Thoughts on Film

We were thrilled to have you back this summer for the 45th season of The National Bank of Indianapolis Summer Nights Film Series this season! Yep, that’s right, Summer Nights has been around since the 1970s, and this year we celebrated 10 years with our title sponsor, The National Bank of Indianapolis. Countless films have been screened at Newfields through the decades, films chosen by a multitude of people and personalities—and now it’s my turn! It is an honor to continue this beloved series on The Amphitheater as the new(ish) Manager of Partnership & Film Programs. My first season as the “chooser of films” for Summer Nights would have been last year, but like so many other events and programs, we canceled the series due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A few of the films from 2020’s bygone lineup re-surfaced in this year’s list of films, but luckily there was an opportunity to re-examine and craft a new and improved lineup for the 2021 season. I am looking forward to sharing the process with you, which has often felt illusive.  

This is where the spectacular and insightful film scholar, Coye Lloyd, enters the Summer Nights saga. I was introduced to Coye by a colleague and mutual friend that sent me a link to a film article Coye had written for a local arthouse cinema called “A Jumping Off Point” (check it out on her website here) and I absolutely loved it. That level of candid perspicacity was exactly what I was looking for in a partner to co-curate films for Summer Nights. The unspoken big idea for Summer Nights is to screen films that span the decades (1930s – 2020s), genres, and representation; oh, and attract a wide audience. No small feat. Coye and I launched into watching dozens of films and talking about them for hours on end.  

Watching a film is such a visceral and vivid experience, and it is very personal. Are there films that you just love (or hate) because you saw them when you were younger and they are inextricably tied to your memories, and, by extension, to who you are today? Movies create emotional responses; you either like a film or you don’t. But, add in another person’s take on a film and it can change your entire perception of it. It has the potential to turn your world upside down. I grew up watching old classics on Turner Classic Movies (TCM)—hello inspiration for the intro videos this year—and Coye loves a good dystopian horror. There were plenty of moments when choosing the films for this year’s lineup that either Coye or I completely flipped our opinions after watching a film based on the other’s suggestion (like Funny Girl or Yojimbo). Sometimes, when a film was suggested, it was without question that it should be part of the season (think Pan’s Labyrinth or Rear Window). But slowly through the whittling down of potential movies, you essentially are getting a little slice of Coye and me, and especially of our devotion to film. That is where the power of film lies: to forge friendships and to convey meaning when juxtaposed. 

The more Coye and I watched and talked, the more apparent the subtle themes that ran through this year’s Summer Nights movie picks became to us. To us, the most significant overarching theme was actually a question, “If you witness something, what responsibility do you have to do something about it?” At Newfields, we have been asking ourselves this question a lot since February 2021 when we published an insensitive and unacceptable job description.  Since then, Newfields has been coming to terms with and addressing the hard truths about systemic racism at our institution. We both found this collection of films to be particularly poignant at this point in Newfield’s journey to true change. What these movies give us is hope, and the belief that as humans we contain the potential for growth and change. It won’t be easy, but it is possible.  

If you were able to join us this summer, perhaps you noticed these themes too. Maybe it was in THE LEGO Movie, Rear Window, or Sister Act. Or did you observe it in Cooley High, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, or maybe They Live

Film often functions as a fairytale, a moral story, an anecdote passed around dinner tables and smoking circles. We question the rules of success, the status quo, and ultimately ask “what would you do?” with this pervasive art form. It has the capability of encapsulating both the capacity to become or develop into something in the future (adjective) and to be developed and lead to future success or usefulness (noun). 

Are we powerless to do something? Or do we indeed have the ability to challenge our society (read: white supremacy)? Can film help us or does it just uphold the system? For me, this is why we need to look at film critically, not just because we love it. If you didn’t get tickets to The National Bank of Indianapolis Summer Nights Film Series this year, or even if you did, I entreat you to watch the films with friends or family and discuss them! Don’t shy away from something out of your comfort zone, you might just be surprised with a new favorite. 

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The Summer Nights Film Series is generously supported by The National Bank of Indianapolis.


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