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My thoughts on Cornell Cinema


The following represents my thoughts and opinion on Cornell Cinema. I am not speaking on behalf of the other representatives.  This is an adaption of an email I sent to one of the students leading the fight for Cornell Cinema, Tyler Dennis.

Keep in mind that I am an Engineering representative, and am looking out for the best interests of the undergraduate engineering student body when making legislative decisions.

The numbers the Cinema gives state that ~ 20,000 undergrad tickets are sold per year, which with 12,000 undergraduate students, gives about 1.67 tickets per student per year. As each undergraduate currently pays $11 a year even if they don’t go to a show, and $4 a show, let’s look at the numbers. Let’s round that up to 2 shows a year (this works to cinemas benefit for these calculations), which gives $19 for 2 shows for the year. These shows are often second-run or less popular movies (some would say cultural). A student can go to a commercial cinema and see two first-run movies for that price with a student discount, or get three months of netflix (which would allow said student to watch more than two films, including many obscure ones). Olin library has a very extensive catalog of movies, which you can find at . Each of these movies can be borrowed for 3 days, free of charge, for students to watch at their own leisure with their friends.

All that being said, I’m relatively certain that of those 20,000 tickets sold, engineering students probably aren’t making up their share of those sales. I’ve been contacted by graduate students, random community members, arts and science students, AARP students, but only one engineering student about the Cornell Cinema. This means that engineers are getting even less benefit for their money than the hypothetical average student described above. Also engineering students tend to be more technologically advanced, and many use dc++ and other methods to procure movies. Now my job is to represent engineering students, so I hope you see my rationale in my decision.

If you believe the Cinema deserves more support, I encourage you to contact YOUR specific representatives (Engineers- feel free to email me!). I have gotten very few replies from MY constituents. I believe around a third of the emails I have been getting are from community members, people who do business with the cinema, and graduate students. Even then, the VAST MAJORITY of those students who have replied are not engineers

Also I want you to consider why we voted the budget into its current state. Do you think that the students just happened to elect into office a bunch of movie hating, dc++ using, video renting individuals? No, we are the only members of the community, to my knowledge, who have taken a hard look at the budget and budgeting guidelines. I would also like to mention that during the last slope day meeting, the thought of having a group of students open for the lead artist came up. Ignoring the rest of the discussion, the SDPB exec board informed the general members that a student band COULD NOT be paid, because of the guidelines set forth by their funding.

There are my thoughts. Unless it is proven to me that the majority of engineers want to dedicate more of their funding to the cinema, I will be forced (as a representative) to use my own opinions and experiences to represent them. As you can see above, I feel that the average engineer doesn’t derive as much benefit from their contribution to the cinema as other students do, so it is my duty to vote for a lower amount of funding. But please, if people continue to spam my mailbox, know it is not appreciated and they should expect sarcastic reply from me.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Matthew Low permalink
    12/03/2009 2:40 am


    The following is a response to comments you posted on the Cornell SA’s blog, at

    My name is Matthew Low, and while currently I am a grad student at Cornell in the Program of Computer Graphics, over the previous four years I was an undergraduate engineer here, and the vast majority of my friends here during that time were also engineers. I have also worked at Cornell Cinema for the past two years, and enjoy seeing films there as often as I can, which usually averages 3-5 films a month. While I might be an exception in terms of Cornell Cinema attendance, I am actually hard pressed to come up with even a few engineering friends who did not take advantage of Cornell Cinema’s offerings during their time here. So in support of Cornell Cinema, I would like to bring up a few points for you to consider in their defense.

    For one, it is not the intent of Cornell Cinema to be a more convenient Pyramid Mall Regal Theater. Their purpose is to be a media arts center, a cultural institution that brings classic and foreign films, independent, documentary, and experimental works, live performances and guest appearances, cult classics and arthouse hits, and yes, everyone’s favorite recent Hollywood hits to the Cornell community. This comes right off their website. And while you say less popular, I will say cultural. Film is a cultural, popular, and technological art, and it is Cornell Cinema’s intent to be a forum for its exhibition and discussion, no matter the form or style, something unique and separate from the Hollywood system of theaters and movies.

