Student volunteer Lewis brings in the new academic year by writing the first of a series of blogs about the history of Campus Cinema - the Film Society for University of Exeter film students (though others can come to films too). Screenings begin again this week - this term's programme is shown in the image above.


Part 1- introduction and the 2020s (so far

Film exhibition plays a sizeable role in our daily lives. For most of us, it is an activity that we take for granted. Many people have a passive relationship with cinema. They pay for their ticket; they see the movie and they leave probably thinking about the movie they just watched rather than the cinema experience itself. However, there are a few people who have a real passion for film exhibition. These people probably attend the cinema once or more a week. Some are generous enough to give their precious time to be part of a very special film exhibition establishment that can be found on the University of Exeter campus, one that is rich in history and tradition. These few select people are a group of young people known simply as “Campus Cinema committee members”.

At this point, I wish to take the opportunity to introduce myself. I am Lewis Merritt, and I was the social secretary of the Campus Cinema for 2 years from 2021-2023. I am also a volunteer at the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, and I have taken on the responsibility of surveying the Campus Cinema collection at the museum. This series of blogs will give you the opportunity to learn more about the history of Campus Cinema via the many artefacts related to it, along with contextual research and anecdotes. It will also give you a preview of the collection as more of the Cinema’s history is discovered through the acquisitions.

What is Campus Cinema? Campus Cinema is the university's very own cinema. It has existed for over 70 years as the film society for students at the University of Exeter. It has boasted about being the cheapest cinema in Exeter with tickets from just £2. That is less than a cup of coffee. It shows a wide variety of films from recent blockbusters to independent films from the likes of A24 and Mubi. It also shows cult films such as the annual screening of The Room. It also puts on regular film-themed quizzes that sell out every time. I first found out about Campus Cinema before I came to University of Exeter. When I found out that the university had its own cinema, I knew I wanted to buy a membership. I was a fresher when I came in September 2021. It was shortly after England’s covid-19 restrictions were fully eased and I wanted to go to the cinema as much as possible to make up for lost time. The first films I saw at the Campus Cinema included, The Father, Trainspotting (25th anniversary screening) and Candyman (2021). In November 2021, I joined the committee as social secretary as I wanted to help shape the mould of Campus Cinema. I also thought it would be good to get some experience working in film exhibitionism and distribution.  

One of the items in the collection that showcases the wide variety of films on offer at the Campus Cinema is a program from summer 2022. Featured on the front Is a still image from F.W Murnau’s Nosferatu which was the headline film of the summer 2022 programme. The reason why it was a special screening is because it was screened with a live musical accompaniment from renowned harpist Elizabeth-Jane Baldry. This shows the cinema’s commitment to event cinema but also to enriching students with films that have a substantial amount of heritage attached to them. Nosferatu is a film with substantial heritage of course as it is one of the first screen adaptations of Stocker’s Dracula novel which even predates Universal’s Dracula film. It is also one of the most famous German expressionist films alongside The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and Metropolis.   


The Nosferatu screening was one of my favourite screenings of my tenure as social secretary, as I do have a strong appreciation for classic cinema and the horror genre. We also had a decent amount of attendees which helped create a shared experience and it was nice to share the experience of viewing a classic film with rich heritage and live-music accompaniment with other people who many only have an entry level knowledge of classic horror enjoying the experience. The event was also organised in collaboration with the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, which is fitting because the event showcases a film which was released before the advent of sound in film and one of the main aims of the museum is to educate people on the history of film exhibitionism. Back in the early days of cinema, a live musician would play music while the film is being shown. It wasn’t until Warner Bros released The Jazz Singer in 1927 that films had sound edited in.

You might be asking yourself why I put an artefact from just a year ago in the first blog. Well, I thought it would be best if we started with the early 2020s and then work our way backwards as the much older Campus Cinema acquisitions will take time to sort through and contextualise. Consider this blog as a prologue for the story we are trying to tell but we hope you will attend the tale of Campus Cinema (yes that was a Sweeney Todd reference).  


Part 2: The 2010s

2019 was the end of the 2010s. But it’s the start of this instalment of this ongoing series of blogs on the history of Campus Cinema. 2019 was also a great year film wise. Some of my favourite films that year include, Rocketman, Toy Story 4, The Lighthouse and Doctor Sleep. 3 out of 4 of these films were shown at the Campus Cinema but one wasn’t. I’m going to let you all in on a little trade secret. Part of the reason why we can sell tickets so cheaply is because we show new release films about a month or two after they started their cinema release. This is because the distribution cost you must pay reduces over time. Although, ironically some older films are more expensive to put on than new releases. One anecdotal example of this is when we wanted to screen Paris is burning for Black history month, the distributer wanted £1000 if we wanted to screen it. So, we had to cancel that screening.

The first half of this blog will focus on a couple of programmes. One from 2019 and one from the early 2010s. The first programme from 2019 that I found interesting was the spring term 2019 programme which was a special programme made to honour that year’s awards season. So, all the films featured in that programme were included with the awards season in mind. Pretty much every film was up for nomination at the major awards shows like the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards. For example, you had Green Book which won best picture at the Academy Awards that year and you had Vice, which was nominated for best supporting actor for Sam Rockwell’s performance. I thought it was great to see that in the past, Campus Cinema did special things to honour important film events in the media. When I was on committee, we didn’t include any special programmes for the awards season. I don’t think we even acknowledged it in our advertising, although, on Academy Awards night 2023, we had a committee lock in at the Campus Cinema so that we could watch the ceremony on the big screen.

Moving back now to 2011 to observe the autumn term programme from that year, one interesting detail I noticed when looking at it was the inclusion of a Ghibli film. In this case it was Arriety which had its UK release in 2011 but it originally was released in Japan a year earlier in 2010. The reason I found this interesting was how did a small student run cinema even get the distribution rights to show a Ghibli film. And not just any Ghibli film but a new release Ghibli film. When I was in my 2nd year of being on Committee, we wanted to include a Ghibli film in one our programmes, but we couldn’t because we couldn’t get the rights. I can assume that Campus Cinema was a bigger force back in those days compared to when I was on committee and that’s how they got Arriety in that programme, or perhaps either it reflects the growing popularity of Ghibli or that the industry has changed over the past decade.

All the programmes from the 2010s have pretty much had the same layout, font and design. This is still used to this day, which you probably know if you have seen the Campus Cinemas current programmes around campus. However, did you know that Campus Cinema wasn’t always its name?. Pre-2010s, Campus Cinema was known as CinSoc which is short for Cinema Society. In the next blog which should be talking about Campus Cinema in the 2000s, we will be diving more into the CinSoc days.   



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