MGA Professor’s Film Series Idea Celebrates Milestone

Author: Hannah Hartman
Posted: Tuesday, January 29, 2019 12:00 AM
Categories: Students | Pressroom | Faculty/Staff | College of Arts and Sciences

Macon, GA

L-R Dr. Patrick Brennan and Dr. Robert Burnham. Photo by Hannah Hartman.

Beginning in 1999 as an effort to help revitalize downtown Macon life, and bring audiences to the newly renovated Douglass Theatre, the CollegeTown Film Series did so by bringing together students from Mercer University, Wesleyan College, and what is now Middle Georgia State University, to grow together and appreciate film culture in an exciting and educational way.

Twenty years later, the dynamic of downtown has transformed into a lively and upbeat environment. Not only did the CollegeTown Film Series (and The Douglass Theatre) aid in the rebirth of downtown Macon, but it has stuck around through the years, and still draws an impressive crowd of students and community members. Reinventing the idea of community amongst the city and region’s college students, the CollegeTown Film Series strives to unite students in an engaging and educational environment, encouraging socialization and fostering creativity outside of the borders of one institution alone.

The series provides students with a chance to interact with other students and community members, while enjoying the beautiful atmosphere of the Douglass Theatre.

Dr. Robert Burnham, a Middle Georgia State (MGA) history professor, came up with idea for the CollegeTown Film Series two decades ago.

“When the series started, it was an effort to enhance downtown Macon and to actually get the students from the three institutions together and have them experience something like this firsthand - get into the Douglass Theatre, and maybe go eat at a downtown restaurant beforehand,” Burnham said. “Getting students to downtown Macon is not much of a concern anymore. Now you can hardly find a parking spot! It’s a whole different world now than it was in 1999 in that regard.”

In 1999, having been newly reopened with a cultural, educational mission, the Douglass Theatre was in need of suitable programming that aligned with its mission. At the time, Burnham was on the Douglass board of directors, and proposed the idea of the film series. Burnham’s original idea was to have each annual event centered on a specific discipline, and to have faculty members from the three institutions who specialized in that discipline come and present the films from the perspective of their area of expertise.

“It never really evolved that way, not by design, but just as a matter of historical accident,” Burnham said. “What has actually happened over the years is that professors who were interested in it, particularly those who had a special interest in film, film history, or film studies, were the ones who volunteered to do it. I’ve always just been the organizer. We [had] faculty members who were better suited” to lead discussions after audiences watched the films.

MGA’s current lecturer for the series is Dr. Patrick Brennan, English professor. Asked to join the series in 2007 after the retirement of Dr. Robert Duran, Brennan has been leading the discussions on behalf of Middle Georgia State since. Each year, the faculty members of the three institutions meet to brainstorm possible themes for the series.

“We meet up in early fall at the beginning of the semester, usually late August, to run ideas past each other until we all land on something and figure out a good name for the theme,” Brennan said. “We each choose our own films so we usually choose three just in case one is not available, which used to be more common in the past. Now, with streaming, it’s a lot easier to get a hold of what we need. When I first started, we used 16mm film, so not everything was accessible if it was being rented out or was hard to track down, but it’s a lot easier now.”

While the original direction of the series has evolved over the years, the hopes and goals for the series have remained the same. Since 1999, the CollegeTown Film Series has promoted student engagement and active participation in film culture. This year, the theme of the series is “Street Life,” and features the films The Bicycle Thief, Kedi, and Boom for Real. Brennan will lead discussion after the showing of The Bicycle Thief at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 31.

“I hope the participants develop an appreciation for film culture, and the long history of film culture, and the complexity of filmmaking,” Brennan said. “I like to talk a little bit about the history of Hollywood too when doing the films I’ve chosen because it’s a pretty rich history. I want people to realize that movies can be entertaining and fun if you give them a chance. Even when [the film] is black and white, even when it has subtitles, give it ten minutes or so, and you’ll get right into it.”

At the mark of its 20th anniversary, the CollegeTown Film Series is still thriving and moving forward. As downtown Macon continues to make strides to facilitate participation in cultural and educational activities, there is really no way to go from here, but up.

“I hope the series continues even after I retire,” Brennan said. “It’s a great thing because there aren’t a lot of activities that bring Wesleyan, Middle Georgia State, and Mercer together, and this does. As downtown becomes more vibrant, more and more people come to the event. Now, with more people living downtown, we are getting even more people interested.”

Hannah Hartman, the writer and photographer for this article, is an MGA student currently interning for the University's Marketing and Communications office. Alexandria Brooks, also a MarComm intern this semester, contributed to this report.