    I think that you are making rather sweeping generalizations of engineers and fatuous assumptions about the theater experience. I think that saying engineers don’t go to Cornell Cinema because they know how to download the movies elsewhere is like saying engineers don’t go to concerts because they know how to download the music elsewhere. How many concerts do engineers go to while at Cornell? And guess what? Some of my engineering friends who frequented Cornell Cinema while here were also some of dc++’s top users and had enough digital media content to make the MPAA cry. And if we want to continue with this ‘technologically advanced’ characterization, I could start quoting studies showing that people who pirate media content are 10x more likely to purchase it or attend it as well. There is something to be said about seeing a 35mm film projected on a 30-foot screen in a dark theater with squeaky seats good popcorn and surround sound that is both artsy-geeky and techno-nerdy.

    And what about the Student Activity Fee? Is it not the point that it’s allocation be applied across all students, and that the funding come equally from all students? You cannot bias who funds Cornell Cinema any more so than asking for funding for a group that only allows people who are 6ft tall or more to attend their events. Do you think that the funding for Athletics and Physical Education, which is about equivalent to Cornell Cinema’s, should be reduced because stereotypically engineers do not take advantage of their services? I don’t. Or what about the other 350-some-odd groups that the SAFC funds, of which in general one person might only belong to one or two, if any at all.

    You are a white male, yet I don’t see any discussion on the reduction of funds for the Cornell Women’s Resource Center or the ALANA (African, Latino, Asian, Native American Students Programming Board). The point is that these organizations are recognized as significant or important to the Cornell undergraduate community in one way or another, even if not every undergraduate takes advantage of its services. It is up to the individual students to decide how to take advantage of their activity fee. And if Cornell Cinema and the intent of its charter is not recognized as one of these significant or important groups on a cultural basis or its entertainment values, then maybe we, and society in general, have a problem of a different kind.

    I watch movies at Cornell Cinema, at the mall, at my home with DVDs that I have purchased and on my computer with ones that I have downloaded, and I am an engineer.

    My name is Matthew Low and I support Cornell Cinema.

  2. Dan permalink
    12/03/2009 10:38 am

    I am a staff member, not a student, but I value Cornell Cinema for what it is and what it offers, and have done so for more than 15 years, long before I worked for the university. I would like to say why it is important to the entire Cornell community to keep it funded at or near the level it has been.
    This is the only year-round repertory cinema in the region, and I would stress “year-round” in its defense –– especially in light of the current SA funding recommendation to severely cut this program’s funding, and to do so seemingly in favor of significantly raising the funding for a one-day event.

    Even with one other ‘art cinema’ in town, CC offers much more — in terms of value, diversity and many, many rare opportunities to see the best of this lively art, from all cultures and genres, from commercial to experimental films. Guest filmmakers and professionals and live musical accompaniment all add immensely to the experience. And I always see students at the screenings and events I attend.
    I can think of no other place to see many of the films I have always wanted to see, or to discover an obscure feature or topical documentary from, say, South America or Korea or the U.K.; or simply to see a recent Hollywood / popcorn film in second-run –– in a theater, with an audience, at a bargain price –– before it goes to DVD.
    I know that much of CC’s schedule is programmed with academic linkages in mind, often ahead of popular commercial interests. The shared experience of in-theater cinema, and the possibility for discussion and debate of ideas both before and after, is far more valuable than any home or dormitory viewing, on DVD or downloaded, which one SA member on this blog has offered as possible, viable alternatives. Lifestyle choice abetted by technology is one thing, but community — and fostering a vibrant intellectual community — is another.
    Cornell Cinema is a valuable program for students and the campus and local communities, and a program in which students (as well as faculty and program directors across campus) have a voice in influencing programming choices — to enrich and enhance their educations, their academic goals and their lives. Take those options away and the community would feel a great loss.

    My own perspective on the one-day event’s proposed funding is this:
    Historically, the university community seems to have an inferiority complex and a habit of knee-jerk response to criticism and complaint from vociferous parties in the campus media, who still only represent their own or their peer group’s opinion.
    The perceived ‘quality’ of a given end-of-year headlining act receives its share of public derision almost every year. Is this history of complaint enough to increase funding for one day, at the expense of a treasured program with year-round programming and university-and community-wide benefit, service and appeal? I ask you to consider this in your final recommendations for the next two years’ budgeting. Thank you.

  3. 12/03/2009 12:14 pm

    Hi Zach,

    I contacted you and the other engineering representatives earlier this semester about the cinema and I now want to respond specifically to the letter you wrote. Matt said it well but there are a couple points I want to add.

