When Jon Vickers arrived in Bloomington in the spring of 2010, he brought with him more than a decade's worth of experience running art cinemas. He brought a passion for film that -- in less than three years' time -- has firmly established Indiana University Cinema's reputation in the international film community, drawing the attention of critics, filmmakers and moviegoers who love arthouse cinema while also sinking deep academic roots throughout the campus of one of the nation's leading research universities.
The cinema has attracted the attention of some of the industry's most well-known names, such as The New Yorker's Richard Brody, who recently curated and hosted a film series here focused on French New Wave filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard. In April, Academy Award-winning actress Meryl Streep will be on the IU Bloomington campus for a retrospective of her films at IU Cinema, and she will be present for the screening of her 2006 film "A Prairie Home Companion" in early April. During her cinema visit, Streep will also receive an honorary doctoral degree and will give a Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker Lecture in April at the IU Auditorium.
Renowned director Werner Herzog also visited Bloomington in 2012 to speak and screen some of his work.
In fall 2013, Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn, known to many in the U.S. for his 2011 film "Drive" featuring Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan, visited IU Cinema to deliver a Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker Lecture and screened four of his films.
The list of IU Cinema visiting filmmakers is vast and includes Claire Denis; Christine Vachon; Abbas Kiarostami; Charles Burnett; John Sayles; Albert Maysles; Kenneth Anger; Peter Bogdanovich; Glenn Close; Paul Schrader; Pedro Costa; and Ava DuVernay.
The cinema also paid tribute to widely admired film and theater actor and director Philip Seymour Hoffman with a 24-hour film marathon with some of his most revered and recent films, including "Capote," for which the actor won an Oscar.
But it's also screened the work of emerging indie filmmakers, students' work, home movies and other projects; premiered a new score for the classic 1927 silent film "Metropolis," performed live by a student orchestra; and recently kicked off a five-year celebration of singer/songwriter Hoagy Carmichael, perhaps Bloomington's most famous native son. Recently, IU Cinema hosted the statewide premiere of "Medora," a documentary about the state's worst high school basketball team and whose producers include Stanley Tucci and Steve Buscemi.
Through the efforts of Vickers and the exceptional staff of Manny Knowles, Carla Cowden and Brittany Friesner, IU Cinema has blended the best elements of a traditional university cinematheque with a commercially operated arthouse cinema to become a mecca for film in the Midwest ... and beyond.
Born in Kouts, Ind., and raised in Lakeside, Mich., Vickers developed a love for film in the 1970s watching Disney fare, summer blockbusters like "Jaws" and revivals of Universal monster movies at the Lee Theater near his home.
His love of film persisted into his adult years, however, merely as an impassioned movie-goer. With an engineering degree from Michigan State, he spent years at his family's company, Vickers Engineering, which was established in 1970 and developed into a major supplier for the agriculture and automotive industries.
Then in the early 1990s, a dream began to germinate -- an idea to build a community-centered arthouse theater, bringing Vickers' childhood love to a new generation. So when the long-closed Lee Theatre, the place he'd spent so many happy hours in front of the screen as a child, came up for sale, he and his wife, Jennifer, made an impulsive decision and bought it.
“Movies were escapism for me, purely entertainment,” Vickers told the Indiana Daily Student last year. “Kids like myself around the neighborhood just went to have a good time, but it wasn’t an addiction.” Slowly, he and his wife brought the building back to life. In 1996, after more than two years of restoration work, the theater once again opened its doors to the public, screening "Citizen Kane."
But he didn't stop there. The theater screened at least two films weekly. Vickers organized an outdoor film festival, hosted poetry readings and live music, and welcomed local and regional artists to display their work each month for patrons to view and purchase. They also developed a loyal audience. This led to attention from the Chicago press, putting the little theater on the map.
From there, his work caught the eye of administrators at Notre Dame, who were looking for someone to open a cinema that was being built inside the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center on the private Catholic college's northern Indiana campus.
Though many know the campus only for its dominating football team -- and its beloved "Touchdown Jesus" mural -- the performing arts center is home to five performance venues and what was then the state's only THX-certified cinema.
There, Vickers went from programming and leading the cinema to overseeing the center's day-to-day operations -- scheduling, overseeing the technology and budget, facilities and guest services management -- as well as curating all the film screenings, film series, filmmaker visits and festivals for its cinema. It was a good job, a busy job, doing something he loved.
But then Indiana University called. They were looking for someone with his skills to operate the new IU Cinema, set to open its doors on the Bloomington campus in fall 2010, and Vickers was happy to interview for the position.
"What we have lacked is a facility dedicated to cinema," IU president and self-professed film devotee Michael A. McRobbie said at the groundbreaking. "This project will change all that."
Vickers said yes. And the face of film in Bloomington began to change.
Housed in what was formerly the University Theatre on the northeast end of the IU Auditorium, IU Cinema boasts classic 1930s architecture that belies the ultramodern technology housed there, including 2K and 4K digital cinema equipment to complement its 16mm and 35mm film projectors. The THX-Certified cinema is equipped with every needed HD-capable playback deck, as well as Dolby 3D. The cinema is also home to a collection of the university's Thomas Hart Benton murals.
