While movie watching habits may have changed over time, HUB cinema nights have remained the same for Penn State students for over twenty years.
Ben Lakavage and Kirsten Worrall are the cinema chairs for the Association of Residence Hall Students (ARHS), and they are primary forces behind the films that are shown every weekend in the HUB’s Freeman Auditorium. ARHS works to provide students with free programs across campus throughout the school year.
“Giving students another thing to do on campus is a great thing,” Worrall (sophomore - secondary english education) said.
ARHS began cinema nights with the intention of being an alternative to alchohol for students. Lakavage (sophomore - political science and anthropology) said the mission remains the same today — encouraging students to find entertainment away from the party scene.
David Riefel is entering his twenty-fifth year as the cinema gatekeeper in the HUB, a part time job he said has a lot of meaning to him.
“When I was in college I was a drinker, a partier…” Riefel explained. “I think most students, especially freshmen and sophomores get that peer pressure of getting sucked downtown and getting into the party scene.”
Reifel sees his role as a “positive effect” on helping students move away from party culture.
There are other benefits to the cinema nights besides safety, according to Lakavage. Every film is funded through student activity fees, so students have access to free movies every weekend. Lakavage described cinema weekends as a “way to destress without having to worry about finances.”
For incoming students, the free movies are a way to get accustomed to college and make friends on campus.
“When I was a freshman, I was a little bit nervous about going off campus so having a movie that I really wanted to see on campus was great,” Worrall said. “Doing events for incoming students — [it’s] a way for people to transition to college.”
Multiple factors come into play when Lakavage and Worrall choose which films they show every week, some including critical reception and what students may potentially be interested in.
Following a poor performance at the box office, Worrall said they removed Adam Driver’s “The Report” from this semester’s lineup. However, not all poorly rated films can be taken out of the schedule, as every movie for the semester are chosen nearly a month in advance.
Lakavage said one of the primary factors for when films are shown depends on what is happening throughout the semester. In February, the cinema chairs have chosen films to play as a part of Black History Month.
“We do take into account where the semester is, so towards the end of the semester we’ll show happier films because kids are stressed out because of finals,” Lakavage added, explaining that student interest is always a consideration.
Some weekends have themes, too, though they are unrelated to special events of the time of the year. This weekend is "murder weekend,” with "Knives Out" and "Doctor Sleep."
Film choices are made based on ARHS’s partnership with Swank Motion Pictures, a distributor of feature films. Though, despite the limitations to Swank, the cinema chairs are seeking to expand the movie selection and show times currently available to students.
Worrall said ARHS cinemas may move away from exclusively showing new films in order to add a few “throwback weekends.” These films would primarily consist of classics, which most students don’t have the chance to see on a big screen. Lakavage said they would like to begin showing foreign movies as well.
Initially, the ARHS cinemas were partnered with HUB LateNight until the organization disbanded in the spring of 2019. Consequently, the number of moviegoers has declined as ARHS no longer has LateNight to create joint advertisements with.
However, Riefel contributes part of the decline to the rise of the internet and the convenience of streaming platforms. He said the HUB movie nights “peaked” in 2002 when LateNight was able to fill both the Freeman Auditorium and Heritage Hall. Currently, Riefel averages about "1%" of the student population come in to see a movie.
"Everyone's paying for it [though]," Riefel said in regards to the student activity fee.
Nonetheless, Riefel remains “excited” to see the students every weekend. While crowds have shrunk, he said that the people have stayed the same. The most popular films have been comedies, while sequels always perform poorly. Additionally, students seem to never fall away from using movies as a means to make friends.
“You hardly ever see students come into a movie without a friend,” Riefel said.