When movies were just minutes long and seeing them cost only a nickel, theaters often named themselves after the French word for jewel: bijou (early cinemas often resembled the luxurious inside of a jewel box). As films evolved, large, multiplex theaters became king, leaving many of these intimate theaters behind. But with the opening of Barry Mills Hall this year, Bowdoin has given life to a new, state-of-the-art theater: ‘the Jewel Box.’
Unofficially named in an homage to the great theaters of the past, the Jewel Box in Mills Hall Room 129 gives students the opportunity to experience a professional-grade cinema just steps from their dorms. The screening room boasts a 206-inch screen, six surround sound JBL speakers, six front speakers, two subwoofers behind the screen and a cutting edge laser projector.
In addition to its impressive digital display, the classroom is home to sound-absorbing walls, 56 seats bolted onto a slanted floor and a humble chalkboard for when lectures take the place of screenings.
Professor of Cinema Studies and Director of Cinema Studies Program Tricia Welsch, who served on the Mills Hall building committee, was a major advocate for a much-needed upgrade to the Cinema Studies program’s central classroom.
“[Welsch] worked so closely with technology services and IT to make sure that Bowdoin got the best projector we could have so that we could actually show first-run movies,” Professor of Cinema Studies Allison Cooper said. “The screen is gorgeous. The images are gorgeous. It’s really exciting.”
As the director of the Cinema Studies program, Welsch was especially grateful for the College’s help in satisfying the department’s suggestions.
“I was on the building committee, and it was a really good process of figuring out what needed to be in that space and the College just saying, ‘Yep. We are going to build whatever needs to be there,’” Welsch said.
Primarily, the Jewel Box will be shared between Cinema Studies and Bowdoin Film Society (BFS), something that thrilled BFS Co-President Eduardo Mendoza ’24 when he first heard about the plans to build a new screening space.
“I thought, ‘Finally, finally we have a worthy enough space,” Mendoza said. “There are so many different kinds of movies, and I think it’s important to have a space that is so adaptable to so many kinds of viewing experiences. Different movies demand different things, and this space is flexible to [those differences].”
While Mendoza is excited about the classroom for his own cinephilic pursuits, he also hopes that this new space will encourage fellow students to attend scheduled screenings available to the campus community.
“I love the ease of [watching movies on] a laptop, but there is something really special about going back into the theater,” Mendoza said. “I think people should not miss out on coming to see a screening at Mills this year.”
Every Friday, BFS hosts screenings in the Jewel Box, with shows starting at 7:00 p.m. Tonight, Wes Anderson’s “Asteroid City”(2023) will be screened for what will likely be a full theater. Last week, the club showed Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund’s “City of God” (2002).
While the Bowdoin Film Society will continue its regular screenings throughout the school year, the space will also be used to showcase student work. Students who work on screenplays or make films will be able to present their work in the new screening space. In line with Welsch’s tradition, all cinema studies events will serve cake.
“The last year before the pandemic, we had twelve student events where students showed their work,” Welsch said. “Now we are ready to get that back, and we have the space to do it.”
In addition to weekly BFS screenings, Cinema Studies classes hold screenings of all sorts of films in the space throughout the week. From Barry Jenkins’s “Moonlight” (2016) to Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” (1927), the Jewel Box serves as a hub for students to come together and share a collective experience.
“Movies are like empathy machines,” Mendoza said. “To know you went through something, and to feel empathy together—I think that is something we need more of. I don’t think anybody would disagree with that.”