Vickers used several national programs as benchmarks for building his program model, including the Harvard Film Archive, Film Forum, UCLA Film and Television Archives, and the Gene Siskel Film Center.
“It was important to set our mark high,” he said. “After opening one of the best venues in the country for presenting film, we were committed to building a program and reputation of equal distinction.
“We’ve developed a unique program model here, the diversity and robustness of which serve the needs of departmental film series across the university; enhances the study of film through repertory programming; and gives the community a mission-driven arthouse cinema. Embracing this high level of partnership also gives us a broad base of support.”
Nearly half of all screenings at IU Cinema are presented with academic partners, demonstrating the support the cinema enjoys from the various university leaders, departments, institutes and centers that form the lifeblood of the campus.
That list even includes university president McRobbie, who oversaw the dedication of the cinema and personally programs a film series each semester. His picks have included rock 'n' roll films -- including a documentary about rock legend Bob Dylan and cinematic coverage of live concerts from Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin -- and the chilling "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" series that included a screening of Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will," considered by many to be the most famous propaganda film of all time. McRobbie also presented Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 film “Solaris," one of his favorite sci-fi movies that he fell in love with while he was a student in Australia and which he presented at the IU Cinema in November 2011.
He's also been open about his wish to see awareness about IU Cinema rise nationally.
"The thinking is people always associate the West Coast and the East Coast with a fair amount of film, but nobody really thinks about the Midwest," McRobbie told The Herald-Times in its Feb. 23 edition. "We’ve got everything here that we need to become the place in the middle of America that is a major national focus for film.”
Other academic partners include the Jacobs School of Music where, as part of the annual "Double Exposure" project, film students work with composition students to create original works of film, featuring live music, that are screened at the cinema.
IU Cinema can also draw from the rich offerings of film available within the university itself, including the IU Libraries Film Archive, the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, and the Black Film Center/Archive.
The IU Libraries Film Archive contains one of the world's largest and most comprehensive academic film collections, and is a member of the International Federation of Film Archives, the leading association for film preservation.
In September 2013, the IU Libraries Film Archive and the IU Cinema together presented Orphans Midwest, a symposium of old, rare, almost lost and nearly forgotten films and videos. One of the films included the world premiere of Bill Morrison's "All Vows," with the score performed live by Opus 3 cellist Maya Beiser.
The archive's collections include vintage government-sponsored "social guidance" films, now screened regularly for hipster crowds at an off-campus pub; nearly 50,000 historical educational films collected between the 1930s and 1990s, when IU was a major distributors of such films, including a U.S. Department of War production directed by Frank Capra; and the collection of the late director and film studies instructor David Bradley, including "Peer Gynt," a 1941 film starring a 17-year-old Charlton Heston.
The cinema's state-of-the-art facility and its dedication to the craft have drawn praise from those who have visited, including filmmakers such as Allison Klayman and Herzog himself.
"There's this hub here, with the IU Cinema and the fact that you have such great programming and such great visitors," said Klayman, who visited Bloomington last year to screen "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry," her documentary about the man who is perhaps both China's most famous international artist and its most outspoken critic. Her film received a Special Jury Prize for Spirit of Defiance at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
Herzog declared IU Cinema "the best place in the entire Midwest, I guess, one of the best in the country, because the mood of the campus is defined by this place here," during a 2012 visit that saw him deliver two Patten Lectures and screen nearly a dozen of his films.
Those who appreciate film love the cinema as well.
“The first year of IU Cinema’s operation exceeded my every hope and literally changed my life,” well-known film scholar and IU Professor Emeritus Jim Naremore said. “A beautifully designed theater equipped with state-of-the-art projection and sound, it surpasses every university cinema I’ve seen, including the excellent Billy Wilder Theater at UCLA.
“You would need to go to Lincoln Center in New York to find something comparable, but the auditorium there wouldn’t be as charming. IU Cinema quickly became a mecca for artists, scholars and lovers of film, and it's only getting better."
IU Cinema's achievements have been duly noted by President McRobbie, as well as world-famous filmmakers, film scholars and experts -- basically anyone who's come within three feet of the cinema. But the cinema's accomplishments might be best measured by the numbers -- how it has contributed to the presentation and study of film on the IU Bloomington campus and in the Midwest. Below are 2013 statistics tallied by the cinema:
800,000 feet of film inspected before public presentations
36,241 tickets issued
344 public programs
262 film and event titles
167 free events
84 regional premieres
62 lab screenings
41 percent of student attendance at IU Cinema events that tracked student tickets
27 guests for which IU Cinema managed business operations, including five international filmmakers
8 children's programs and partnerships with local high schools
4 world premieres
Image of Jon Vickers courtesy Rabi Abonour, Indiana Daily Student
Image of IU Cinema projector courtesy of MGA Partners
Written by Bethany Nolan | Produced by Jaclyn Lansbery
IU Newsroom, 2014