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Now Showing: The University Film Society

By June 26, 2024No Comments

The University Film Society (UFS) was first established by Assistant Professor, Robert Kissack, of Visual Education in the General College as a self-sustaining business in the school year of 1940-1941. With the assistance of a student-faculty committee, the UFS sponsored foreign and art films featured in the auditorium of the Museum of Natural History on Church Street (1)

Robert Kissak, 1934, University of Minnesota Archives Photograph Collection

During the early 1950s, there was concern over the competition the UFS was creating for other local, small theaters within the Twin Cities, including the Varsity and Campus Theater (2). The North central Allied Independent Theatre Owners and president, Ben Berger, accused the University Film Society of “making a business out of showing movies” (3) and for airing “risque” films such as the French “La Ronde” (4)

33mm Vault, undated, Visual Education Service, University of Minnesota Alumni Association Photographs

Because of these concerns, the Board of Regents took to investigating the objections. And by January 8, 1954, members had voted in approval that the University Film Society was not in unfair competitions with other theaters within the Twin Cities (2). Subsequent actions were implemented, though, as a result of this investigation. The following three point policy was enacted: 

  • That the administration maintain a careful scrutiny of film selections to minimize any question of their educational and cultural significance
  • That contractual procedures in booking be reviewed
  • That announcements of films be presented in such a manner that there will be no question of their significance (5)

Electrical Repair Shop, undated, Visual Education Service, University of Minnesota Alumni Association Photographs

In 1957, the UFS disbanded due to a lack of attendance, but by 1962, the society was reinstated (6). Student, Paul Davies was acting President (7) and staff member, Al Milgrom, led as chairman (8). At that time, the Student Activities Bureau (SAB), who oversaw the functions of student organizations, created a policy on motion pictures that are shown by student groups on campus (2). Included in this policy was that all bookings of film had to be approved by SAB and that the student organization is responsible for the content of the films that they book and should remain consistent with “the educational mission of the University of Minnesota” (2).  

The UFS continued throughout the 1970s, but found themselves under scrutiny for the showing of the film, “Salo” (2). Minnesota Representative Kenneth McDonald filed a complaint against the University Film Society, stating that it violated “the state’s juvenile obscenity statute” passed in 1977. This ultimately led to an audit of the society’s financial records and bookings (2). Ultimately, UFS had to agree to follow recommendations listed by the Student Organization Development Center in order to retain their student organization status (2)

University Film Society Poster, 1975, Posters, Broadsides and Fliers Collection (ua01321), Box 6

University Film Society Poster, 1974, Posters, Broadsides and Fliers Collection (ua01321), Box 6

UFS continued well into the 1980s and the 1990s, opening up a secondary location in Nicholson Hall Auditorium to accommodate larger audiences (2). That lasted up until 1997, when attendance began to dwindle and the society lost space in Nicholson due to building safety (2). By the early 2000s, Al Milgrom decided at that point to rebrand as a non-profit organization outside of the University, creating Minnesota Film Arts, which in turn merged with Oak Street Cinema (2). They were known for their community engagement through the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival, which continued up until 2008 (2).  

For more information on the University Film Society, please review the collection guide, the University Film Society records (ua00388), located in the University of Minnesota Archives. There is also an additional collection, the University Film Society collection (PA058), located in the Performing Arts Archives, another Archives and Special Collections’ unit.


(1) Introduction to the University: Freshman Week Handbook, 1941

(2) University Film Society, Information Files on Campus Departments, Organizations, and Activities, Information files collection (ua01158), University of Minnesota Archives 

(3) The Minnesota Daily: October 2, 1953

(4) The Minnesota Daily: January 6, 1954

(5) The Minnesota Daily: January 11, 1954

(6) The Minnesota Daily: April 11, 1962

(7) The Minnesota Daily: December 6, 1962

(8) The Minnesota Daily: January 16, 1963

Katelyn Morken

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