By Alison Malawey
In the Spring 1982, Cameron University History Professor Dr. Mark J. Stegmaier and English/Foreign Language Professor MariLyn Beaney started the Magic Lantern Film Society as a way to share classic films with their
students and the community.
The first showing featured two 16 mm films.
Stegmaier and Beaney led the group until Beaney pursued a fellowship with the Fulbright U.S. Student Program in 1988.
English Professor Sherry Newell took over as advisor after Beaney left and continued her service for 27 years.
English Professor Dr. John Morris joined the advisement staff in 1990 when Stegmaier stepped down, and Morris has been advisor to the society since.
This year marks the 31st anniversary that Morris has been an advisor for Magic Lantern.
The society derives its history from the famous Magic Lantern Theater in Santa Barbara, CA, which in turn gets its name from early projection equipment.
According to Isla Vista Arts from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), the Magic Lantern Theater was an art house that screened classic, independent and foreign films in the 1970s.
In the 1980s, UCSB purchased the theater and renamed it the Isla Vista Theater. Currently, the Isla Vista has become a second-run theater.
Cameron University’s Magic Lantern Film Society picked up where the original Magic Lantern Theater left off by showing critically acclaimed films as well as cult classics.
For Morris, Magic Lantern is a way to bring the community together through film.
“Classic films are a part of cultural and literary history,” he said. “In the department, I teach a class called ‘Film as Literature,’ which was created by Dr. Leigh Holmes. And I think that they [films] are texts of a kind, and great films are part of our cultural history.”
Morris said he has always thought of Magic Lantern as a place where students can learn while being entertained.
“Movies do both; they can do both. Although, there are different kinds of
entertainment. We obviously focus on classic films, and we define classic as anything that’s at least 10 years old and has received critical acclaim. “But we’ve shown cult classics too. ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space’ is easily the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but people love that silly movie.”
Spring 2021 marks Magic Lantern’s 39th season, but the annual classic film series has been cancelled due to COVID-19 precautions.
Magic Lantern planned to show eight films this school year, but the pandemic forced the group to make a change and find new ways to share classic cinema.
Since people are unable to attend a live showing of a film, Magic Lantern plans to host a virtual gathering to discuss a film after people watch a film at home.
Magic Lantern has plans to continue showing classic films in the fall — provided that the pandemic allows.
For more information about Magic Lantern, or to suggest a film for the society to show, students can contact Morris through email, make a submission online through Cameron’s website for Magic Lantern, or post a message to the society’s Facebook or Instagram account, @MagicLanternCU.