The Missouri S&T Fall 2017 Film Festival is set to begin on Tuesday, August 29 with a showing of Hidden Figures. The festival is a long-standing tradition of the university, attempting to bring thought-provoking films to not only the campus, but the surrounding community.

The Missouri S&T Fall 2017 Film Festival is set to begin on Tuesday, August 29 with a showing of Hidden Figures. The festival is a long-standing tradition of the university, attempting to bring thought-provoking films to not only the campus, but the surrounding community.

S&T professor Max Tohline, the current coordinator for the film festival, found his passion for film while studying at the university, and after taking over the program, wants to use the film festival to inspire viewers to ask questions that have never been asked before. This year, Tohline said he wants to get the entire community involved in the conversation.

Tohline said the first time he realized movies could inspire deeper thoughts and questions was when he was on a road trip with his father when he was a child.

“We were doing a father-son thing,” he said. “It was the end of the day…and he turns on the TV when he walks into the hotel room. He lands on PBS and it’s Twelve Angry Men; it had just started.” Tohline explained that as his father left the room to take a shower, he became immediately immersed in the film. When his father returned, Tohline said he wouldn’t leave his spot until the film was over.

“It was the first film I’d ever watched that asked me to think about something,” he said. “I didn’t know movies could be about that…I didn’t know it could be an intellectually engaging process. Since that point I kept falling into more and more engaging films.”

Tohline eventually came to Missouri S&T as an Aerospace Engineering major, but when Film Studies course inspired him to change his degree to English, and shift his career to studying film. Today Tohline teaches at the university, taking over the position of the professor who initially inspired him, and showing his students what the art of film can do for them.

“It (film) seems to encompass the entirety of the human experience, there’s nothing you can’t find a way to express through film,” he said.

Tohline said that as the film festival enters it’s 42 year, he wants to engage others in the conversation inspired by the film’s selected for the festival.

“The mission of the series…was to bring films that didn’t play in Rolla,” he said. “I think for the adult population of Rolla Missouri, we’re hungry for movies that weren’t made for teenage boys. We’re hungry for movies that ask us to be involved in a drama, to feel some emotion. We’re hungry for movies that will inspire us and make us think.

The films chosen for the festival come from all over the world, directed by all colors and genders of people, according to Tohline. His motive when selected the films is to bring this direct experience of something outside Rolla to the area.

“Not just so I can talk with my students in my class…” he said. “but so any community member can go to the bar afterward, sit down and have a chat about the ideas that were in that movie.”

Tohline went on to say that if community members are able to talk about the ideas presented in the films, and he assured each of them are thought provoking films, then it creates a deeper, richer experience for everyone involved.

“That’s the experience the film series was tasked to bring to the community…one of the biggest misconceptions is that the series is only for the campus.” Tohline explained he wants the film series to unite community members with each other and connect them with ideas from all points of the globe.

To prepare for each year’s film festival, Tohline stays up to date on film journals and the film festival circuit, regularly traveling to see what’s playing and generating conversation. This research heavily influences what he brings to Rolla.

“Each film I watch, I ask myself, could I have a conversation with somebody about this film, and would that conversation last more than five minutes,” he said. “I try to show movies that speak to some sort of contemporary situation…as the semester goes on I try to bring in deeper thoughts and richer experiences.”

Tohline says he generally begins the festival with an Oscar-nominee crowd pleaser, but even these he says are meant to be thought provoking and timely. Tohline gave the example of Hidden Figures, the first film of this semester’s festival.

“There couldn’t possibly be a better film for this campus,” he said. “It’s a film about computer scientists, engineers and mathematicians working on the space race.” Featuring a film about brilliant female scientists that were almost lost to history is the perfect way to start the semester and stimulate the thoughtful conversation the festival is all about, according to Tohline.

Tohline also uses the festival as a teaching tool for his classes. The film Jackie, the second film of the semester, possesses a fantastic sound design, according to him, and coincides with the day he plans on discussing sound design with his students.

Tohline explained that using the art of film as a teaching tool provides him a way to get his students to look at problems in a new way, and to ask questions they never thought of asking before.

“Every time there is some kind of scientific innovation…it begins with somebody being able to ask a question that no one else has ever asked,” he said. “There’s no class in asking questions, but art offers precisely that experience of encountering something that is unfamiliar and having to reorganize your mind to be able to understand this unfamiliar thing.”

Tohline added that “the future belongs to those who ask the best questions. If we want to have innovations…we need people who are really good at putting their minds in situations that are unfamiliar and coping with that unfamiliarity.”

When a viewer encounters a new film, according to him, he has to figure out how to watch it, and understand what it’s trying to say.

“Every director, every writer…might be asking something different of the audience,” Tohline said. “A lot of these films are easy to watch, but some of them are a challenge.”  

The films selected for the festival are those meant to challenge viewers, and force them to think in new ways to discover new questions and generate new ideas from those questions, using art to influence whatever their focus might be.

Tohline stressed that this experience isn’t just for the students in his class or around campus, and wants the entire community to come and be challenged, or at least enjoy a selection of excellent films.

“I just want to encourage the community to know this is for them. It’s open to everybody,” he said. “All the films are great, the seats are comfortable and the doors are open. We would love people to come.