A Student's Guide to Cinephilia

Feature by Jamie Dunn | 12 Sep 2016

Don't fool yourself into thinking you'll have time to watch the whole 15 hours of Berlin Alexanderplatz after you graduate. Now is the time to get properly lost in movies before gainful employment gets in the way

This might be hard to believe, but you’re never going to have more free time to explore your passion for cinema than right now! Those all-night cramming sessions and miserable weekends slogging through your dissertation will be stressful and painful, and to top it off you’ll probably be serving bar or waiting tables a few nights a week too. But even with this workload you’ll find yourself with lazy afternoons and time to kill in the evenings. You’ll never have a better time to give yourself a cinema education; this is the perfect moment to go deep into movies.

Watch films: lots of them

Step one is expand your palate. You may have rocked up to halls with an Empire subscription and a Netflix account, but chances are you’re ignorant of vast swathes of film history. Don’t let this fact dishearten you: you’ll never see all the great films by the pantheon directors, and your ignorance will increase with each passing year as dozens of movies are added to the 'canon' (you’ll be lucky if you can see all of them). In fact, this is cause to rejoice: no matter how many movies you watch there will always be new ones to discover.

Work out what you don't know

Locate where the gaping holes in your film knowledge lie. Who are the major directors you’ve managed to avoid over the years? Which nations’ cinema are you patchy on? Essentially, try and work out what you don’t know. Don’t just assume that there are no great films from Senegal or New Zealand or the Philippines. Watch a few, and expand your horizons.

Join your university's film society

The university film society isn’t the sexiest of organisations fighting for your patronage during freshers’ week. Not even close. The film society won’t be throwing the coolest parties or organising adventurous weekends in far flung locations. But for a movie lover, it’s paradise. You see, watching a film isn’t really complete unless you get to debate it with other movie-nuts on loop until you’re all thrown out of the venue or lose the will to live. One of the two.

Take over your university's film society

Of course, your film society may be run by idiots whose idea of inventive programming is a Quentin Tarantino double bill or an Alejandro González Iñárritu retrospective. No need to sit idly by and be subjected to Reservoir Dogs for the 15th time – take a leaf out of the Parliamentary Labour Party’s playbook and mount a coup. You’re sure to find support from fellow obnoxious cine-geeks with an aversion to the dude canon.

Start your own film club

Of course, if like the PLP’s your coup fails you can also set up your own film night, either within the university campus or at a local indie cinema, art space or bar sympathetic to your love of quality film. Not only do you instantly become head programmer, you also have the opportunity to learn innumerable skills, from marketing to social media to dealing with distributors to negotiating film rights to writing programme notes to hosting the event. In other words: all the know-how you might ever need to land a full-time gig as a film programmer.

Read all you can about cinema

It’s a fallacy to think that everything ever written down throughout human history is available online. Plenty of great film writing has been digitised, but the majority is still entombed within dusty volumes and yellowed periodicals. Luckily your university has these buildings that are filled with books – you know, libraries. Don’t wait ’til you have an essay to write before visiting yours. Even if you don’t study film, take advantage of the library’s resources.

Go rummaging through its leather-bound copies of Movie; curl up within the quietude of the stacks with books on your favourite director or star; discover the art of textual analysis with Victor Perkins’ Film as Film; be introduced to Andrew Sarris’s personal take on the auteur theory in The American Cinema; get riled up with the ecstatic writings of Pauline Kael; read Molly Haskell for an unflinching and unforgiving examination of the female image on screen. Read, read, read.

Write all you can about cinema

As well as absorbing yourself in cinema, start writing about it too. You’ll find that often the only way to find out what you really think of a piece of art is to get your ideas down in words. Films that you enjoyed while watching may not stand up to scrutiny when you try to articulate their qualities, while a work that leaves you cold on first watch might crystallise in your mind through the act of writing about it. Start by keeping a diary of everything you watch – write something about everything you see. It doesn’t need to be an essay. Start small: a few paragraphs, a few lines, a few words. Get creative: try writing a review in the form of a haiku. 

Share your writing

This writing can be for your own personal consumption, but there’s a whole world out there who may welcome your thoughts on film. Join Letterboxd (basically Facebook for film-nuts) and share your writings there. Better yet, start a blog. Once you’ve a healthy collection of reviews and features, use your writing as a way of getting accreditation to film festivals. Build up a readership and you'll be eligible to attend press screenings of films weeks before they come out. You might even want to send examples of your writing to The Skinny – we’re always on the lookout for sharp new voices.

Be cinema's saviour

“It feels a little like end of days for independent cinema,” wrote Jason Wood, artistic director of film at HOME, Manchester, in Sight & Sound magazine’s cinema of 2015 roundup. Wood isn’t the first to air these concerns, and he won’t be the last. However: you, cinema's future audience, can be the saviour of indie cinema! Seek out your local purveyor of quality film. Take advantage of the student discount on offer. Become a member. Be on first name terms with the bar staff and ushers. Drag your friends to Tarkovsky retrospectives and late night cult screenings. Don’t let indie cinema die.