CORVALLIS - Twenty years ago, a young Oregon State University faculty member introduced a fledgling film series designed to bring foreign and independently produced films to the mid-Willamette Valley.
It was, he said, an immediate hit.
This fall, the OSU International Film Series will launch its 20th year, having survived the changing film habits of the American public, the consolidation of film distributors and, of course, the impact of video.
"We're not showing to a packed house like we were in the first 10 to 15 years," said Peter Copek, director of OSU's Center for the Humanities and founder of the series. "Lately we've had to subsidize the series - mainly because of video. It's hard to find a theatrical release in 16 millimeter that has not already made it into the video stores."
Copek said video has "killed off" an estimated one-half of all campus film series nationwide. And distributors have taken a hit, too. Where he used to rent films from 15 to 20 distributors, now there are only two or three from which to choose.
Nevertheless, in the 20 years that OSU has offered its international film series, no film has been shown twice - except for Bernardo Bertalucci's, "1900."
The series began in 1977, a year after Copek returned from a year's fellowship in London.
"One of the joys of London was going to the British Film Institute on a Sunday and taking in a double bill, or a triple bill," Copek said. "I realized when I came back to Corvallis I was going to miss that. So we started offering foreign and independently produced films on campus so people wouldn't have to run up to Portland to see them.
"At first, we were heavy into the classics - a lot of Fellini, Truffaut, and French New Wave," he added. "It got to the point that we were so successful, we couldn't quit."
In those early days, Copek said, a classic Fellini film would bring a crowd, with a line forming around Wilkinson Hall all the way to Monroe Street. As the crowds thinned over the years, the viewing habits changed of those films buffs who still attended the series.
Today, it is the contemporary foreign films and independently produced films that draw the best. Copek said that series organizers try to present a balanced schedule, but with film rentals averaging $500 to $600 each in minimum guarantees, simple economics determines much of the fare.
And the future of the series?
"Every year, we meet and discuss the future of the International Film Series," Copek said. "And what we've decided is that as long as we're providing a service to the campus and the community that seems to fill a need, we'll continue the program."
Fall term schedule features contemporary European films
The fall term schedule of the film series features a number of contemporary European films, including "Career Girls," director Mike Leigh's follow-up to his acclaimed film, "Secrets and Lies."
The series opens on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 3-4, with "The Daytrippers," a romantic comedy set in New York City that was one of the most talked-about films at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival. Shot on a shoestring budget in just 16 days, "The Daytrippers" features Campbell Scott, Parker Posey, Anne Meara and Stanley Tucci.
Other films of note include "The Celluloid Closet," adapted from Vito Russo's 1981 book about Hollywood's depiction of gays and lesbians. Comprised of clips from more than 100 movies - dating back as far as an Edison short from 1895 - the film features commentary from numerous actors and actresses and is narrated by Lily Tomlin. "The Celluloid Closet" will be shown Oct. 17-18.
Noted French New Wave director Claude Chabrol's 1996 thriller, "La Ceremonie," is scheduled Oct. 24-25. Voted Best Foreign Film by the National Society of Film Critics that year, it features an all-star cast including Isabelle Huppert, Jacqueline Bisset and Sandrine Bonnaire.
"Career Girls," set for Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, focuses on two former college roommates who meet to reminisce, figure out who they are, and where they are going next. Nothing much happens, but the acting of Katrin Cartidge and Lynda Steadman is top notch. Said one critic: "Mike Leigh did the only thing he could to stay independent: he made a film so small, so simple and so sophisticated, that the Academy is sure to miss its release and first run altogether."
The last film in the series is a nine-film anthology called "Wallace and Gromit: The Best of Aardman Animation," Dec. 5-6. It features a number of shorts from England's Aardman Animation Studios, including "A Close Shave," a 1996 Oscar winner, and "Creature Comforts," a 1990 winner.
All films in the series cost $3 and are shown at Gilfillan Auditorium in Wilkinson Hall. The series is sponsored by OSU's Center for the Humanities and the Department of English..
The entire fall term schedule follows:
"La Promesse," by Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne (Belgium, 1997) - Called a "breathless piece of cinema-verite," the fiction-that-looks-like-a-documentary focuses on a father and son who trade in illegal immigrants and what happens when a tragedy disrupts business. Friday and Saturday, 7 and 9 p.m.
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Peter Copek, 541-737-2450