Cinema under the stars

Crowds of students carrying blankets and folding chairs swarm the sidewalks that lead to the Phyllis P. Marshall Center. Where are they all heading to on a Wednesday night? No, this isn’t a massive study party – these students are headed for one of the most popular and long-lasting traditions at USF: Movies on the Lawn (MOTL).

Year after year, numerous students -freshmen and veterans, on-campus residents and off-campus dwellers – take a break from their daily academic routine to enjoy their weekly dose of silver-screen entertainment. This year, however, the tradition has undertaken an initiative to enhance the quality of campus life for all students, as well as provide a well-rounded collegiate experience. It’s a renaissance of sorts, which aims to reach out and bring

together the vastly diverse populace of the University community.

Hosted by the Campus Activities Board (CAB) and funded through the A&S fees paid by every student as part of tuition, the movies are free to all USF students. The movies are projected on an inflatable screen hoisted on the MLK Lawn behind the fountains every Wednesday at 9 p.m. Amplifying the theatrical ambience, popcorn, soda and pizza are also provided for the audience. In the wake of a potential downpour or other weather constraints, the alternate venue for the event is the Marshall Center Ballroom.

“The maximum occupancy of the ballroom is 300 persons and hence, students are let in on a first come, first served basis,” said Josh Highsmith, director of MOTL and secondary math education major. “As long as you get in early, you should be fine.”

Before the movie begins, Highsmith asks trivia questions about the movie being shown and audience members can win MOTL T-shirts and movie posters that bedeck the

Hollywood-esque “Now Showing” board in the Tampa Room of the Marshall Center. Students may also anticipate costume contests and prizes for forthcoming movies like Hairspray and Harry Potter.

Highsmith has been actively involved with CAB and the novel renaissance of the MOTL tradition can be attributed to him.

“Compared to previous years, the major change in this year’s lineup is that it’s not comprised entirely of all mainstream movies,” Highsmith said. “Our goal is not only to get people to come to the event, but also to reach out to different types of people. Yes, big blockbusters like Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean and Harry Potter are still a part of the lineup, but some people have never even heard of movies like The Devil Came On Horseback.”

Explaining the rationale behind incorporating more independent films instead of focusing solely on blockbusters, Highsmith captures the significance of such changes in improving a student’s journey

through college.

“The whole essence about a college experience is to try new things, meet new people and step out of your bubble,” he said. “Our point is to reach out to the majority, but when one does so, the minority gets left out. We are funded through A&S fees that are paid by every single student, so, we attempt to reach out to all of them. When I choose a movie for the lineup, it’s not because I want to see it, but because students may like it. It may get the most people excited and get them to go to the event,” said Highsmith.

For the spring semester, Highsmith plans to use a Web poll on MOTL’s Facebook group (CAB MOTL Lovers) and the Note-a-Bull newsletter to gather students’ choices before finalizing the movie lineup.

MOTL tradition is its novel approach to outreach with various student organizations.

“MOTL is no longer a CAB-only event,” said Michael Dolinger, program coordinator for the office of student programs. “We are working with different departments on campus. It’s not just a board of nine students making the decisions. Instead, we incorporate students, faculty and the entire University community.”

The apt coalescence of education and entertainment was evident when a number of students enrolled in the University Experience course attended the showing of the cross-cultural film In America, a mandatory part of their class curriculum.

Last week’s showing of The Devil Came on Horseback was coupled with an introduction by the student organization S.T.A.N.D., a student anti-genocide coalition. Reflecting on the central theme of the movie and how it mirrors the coalition’s aims, the representatives illustrated their wish to educate the USF community about the current crisis in Darfur and their efforts to raise funds for the same.

Similarly, USF Health Center will be involved with the showing of the U.S. healthcare-related movie Sicko, while USF Credit Union and Financial Aid will speak about college students’ credit card debts at the showing of Maxed Out. Also, Cinnabon is expected to bring samples of its new iced coffee to some of the shows.

Student organizations are encouraged to get involved with MOTL, and it’s suggested that they talk before the movie to inform students about their respective organizations.

“We need students to make all this happen,” Highsmith said. “Students interested in getting involved with MOTL – or CAB in general – should attend the biweekly committee meetings where they can sign up to help out with the events. Most of our committee members have been people who wanted to make a difference and meet new people on campus.”

The next committee meeting will be held Sept. 19 at 6:30 p.m. in the President’s Room in the Marshall Center.

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