Since its establishment in 1970, Cornell Cinema has screened a wide range of films for Cornellians and Ithaca residents. As it recovers from its closing during the COVID-19 pandemic, the theater has tried to attract more audiences through diversified film series.
According to Cornell Cinema director Molly Ryan, the theater held about 75 to 100 screenings across 11 film series this semester. ‘Studio Ghibli Sundays’ is the most popular series, projecting animation movies produced by the Japanese animation company every Sunday afternoon.
Other series include Filming Jewish Life, a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the University’s Jewish Studies program; Environmental Action on Screen, which shows past year’s documentaries and films about the global climate crisis and Revolutionary Visions in Iranian Cinema, a collaboration with the Iranian Graduate Student Association at Cornell that highlights Iranian landmarks.
“When deciding which film to be in the series, I hope to create mixed opportunities … and offer a little of everything,” Ryan said. “Cornell is global [and has students from all over the world], so I am trying to make our screenings global.”
Consisting of about 25 Cornell students, Cornell Cinema Student Advisory Board meets monthly to work with the cinema and develop its schedule for future semesters.
“We’re developing the idea of doing a cult classic series next semester. It was a nice discussion between all of us — discussing what a cult classic means, what are some examples and which ones would be the best to put in,” said Haonan Gong ’26, a member of the Board. “Everyone knows different movies that other people don’t know, so bringing the movies that you know into the conversation is really nice.”
For approval to screen the films, Ryan acquires film licenses from the production companies. Functioning as a non-theatrical client, Cornell Cinema can only obtain licensing for new films after they have been playing in commercial theaters for a certain time period.
“[The film industry] has a network of producers all over the country, which I get the licensing from,” Ryan said. “International movies usually take a while before being released in the U.S. They are usually purchased by other distributors, and it’s like detective work to find out the specific distributor.”
Ryan explained that the Cinema’s activities are mostly funded through its own ticket and concession sales. Attendees can buy tickets for individual films or all-access annual passes. Compared with general admission, students get discounted prices, with graduate students having the cheapest price due to funding from the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, according to Ryan.
“We are trying to make the tickets as affordable as possible to everyone,” Ryan said. “Special events may be more expensive, but the prices of most screenings are in the same range.”
In addition to ticket sales, Cornell Cinema sells posters of most of the movies it has played. The theater also offers concessions for purchase — like drinks, popcorn and candy.
Tise Alatise ’23, a regular moviegoer at the Cinema, said she enjoyed the nostalgia of the theater’s buttered popcorn and Studio Ghibli films, of which she has been a fan since childhood.
“[I like hearing] kids laugh and [eating] popcorn with butter. That feels old school,” Alatise said. “It’s very nostalgic, but it’s in the present.”
Neha Malepati ’24, Alatise’s friend and an occasional Cinema attendee, said she appreciated the communal aspect of watching films with other cinema attendees.
“It felt like a community of [everyone] just laughing whenever jokes came up,” Malepati said. “And at the end, everyone clapped.”
As the theater is open to the public, many local Ithaca residents also visit the Cinema. Delalle Alexander, whose Collegetown home is just a short walk away, said she watched about 10 screenings in April. She added that she enjoys immersing herself in films while watching them on the Cinema’s big screen.
Ryan also recalled an immersive film experience, describing a Cornell Cinema horror movie screening in Sage Chapel.
“In ‘Nosferatu’ there’s a scene when the vampires fly to travel to the woman [character’s] house. And at that moment an actual bat flew into Sage Chapel,” Ryan said. “I thought it was a special effect at first. … It was definitely an amazing piece for the night.”
Many of Cornell Cinema’s attendees share a love for film — including the theater’s Board members. Gong said the Board provides a space for students interested in film to share their passions.
“There are not that many film clubs on campus. … I’m trying to find [a film club] because I love talking about movies. It’s like an outlet for me. And I love finding people that also love movies,” Gong said. “Cornell Cinema Student Board is definitely where I find that.”
Going forward, the Board hopes to expand its campus outreach. Ryan said the Cinema plans to hold a poster sale next fall and boost its social media content creation, more informing people about the history behind filmmaking and Cornell Cinema.
“Cornell Cinema always had an educational mission — teaching people about the history of cinema,” Ryan said. “We hope to let people appreciate the technical history and complexity existing in cinemas.”