rashomon, and Us, the mystery in a way has just begun. These movies tend to start ‘theory’ conversations that may last beyond Movie Night, and be the subject of conversation the next week as people gather for a new movie.

“Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing also gave us a good discussion. Most of us had not seen it, and I think many of us were surprised at what we perceived to be its largely uncredited influence on later films of the 90s, in areas of cinematography and in its narrative structure. There was also a discussion of the complex and troubling portrayal of social and political issues that are no less relevant today.”

Meta-March is up next, but the selections haven’t been decided just yet. 

“I’d personally love to watch Persona, 8 1/2, Synecdoche, NY, Inland Empire,” Justin said. “Generally highly self-conscious, disorienting films. There is certainly some essential viewing that we have still need to screen: French new wave, Scandinavian film, Italian Neo-Realism, Russian film. I would dedicate an entire month to Tarkovsky. People have suggested director-based themes: Coen Brothers, Tarantino. These ideas will take us well into next year, at which point there may be more input from incoming GIs.”

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