Harrisonburg, VA and cinema or even just plain movie assignments are problematic. Despite a modern multiplex in town, a campus theatre on the campus of James Madison University, and a movie program on the Eastern Mennonite University campus, multiple queries at both universities and in what passes as the local indie newspaper have yielded absolutely no evidence of a official film club in the area, much less a informal group of misfits watching countless DVD playings of “Star Wars.”
An earlier article I wrote attempted to explore the culture of midnight movies in this community dense with college students without successful. That piece established that midight movies are a rarity in the Harrisonburg, VA area, despite the presence of one enormous university and one smaller one within the city limits, and yet another small college within spitting distance. That’s right, even James Madison University’s 17,000 students, Eastern Mennonite University’s 1,600 students, and Bridgewater College’s 1,500 in addition to Harrisonburg, VA’s regular population can’t – or won’t – support a midnight movie program in the area. My latest research indicates that not only does the area lack a midnight movie program, it appears to lack even an informal program for any time of day.
Again, at the time of my first article, I attempted to explain this discrepancy as an odd void perhaps best explained by a review of the background cultural history of the community. Harrisonburg was founded by pioneers whose primary activity involved agriculture. Twenty percent of modern Harrisonburg residents cite their ancestry as German with Irish and English following at half that rate each. Apparently, the majority of the German settling in the area were German Anabaptists, specifically the Amish, Brethren, Hutterites and Mennonite.
Further, the recent history of James Madison University students and the community has not been good. Student riots during last year’s SpringFest and a collapsed apartment building from a very over-attended party would not make a community actively look for ways to keep these students awake and active past the midnight hour.
I stopped at that explanation in my earlier article and perhaps too soon. On reconsideration and in fruitlessly searching other university areas for movie programs – areas that cite entirely different cultural backgrounds – I realize that there may be more to this. For the first time, movies are available not only on a big screen that involves leaving home and gathering in a group, or even shown in a box or flat screen that you might or might not share watching with a roommate or family member, but whole movies are now offered, for rental or even sale, to your smartphone. I can’t think of any less public showing, any less social way, frankly any odder way to watch a movie than on a damn phone.
No wonder we can’t find film groups. Phones are too small for more than one or two to see the flick and you can’t exactly enjoy big screen effects on an object held in your hand.