Michigan Uni’s Revolutionary Film Societies: A Powerful Impact



The article is a review of the book “Cinema Ann Arbor: How Campus Rebels Forged a Singular Film Culture” by Frank Uhle. The book explores the history of film culture at the University of Michigan, tracing its rise from the establishment of the Art Cinema League in 1932, the heyday of student film societies, through to the decline of campus film groups in the VHS era. The article also notes the continued impact of the film culture in Ann Arbor, with the legacy of these student film groups contributing to a vibrant film culture continuing to the present day, including the Michigan Theater Foundation’s strong relationship with the Sundance Film Festival.

Exploring Ann Arbor’s Remarkable Campus Film Culture

Immersing oneself in the niche world of film culture at the University of Michigan during my freshman year provided opportunities to watch many cult, foreign, and unique movies, thanks to my roommate, a member of the revered Cinema Guild, and film studies major.

Screenings took place across various locations, including the opulent Michigan Theater, the now-closed Ann Arbor 1 & 2, and numerous distant multiplexes, despite the rise of VHS and decline of campus film groups.

Frank Uhle’s book, Cinema Ann Arbor: How Campus Rebels Forged a Singular Film Culture, recipient of a Michigan State History Award from the Historical Society of Michigan, offers an in-depth look at the film culture on U-M’s campus, tracing its origins, golden era, and gradual decline.

The book delves into the origins of film societies on campus, the growth of the Ann Arbor Film Festival, and the slow fadeout of campus film groups. For those interested in film culture exploration, Uhle’s well-researched and structured book provides a satisfying journey.

Student film societies were active on campus and occasionally sparked local controversy, like in 1967 when an attempt to screen a 43-minute film resulted in a police showdown, a sit-in, and charges against three students. This incident nudged the door open for more risqué screenings on campus.

Renowned filmmakers like Frank Capra, Jean Luc-Godard, Robert Altman, Samuel Fuller, and artists such as Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground frequented U-M’s campus around this time. Uhle’s book also sheds light on the impact of local commercial theaters, the intersection of politics and music with film culture, and the role of videocassettes in the demise of film societies.

Although Cinema Ann Arbor concludes with the remorseful end of student film societies in the mid-2000s, the fervor for film culture in Ann Arbor didn’t end there. Indeed, Ann Arbor’s vibrant film culture continues to thrive, which owes no small debt to the excitement these groups once ignited, transforming Ann Arbor into one of the best places for movie lovers even today.

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