A Cinematic Gem in the Inland Empire

Culver Center of the Arts Façade.jpg
Culver Center of the Arts façade. | Photo: Courtesy of UCR ARTSblock.

In Partnership with UCR ARTSblock UCR ARTSblock's mission is to provide a cultural presence, educational resource, community center and intellectual meeting ground for the university and the community.


Since opening in October of 2010, the 72-seat screening room at UC Riverside's Culver Center of the Arts has aimed to be Riverside's home to experimental, independent, and foreign film. It is unique for Riverside and the surrounding community as all of the movie theatres show mainstream films only and seem to replicate one another's schedules. In other words, Culver's screening room is a cinematic gem within the Inland Empire.

Culver Center of the Arts, along with the Sweeney Art Gallery and the California Museum of Photography, together, form ARTSblock. The three institutions are located in downtown Riverside, about three miles away from UCR's main campus. A different film is screened every week at the Culver, typically Friday and Saturday evenings, with occasional Saturday afternoon matinees. Jonathan Green, the Executive Director of UCR ARTSblock, curates the screening series.

The films themselves come from all corners of the globe and connect Riverside filmgoers to a host of voices, ideas, and stories that they might not necessarily encounter at the local multiplex. Any given screening series runs the gamut of cinematic genres and for every lighthearted film there is an equally tempestuous and challenging one. By and large, the Culver screening room aims to showcase acclaimed contemporary cinema, with a fair number of films having garnered top prizes from film festivals around the world. However, the Culver also looks locally, showcasing films and filmmakers from California and the Inland Empire.

Social and political issues from around the world are often at the center of films at the Culver. Recent examples include the Israeli documentary "The Law in these Parts," which examines the court system in the West Bank, Werner Herzog's "Into the Abyss," which looks at the lives of Texas death row inmates, and the documentary "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,' which profiles the artist's life and his clashes with China's censorship laws. Films exploring social and political history are also not uncommon. This October the Culver screened Margarethe von Trotta's biopic "Hannah Arendt," centering on the political theorist's coverage of the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann for The New Yorker. Many of the films are accompanied by after screening panel discussions with directors, actors, and UCR professors.

While many films do venture into heavy, dramatic, and experimental territory, there are also many lighter moments to be found within any given screening series. Comedies such as Richard Linklater's "Bernie," starring Jack Black as assistant mortician turned murderer suspect Bernie Tiede, and Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom," a story about two young mischievous runaway lovers, have played to enthusiastic crowds.

Culver Center of the Arts screening room. | Photo: Courtesy of UCR ARTSblock.
Culver Center of the Arts screening room. | Photo: Courtesy of UCR ARTSblock.

Last year, every second Thursday of the month was dedicated to screening a film by up and coming filmmakers from the Inland Empire. More recently, a local film, "Riverbend Commons," was screened to a full house. The film, by Riverside native Ulysses Curry, profiled young musicians striving to carve out a music scene in Riverside. The film was followed by a concert in Culver's Coil Brothers Atrium. Every summer ARTSblock is host to a film camp called Off the Block. The camp teaches documentary filmmaking to local area high school students and culminates with a public screening of the films in the screening room. One of last year's films, "Dream Activist," a documentary short about undocumented college student Italia Garcia, went on to win honors at PBS's California Student Media Festival.

Culver's screening series also looks to play off of exhibitions around the ARTSblock, with last spring's "Free Enterprise: The Art of Citizen Space Exploration," which focused on the shift from State-sponsored space exploration toward a private enterprise model, inspiring a mini-science fiction film series featuring "2001: A Space Odyssey," "Moon," and "Alien." City-wide events inspire special screenings as well, with Riverside's annual Festival of Lights bringing about a holiday, revival film series last year, including "A Nightmare Before Christmas," "White Christmas," and "It's a Wonderful Life."

The screening room is no stranger to guests from UC Riverside's main campus, with several screenings either introduced by or followed by a discussion with faculty members. Assistant Professor of Art History Susan Laxton presented a selection of short films from early cinema pioneer Georges Méliès before a screening of Martin Scorsese's "Hugo." A showing of the documentary film "Inside Job," which traces the causes and effects of the 2008 global recession, was followed by a spirited discussion by the Dean of the College of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences and Professor of Economics Stephen Cullenberg, Economics Professor Gary Dymski and Toby Miller, Professor from the Department of Media and Cultural Studies.

Every so often, filmmakers will also grace the Culver screening room. Alma Har'el chimed in via Skype after the screening of her experimental documentary "Bombay Beach," and a year later she was present in person to discuss her various music video projects, including work for artists such as Beirut and Sigur Ros. The editor of the Mexican film "Amores Perros," Luis Carballar, visited the Culver after the screening of the film last September.

In addition to filmmakers and UCR faculty, local officials and community members have also been a part of post-screening discussions. "Undefeated," the Oscar winning high school football documentary, was followed by a discussion with former Riverside Mayor Ronald O. Loveridge, Arlington High School football coach Pat McCarthy and John W. North High School football coach Mark Paredes about the relationship between high school football and the city at large.

The screening room ultimately strives to be more than purely an exhibition space. It is the only place of its kind in Riverside in that it fosters communication and interaction between filmmakers, film scholars and critics, community members, and filmgoers. Even screenings that are not followed by a panel or Q&A often result in audience members engaging each other in discussion about what was just screened. Perhaps this camaraderie is the most standout feature of Culver's screening room, aside the film program itself.

For more information please visit: http://artsblock.ucr.edu/film


This article appeared first in the fall 2013 issue of Riverside Lawyer, a magazine published by the Riverside County Bar Association.


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