Theresa Scandiffio’s favorite films tend to fall into two categories—documentaries and screwball comedies. Although these genres seem incongruous, together they reflect the diversity of cinema as a medium and everything she loves most about it.

“There are a lot of things that drew me to Chicago,” says Scandiffio, PhD’08. Chief among them was “the political documentary scene and the way that film is used for community-building.” The Interrupters, one of her favorites, was produced by Kartemquin Films, which has strong UChicago connections.

While Scandiffio appreciates the activism and human interest of the documentary genre, she enjoys screwball comedies for “the incredible wit in the scripts,” which recalls great literature as well as live theater. And, she adds, “they’re such a good time.”

“Moving-image culture is very much in the vein of entertainment and education,” Scandiffio points out, and despite the obvious differences between documentaries and screwball comedies, “they both offer social engagement.” Whether it’s oblique social commentary underlying a zany fictional narrative or an explicit depiction of real problems, “the flicker on the screen can generate action and discussion.” To Scandiffio, that’s what successful filmmaking is all about.

Below Scandiffio offers “a somewhat eclectic list of films that remind me of my time at the University of Chicago.” She has “distinct memories of watching these films with my classmates and professors, who individually and collectively changed how I thought about the cinematic image and the myriad ways we can watch, talk, and learn about film. Plus, many of these movies are just plain fun.”

In no particular order: 

Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante (1934)

Max Ophüls’s The Earrings of Madame de… (1953) 

Jean Rouch’s Jaguar (1967)

Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

Dziga Vertov’s Enthusiasm: Symphony of the Don Basin (1931)

Ernst Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise (1932)

Albert and David Maysles’s Grey Gardens (1975) 

Preston Sturges’s Sullivan’s Travels (1941)

Oscar Micheaux’s Within Our Gates (1920)

Steve James’s The Interrupters (2011)

Lois Weber and Phillips Smalley’s Suspense (1913)

Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946)

Terence Malick’s Badlands (1973) 

King Vidor’s The Crowd (1928) 

F. W. Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Chuck Olin and U’Mista Cultural Centre’s Box of Treasures (1983)

Abram Room’s Bed and Sofa (1927)

Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Gillo Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers (1967)

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s Black Narcissus (1947)




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