Though the theater-going experience today is dominated by blockbusters and Disney franchises, OFFScreen — a student-run organization at the University — aims to connect the student body with lesser-seen films.
Founded in 1998, OFFScreen holds free screenings every Thursday at 7 p.m. The organization focuses on showing independent, foreign and classic films that students may not have had the chance to see at other venues.
Elliot Schorr, an officer of OFFScreen and fourth-year College student, finds it important to offer these screenings to students and encourage them to go out of their way to see something new.
“There’s not a whole lot of diversity, necessarily, in the theater-going experience right now,” Schorr said. “This is one place where we can program it to highlight certain films.”
Small-budget films highlighted by OFFScreen, like “The Watermelon Woman,” contrast from the franchise films that make up many of the biggest recent box office hits.
Anna Balch, president of OFFScreen and fourth-year College student, believes watching foreign and independent films can be an insightful and eye-opening experience.
“I think it can really, in unique ways, help with empathy and understanding people that are different from you and give you a more nuanced understanding of what their struggles and what their joys might be,” Balch said.
OFFScreen welcomes everyone at their screenings with open arms. In addition to watching films, students can join in an optional discussion thirty minutes before the screening, where attendees talk about film, music and whatever is going on in their lives.
These discussions tend to be laid-back, as the organization wants to remove the, according to Balch, egotistical, pretentious and unapproachable reputation of film spaces that often gatekeep others.
“I think film spaces can sometimes be a little intimidating,” Schorr said.
Balch wants the organization to have the opposite reputation.
“It's something that brings us together and brings us a lot of joy. And it's something we're passionate about,” Balch said. “Why would we want to keep that from people?”
The organization exposes new people to different movies of all kinds. For Emma Dwight, OFFScreen member and second-year College student, the club serves as a liaison for the enjoyment and discovery of film.
“I actually identify as a movie hater,” Dwight said. “Being in this club, I found a lot of movies I've never heard of and actually like.”
Films such as “Moonstruck,” “Eraserhead” and “Scream” — which OFFScreen showed at the University Chapel on Halloween — have been recent hits at the organization’s screenings.
Another benefit of OFFScreen’s weekly screenings is the collective experience of watching a film in a crowd of other students. Attendance numbers vary based on the film, but the screenings have hosted as many as 35 people.
Abigail Rhodes, OFFScreen member and second-year College student, differentiated this collective group experience from watching a film at home or even in theaters.
“[Seeing a film in theaters,] you're still going alone or with friends,” Rhodes said. “Here, you're actually experiencing that movie as a group.”
Experiencing a film as a group creates a sense of community and connection, with everyone in the room experiencing the same reactions and emotions simultaneously. Balch said she finds it invigorating to have this experience and to realize she is not as different from the people around her as she may think.
Balch likened this special sense of community at OFFScreen screenings with a full classroom environment. The experience of connecting with a large group over a film, much like the experience of in-person classes, was hard to come by during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The friendships Balch has made through OFFScreen have also made a lasting impact on her, she said, whether it is because she can carry these friendships outside of the club or because she has learned more about film through these friends.
“To be able to be friends with them, hear about their experiences and learn from them has been really cool,” Balch said. “I think that's been special.”
OFFScreen’s enduring quality is its willingness for anyone and everyone to attend their screenings. Rhodes emphasizes that it doesn’t matter if someone doesn’t know a lot about film. It doesn’t matter if they’re thinking about going to one screening and never coming back. OFFScreen wants them there.
“We're just trying to be super chill where everyone can feel welcome and feel like they can just come in, enjoy some new movies that they might not have heard of, or might not have had the opportunity to watch in theaters,” Rhodes said.
Catch a screening Thursday at 7 p.m. in Newcomb Theater or sign up for OFFScreen’s mailing list.