Brittany D. Friesner assumes key role at IU Cinema as Jon Vickers starts sabbatical

IU Cinema director Jon Vickers and acting director Brittany Friesner pose for a portrait June 10, 2015.

Associate Director Brittany D. Friesner will serve as acting director of IU Cinema while Jon Vickers begins a yearlong sabbatical July 1. Photo by James Brosher

Indiana University Cinema and Jon Vickers have big plans in the coming months. And for the first time in five years, those aren’t necessarily the same things.

Vickers, the cinema’s founding director, is taking a yearlong sabbatical beginning July 1.

While he explores several strategic, creative and promotional projects designed to advance IU Cinema’s standing as a visionary institution, Associate Director Brittany D. Friesner will step into a new role as acting director.

“The cinema is in great hands with Brittany and the rest of our talented team,” Vickers said. “I think Brittany brings many new perspectives to our program. Every programmer has their own vision.”

A new role

Friesner has been working mostly behind the scenes at IU Cinema since September 2013. “From the beginning I was programming, especially with the academic partnership screenings,” she said. “Moving into next year, I’ll take over a lot more hosting of filmmaker guests.”

Brittany D. Friesner and George Chakiris

After a sold-out screening of “West Side Story” last September, Brittany D. Friesner moderated a question-and-answer session with George Chakiris.

As her leadership and programming role expands, other members of the cinema team will take on more marketing and guest services management.

Jessica Davis Tagg has been hired as the events and operations manager and Kyle Calvert is the new design and marketing manager. They join the longtime business manager, Carla Cowden, and Manny Knowles, who has been technical director since the months before the cinema opened.

Falling for film

Friesner first came to IU as a student from Indianapolis with ambitions of becoming a sports broadcaster. By the time she completed a bachelor’s degree in journalism, her interests had shifted toward public relations and marketing.

Following a stint at the Arts Council of Indianapolis, Friesner moved to Seattle and became an event manager at a children’s science museum. “That’s when I realized I liked operations and event management — planning events for people and building a sense of community,” she said.

After experiencing the Seattle International Film Festival, she was inspired to start volunteering for film festivals.

The festival work was a revelation to Friesner: People do this for a living. And with that realization came a new goal: She wanted to work for a nonprofit film organization.

Back to Bloomington

In 2009, she returned to IU and earned a master’s degree in arts administration at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. “By that time, the commitment to build the IU Cinema had been made. I knew it was happening,” she said. “I stuck my claws in the project as early as I could.”

Indiana University alumni Andrew J. West (actor, Walter, The Walking Dead, Greek, Nightmare Code); Brenden Patrick Hill (producer, Purple Bench Films; Walter, The Dark Knight: Begins); and Paul Shoulberg (writer, Walter) are scheduled to be present.

In March, Brittany D. Friesner met the IU alumni who made the film “Walter.” They are, from left, writer Paul Shoulberg, producer Brenden Patrick Hill and actor Andrew J. West.

Friesner wrote an article about Vickers and the cinema for the IU Alumni Magazine. Afterward, she stayed in touch. “I applied for every job that was available and finally got one,” she said.

“She was hungry to work here, there is no question,” Vickers said.

“From the beginning, from the very first interview, we knew that this should eventually be a place for her. She had the passion for it, but also the arts administration background. I’m glad Brittany was persistent!”

A start to sabbatical

This year, Vickers plans to attend a few major film festivals, including Cannes and Berlin, where he hopes to network and “carry IU Cinema’s name and reputation forward.”

Closer to home, he will be working to advance IU Cinema’s 2020 Strategic Plan, including his part in the university’s bicentennial campaign.

Vickers also will work with Film Indiana and other institutions to build additional infrastructure for growth in film and media production in the state. This initiative includes an effort to restore responsible tax credits for film and media production.

IU graduate students Jezy Gray and Jacy Rush have been researching tax incentives and their economic impact in 22 states. Vickers and the students will use that data to craft a detailed proposal that can be brought before state legislators, all in an effort to boost the state’s economy through increased film production. Vickers sees that potential growth in film as something that, in turn, would have a positive impact on The Media School.

Vickers also has a few creative projects up his sleeve, including the making of a short film with Russell Sheaffer, a Ph.D. student in Communication and Culture.

A place for fall

IU Cinema will be dark in July for maintenance, staff vacations and focused administrative time. It will reopen Aug. 6 with “The Wolfpack.” The acclaimed documentary looks at the Angulo brothers, who were raised in isolation in Manhattan, home-schooled and locked in an apartment by protective parents. The six boys drank in the outside world through a television screen, becoming obsessed with movies.

The Wolfpack film

“The Wolfpack,” a true story about six brothers who grew up isolated and obsessed by movies, will be screened on Aug. 6.

Into the fall, IU Cinema will host a lineup that not only continues its tradition of quality, but also will bear Friesner’s individual stamp.

“I think our audience will be excited by the freshness of the program,” Vickers said.

Friesner is looking forward to what is being called “Back to Back to ‘Back to the Future,'” a showing of the series’ three films that will coincide with the day Marty McFly drove a DeLorean 30 years into the future, landing on Oct. 21, 2015.

The cinema will celebrate another milestone with 50th-anniversary screenings of “The Sound of Music.” Friesner promised there would be one “respectable” screening of her favorite film and another campier, sing-along event.

Music fans can look forward to a Frank Sinatra centennial series and also several silent films with live music, including “Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ” with piano accompaniment and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Blackmail,” which will be presented with a student orchestra.

IU Cinema also will participate in a global celebration of female filmmakers. As part of the #DirectedbyWomen initiative brought about by Barbara Ann O’Leary of Bloomington, all of the films being shown Sept. 1 to 15 are ones made by female directors.

And, of course, there will be high-profile personal appearances, made possible through the Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker Lecture Series. Fall guests will include a prominent cult filmmaker and several women directors.

“I don’t think there’s an academic cinema at any other university that is as embedded and relevant as we are. We look at that as our duty, in many ways, but we also don’t look at it as a compromise to our program. It diversifies our program and gives it breadth and depth,” Vickers said.

To see the films

For further updates, check the IU Cinema website, subscribe to its newsletter and look for the fall program book, which will be released by Aug. 12. Tickets can be obtained at the IU Auditorium box office from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday or at IU Cinema one hour before any screening. IU Cinema ticketing also is available online with a $1 surcharge per ticket.

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