The meaning of a film is not what’s in it but what we make of it. Cult Cinema, or FIST 300, is a course offered by the department of theatre and film, which provides students with an opportunity to study an overview of cult cinema through the ages. A popular favourite among students, this course has one of the highest enrollments in the film studies department.
Cult Cinema is taught by professor Ernest Mathijs, who has been teaching at UBC since 2006. Having founded the course and written the textbooks himself, Mathijs is well versed on the topic. “It’s a passion for film, writing about it and sharing with others the love [for cinema] that made me become a teacher in film,” said Mathijs when asked about his inspiration.
There’s no one straight definition of what a cult film is. It could be marvellously made, out of the ordinary or could make you question what you know. It might also be celebrated in a way that goes beyond the bounds of moderation. Teaching assistant Adam Bagatavicius believes that the best attribute of cult cinema is that it allows audiences to define what makes a movie cult. “Each student leaves the course with their own definition and interpretation.”
The three credit course is open to third- and fourth-year students but has no pre-requisite course requirements. The course covers an extensive array of 30-40 famous cult films. These are eccentric, hilarious and often provocative films that normally one would not get the opportunity to see. During class hours, each of the films are screened in a very interactive manner. Students are encouraged to immerse themselves in the film by shouting at the characters or throwing objects at the screen.
“The pedagogical purpose is to demonstrate to the students that cinema is all about the social experience of watching the film,” said Mathijs. He believes that if we can turn a terrible film into a great experience, then there must be some merit to it. And that is the essence of a cult film.
One of the films in the course is The Room which is described as one of the worst movies ever. However, it is also one of the best viewing experiences. Mathijs describes the film to be so poorly made, that over the years, audiences have found different ways to ridicule the movie, and so watching it in a large social group is always fun.
“It’s like a manic sugar rush, you never know what you’re going to get each week,” said Bagatavicius. That is what he believes makes students enjoy the course. For a genre of film so chaotic, the course is perfectly structured into modules. The films are screened on Mondays during class hours and discussions are held on Fridays to discuss weekly readings and assignments.
In the future Mathijs hopes to be able to incorporate video essay assessments into the course, so that students get the opportunity to create film montages and visually present their ideas.
Students are also encouraged to watch cult films outside of the classroom. Affiliating with art-house cinemas in Vancouver gives students the opportunity to watch a midnight movie or watch a horror movie on Halloween. This provides the ideal setting and mood to enjoy the film. Guest lecturers also conduct workshops a few times in the term to talk about their experience working with cult films.
“A film does not have to fit into the ideal definition of a good movie to be exceptional or appreciated,” said Mathijs. The unusual interactive manner of the classes and the freedom students find to explore different sub-genres in cult and work with uncommon themes has made this course popular and successful.