Goodbye to All That
Revisiting Kyle Henry's 'University Inc.' and a film community's cri de coeur
"Fuck football, free film!" In Texas, at least, that slogan sure sounds like sacrilege, but in the late Nineties it was gospel for film fans in Austin – for anyone, really, who believed that a university should tend to its students, not just its big-ticket donors, and tend to all its students, not just the ones who fill the bleachers on game day.
Guess what? Football won.
When the University of Texas announced plans in 1997 to shutter its long-running campus repertory film series, Austin filmmaker Kyle Henry was a grad student. (Word was the university needed the cash for a new stadium jumbotron.) He began documenting the protests, and in the process, had his eyes opened to a soul-sickening corporatization of academia.
His film, University Inc., turns 10 this year; if anything, the dire straits Henry chronicled have gotten even worse – something he'll address directly when he screens University Inc. this Sunday and Monday at Salvage Vanguard Theater (along with his 1998 documentary, American Cowboy, about gay rodeo champ Gene Mikulenka). Henry, who's currently in production on the omnibus film Fourplay (see "Barfly on the Wall," Aug. 14), will follow both University Inc. screenings with "talkbacks" about the film's themes. On Monday night, he'll sit down with Texas State Employees Union rep Caroline O'Connor for a discussion about the current state of corporatization at UT. For Sunday's screening, John Pierson will join Henry for a post-film talk about repertory film. In fact, University Inc. started life as a segment on Pierson's seminal IFC/Bravo series Split Screen.
"All I remember was Spencer [Parsons] and I staying up 48 hours straight to get a cut of the episode in time for John to look at before his RV pulled into the loading dock of the Communications building at UT, prior to SXSW 1998," says Henry. "I think we were both practically hallucinating on caffeine and very nervous to show our little film to one of our idols, but thankfully John really liked it, and the opportunity gave both of us a chance to have our first commissioned cable piece run.
"I really miss shows like Split Screen, which I think helped galvanize and proselytize to a cinema-loving community who wanted to make and see challenging work," Henry continues. "This community grew up on repertory cinema programs like UT's Union Film Program. I don't really know where youth, rebels, and misfits now gather to find real meaningful, human, face-to-face community like the ones I found after screenings of films like If... or Where Is the Friend's Home? or A Woman Under the Influence."
So it's grim and grimmer, then, for both academic life and film appreciation?
Henry replies, "Yeah, both talkbacks will probably be depressing, but informative, and information is power!"
Salvage Vanguard Theater's Micro-Cinema and aGLIFF present Kyle Henry: Early Documentaries Nov. 22-23 at Salvage Vanguard Theater (2803 Manor Rd.). University Inc. screens at 7pm and American Cowboy at 9pm on both nights. Admission is $5 per show.
You can follow the Fourplay production at www.fourplaythemovie.blogspot.com.