In the basement of Willard Straight there’s a little movie theater. It’s clearly old, the seats are well worn and squeaky. The fading paint on the walls has several famous quotes, most of which I can’t quite recognize, except for Shakespeare and one in Latin. The lights are a fading yellow dim, in a way that would be creepy if it didn’t match the rest of the place so well. There’s something compelling about the quaint little theater; it’s one of those hidden gems of Cornell.
As a senior only a month and a half from graduating, I knew we had a cinema, but I had never actually been before this semester. I just never had a reason to go, and so I never actually took advantage of the opportunity. That is, until extra credit gave me an excuse — a professor of mine gives his students extra credit for attending the Cornell Cinema at least twice. What I discovered from this experience completely changed how I thought about Cornell.
The first movie I saw there was Encanto. I’d seen the movie a dozen times already prior to this, but I’d forgotten how much I missed the experience of going to the movies during COVID-19 times. For one thing, the large screen helps you notice details you otherwise would miss. Hearing others’ reactions to the movie as well; it transforms the movie from being an individual experience to a shared one. The only other person I knew in the theater was my friend sitting beside me, and yet all of us within that room shared the same movie experience.
I went back less than a week later to watch the Oscar nominated animated short films. I was shocked when I heard the voice of one of my favorite actresses, Gillian Anderson, speaking for a cat. I learned about the Chilean secret police. I cried at Spain’s film depicting the chaos and ambiguity of love. I’m by no means a film connoisseur, but once again I found myself lost in the magic of the Cornell Cinema.
And so I returned to watch the live action short films. This was when I began to realize a larger purpose of art. First and foremost, art is to entertain. Really good art, though, makes you think. It makes you question how you view society, shares with you something you wouldn’t otherwise have known or thought about. This kind of art tugs at the strings of our consciousness with the ability to place difficult topics right in front of our very eyes.
The live action short films were all intense to watch. Immediately afterwards, I found myself googling the issues raised, reading article after article about the meaning behind these films and what the filmmakers were trying to say. What followed was an extensive learning process about different cultures and countries, particularly the societal issues that plague us all.
If my professor hadn’t given me extra credit, I never would’ve had this experience. I never would’ve gone to the Cornell Cinema and found the hidden magic that lies there. Over the past few months it’s become by far one of my favorite spots on campus. It’s a place that feels intimate and emotional, and it seems to touch a part of my soul that I never really knew existed.
I can’t help but wonder how many other hidden gems there are on our beautiful campus, places I have yet to discover. With only two months until graduation, I’m making it my mission to explore as much as possible.
Lorelei Meidenbauer (she/her) is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Hot-takes and Handshakes runs every other Tuesday this semester.