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UMD's film club connects students, sparks discussion through movies

Ryan McMurtry (from left), Nathan Gasmen and T.J. del Moral react to a scene from "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" Wednesday during a weekly meeting of the League of Extra-Ordinary Film Critics. The group is two years old, and they partner with other campus clubs. They recently partnered with UMD's Quidditch Club. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com1 / 6
Nathan Gasmen and T.J. delMoral react to a scene from "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com2 / 6
Micah Eigenfeld (left) and Andrew Weisz discuss "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com3 / 6
A movie poster decorates a whiteboard Wednesday during a weekly meeting of the League of Extra-Ordinary Film Critics at UMD. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com4 / 6
A projection of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" gives off a glow in a classroom at the University of Minnesota Duluth on Wednesday during a weekly meeting of the League of Extra-Ordinary Film Critics, a student group at the school. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com5 / 6
Actor Daniel Radcliffe appears in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" at UMD during a weekly meeting of the League of Extra-Ordinary Film Critics, a student group. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com6 / 6

Posters of "Little Nicky" and "Dumb and Dumber" leaned against a classroom whiteboard. About 20 students listed their names, majors, how they're doing and their favorite fictional world.

"Black Clover universe," said one student.

"I don't know that one," said Micah Eigenfeld.

"Anime," said Ryan McMurtry.

It was a weekly meeting of the League of Extra-Ordinary Film Critics, a student group at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Their mission: to bring people together to watch movies and complain about them, said Andrew Weisz. He and Eigenfeld launched the league in a dorm room two years ago. As for the name, it was a typo that stuck.

Weisz is president of business operations and management; Eigenfeld is the genius behind it all, he said.

The format is a social half hour, a film and discussion. While UMD's Kirby Program Board screens new movies, the league aims to cater to people who want to see the classics or films they haven't seen before.

To help broaden horizons, Eigenfeld tries to find movies people have heard of but not seen.

He takes suggestions from club members, considers a standard of quality and aims to cover a variety of genres to attract new people.

There are monthly themes like sci-fi September, David Fincher February, scary movies for October. And to aid attendance, Eigenfeld likes to sandwich the month with recognizable movies, moving closer into obscurity in the middle.

They've shown the Joss Whedon web series "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" to the 1984's "Evil Dead."

"The original 'Blade Runner,' not a lot of people from my generation seem to know what that is." It's gratifying to see students come and be surprised by the unexpected, he said.

Eigenfeld is a theater major and film studies minor. When he learned to drive, he was going to movies every week, sometimes alone when he couldn't find someone to join. He appreciates the medium as an art that's universally likable.

Weisz was a transfer student to UMD his sophomore year. Watching films with Eigenfeld gave him "a sense of belonging," he said. And both said they wanted to share that with others.

As a student organization, they receive funds that help with snacks and movies; they also receive donations and buy DVDs from Savers. They have two popcorn machines (one was donated) and a film library of 250, open for check-out by club members.

It's common to see low attendance at clubs on campus issue, Weisz said. To aid that, the league has collaborated with a couple of UMD groups. They watched "The Social Network" with the Entrepreneurship Club; "Inside Out" with YOUMatter; and they recently gathered for "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" with the Quidditch Club.

Students in Ravenclaw and Gryffindor colors shared an update on how they're holding up during midterms. One student said he needed a break from a paper. Nathan Gasmen of the Quidditch Club took a tally of who was in which Harry Potter house.

Before starting the movie, Weisz reminded viewers to be respectful and save talking for the end.

Some students watched with open laptops. As the film progressed, one mouthed dialogue for Professor Slughorn; some eventually filtered out; laughs at the screen steadily increased.

Kropp and Naseem Farahid are members of both clubs.

Farahid said that instead of devouring a movie like he used to, he's more aware of the details and the cinematography.

Since he started coming, Kropp has seen more animated and stop-motion films like "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" and "Princess Mononoke" — he's liked all of them.

"It's nice to temporarily disengage from the academic hustle and bustle of college," Farahid said.

College is stressful enough, so they aim to make it a relaxed environment, added Eigenfeld.

Still, some movies push boundaries, such as "It Follows" and "Whiplash." The latter was well-received, but it was controversial for some, leading to an in-depth discussion, Eigenfeld said.

In "Whiplash," a jazz drumming student is bullied and abused to the point of (spoiler alert) a nervous breakdown, and eventually impressing his tyrannical music instructor. There were students who believed the professor's tactics were justifiable and agreeable; others felt they were extreme, Eigenfeld recalled.

Also when allegations of sexual assault against Harvey Weinstein broke in 2017, the league had unintentionally shown a film from his production company. An attendee shared their offense.

Eigenfeld tries to be mindful to avoid "potential fire-starters" like these when making his picks because the aim is to bring people together. Still, they've been "pretty lucky" so far, he said.

It's a mixed bag, and there are some strong opinions, said league chairwoman Karley Mills. It's a safe space, and "everyone's opinion is valid here."

Other group conversations wax light and philosophical. They've talked favorite female antagonists and what could've been in the box during "Seven."

Another topic: "Feasible biological thinking behind the anatomy of 'Twilight' vampires," Farahid said. "It's interesting to see how other people view things."

Group meetings are a time to take a breather with a positive and healthy social outlet, said Mills. Added Eigenfeld: "It was a nice outlet for me to not really have to care about anything in the world for a couple hours. ... A little bit of escapism."

It also helps with community on campus, said group leaders. The league has expanded social circles, and watching movies with people over the years definitely creates a bond, Eigenfeld said.

Being a league member has changed the way Weisz takes in film. Watching them, making them, critiquing them; it's an art, he said. "You don't have to worry about what's happening in your life because there's a whole adventure going on in front of you."

If you go

What: League of Extra-Ordinary Film Critics

When: 7-10 p.m. Wednesdays

Where: EDUE 16, location subject to change

More info: email weisz033@d.umn.edu

What they're into

Leaders of UMD's League of Extra-Ordinary Film Critics shared their fave movies.

Micah Eigenfeld

• "The Dark Knight"

• "Mad Max: Fury Road"

• "Ex-Machina"

• "12 Angry Men"

Andrew Weisz

• "Forrest Gump"

• "Clerks"

• "Harry Potter" franchise

• "Shawshank Redemption"

• "The Truman Show"

• "Osmosis Jones"

• "The Dark Knight" trilogy

• "Space Jam"

• "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie"

• "The Notebook

Melinda Lavine

Lavine is a features and health reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. 

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