    You show a calculation that roughly equates seeing two movies at Cornell Cinema to the price of seeing two movies at the mall or a similar blockbuster cinema. The conclusion I would expect anyone to draw from this is that the SA has been funding the cinema adequately. Instead you scoff at this as if the films shown at Cornell Cinema are somehow worth less than those shown at the mall. Let’s put this into perspective – right now I can go to the mall and see the new Twilight movie, three different disney pics, a romantic comedy about football, or three “cinema of attraction” action flicks. Or, I can go to Cornell Cinema and see a new feature-length by Academy award winner Harvie Krumpet (Mary and Max), The Yes Men Fix the World (selection for 8 film festivals, including Sundance), Inglourious Basterds (Palm d’Or winner at Cannes),
    or Unmade Beds, a young neo-new wave independent film. There is an enormous gap between the selections of these two theaters that clearly cannot be summed up as, first-run, second-run.

    More importantly, the calculation is done using the amount the SA currently gives – $11. The SA is trying to reduce this to $8. Why are we slashing funding to a cinema that plays important and rare films when they are barely subsidized enough to make the equivalent of a regular admission theater already?

    Please consider that the cinema serves important academic and cultural functions. It is extremely, extremely rare to be exposed to the eclectic blend of films curated by the staff throughout the year. It’s important to understand how unique an opportunity it is to be able to see classics that defined genres of film on 35 mm prints. Fellini, Hitchcock, Godard, Hawks – students have an amazing opportunity to see films from directors that literally changed cinema. It’s not just that the cinema is unique in Ithaca, or unique in New York – this cinema provides some of the rarest opportunities for viewings in the country.The SA must understand that the cinema isn’t in existence to show Hollywood blockbusters and break box office records – diversity and artistic significance are driving factors here.

    I am an engineer. I go to the cinema with engineering friends. I go to the cinema with non-engineering friends. My non-engineering friends used dc++ as much as my engineering friends freshman year. The “all engineers would rather dl movies and watch them alone in their nerdy rooms” argument is, first of all, insulting, and overall a pretty narrow-minded generalization. And if you are to draw any conclusion from the engineering lifestyle, it should be that accessible, enjoyable alternatives to the constant work we have, that ability to become well-rounded, is what makes Cornell a good school.

    I realize I’m a grad student now and you might blow off what I say. So just to check we’ll do a poll tomorrow at the all-hands meeting and see who wants the cinema to have its funding cut by the engineering representatives in SA.

    Hope you take some of this into consideration.

  4. Bill LaCava permalink
    12/03/2009 4:15 pm

    We are two grad students who were here for four years doing our undergrads in engineering. Please consider that we’ve seen the benefit of the cinema for the last 4 1/2 years, whereas you haven’t been required to pick a major yet .. our opinions might provide some insight for you.

  5. Kalina Jordanova permalink
    12/04/2009 8:21 pm

    Hi Zachary,

    I graduated last spring as an Applied and Engineering Physics major at Cornell. Despite my recent graduation, I’ve been following the Cornell Cinema debate closely, and was disheartened to read your generalizations about engineering students and their preferred activities at Cornell. I agree with the points that were made by Bill, Dan, and Matthew, and am insulted that you would stereotype the engineering student body as an uncultured group of “technologically advanced” students.

    I also find your argument to download movies at home, rather than to visit the Cornell Cinema, unrealistic. This logic would indicate that going to a concert offers no aesthetic value if the music can be accessible for cheaper elsewhere. Similarly, paying for a sports ticket would be a waste of money if you had a TV to watch the game on instead. A cinema offers more than just the movies being played, just as a sports arena offers more than a TV screen could. The cinema offers a place to gather (with friends, with strangers too) and enjoy a film that has been pre-selected for your viewing pleasure by the cinema staff. I find that having a place to watch movies is especially important for students living in the dorms – which includes all of the freshmen students, and a substantial number of sophomore student population. Dorm rooms often offer less than ideal home theater setups, for example, a laptop computer screen instead of a TV, or an awkward dorm bed in place of a sofa or chairs. For these students, a movie theater offers a place to get away from their rooms that the often over-demanded student lounges cannot.

    Throughout my four years at Cornell I enjoyed frequenting the Cornell Cinema. I’ve watched a large diversity of films, from documentaries to classics, and have even gotten a chance to hear a few speakers discuss their films. These experiences were very valuable for my student life at Cornell.

    I’m an engineer, and I would hate to see such a great aspect of the university downgraded.

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