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The beautifully stupid world of the Anti Cinema Cinema Club

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It’s pure chaos. Two middle-aged men in polo shorts have put their terrified pizza delivery guy in an armlock. As the camera shakes and rattles, the two men shove a giant slice of pepperoni in his mouth, taunting him relentlessly about his weight until he snaps, screams at his torturers, then frantically runs away. It’s confusing at best, nonsensical at worst, yet for the Anti Cinema Cinema Club, it’s everything.

When the club’s leading members gather in co-founder Matt Bloch’s living room, they’ll put on a playlist of videos from Generation Hope, a YouTube channel that seeks to be inspirational, but does it so poorly that they end up creating silly moments of scripted drama instead, like the pizza incident. It’s their version of background noise, something for them to collectively chuckle about between conversational lulls. It’s also a consistent reminder of the ideological glue that keeps the group bonded together.

The Anti Cinema Cinema Club, by its nature, looks at movies differently. Rather than getting fully immersed into the storytelling, which requires minimal distractions, this club encourages viewers to loudly express themselves during their screenings. When they put on their annual fall showing of the sci-fi flick “Turkish Star Wars,” the audience hooted and hollered at the action scenes, mocked the goofy production choices, and wooed itself into a frenzy whenever it could ship the two manly protagonists as an intimate queer couple.

These moments of actively connecting with what’s on-screen as a group can change the movie-going experience, embracing the social element of witnessing something insane and bizarre in a shared space. You’re enjoying the camaraderie of those around you as much as you’re enjoying the film itself. For some, it’s distracting, but for others, it’s a necessity.

“I’ve always found it very hard [to watch movies], even if I’m really into a movie,” Bloch said. “I don’t necessarily want to laugh track over it, but I want to talk about what’s going on as it is happening, outside of the critical plot moments. I’ve genuinely always loved the interactive notion of what movies bring.”

Like the flicks they love, if you can look past the club’s outward veil of wild weirdness, you’ll find a beating heart of sincerity and community on the other side. It’s an RSO that started with a trio of frat brothers from Sigma Alpha Mu, and has since consistently evolved to represent students of all identities.

Most noticeably, the club has seen waves of support from the LGBTQIA+ community, as queer students kept screenings exciting, even during the worst days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bertolin’s knack for crafting decor and costumes has resulted in memorable club parties, like a black-tie awards ceremony last year, and if the name “Huskies Against Pornography” rings a bell, you can thank Stark for that idea.

Creating a full-blown parody of a celibacy club ended up being a lot of work, but in the group’s eyes, committing to the bit is part of the fun.

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“I think there’s something inherently very funny and believable about putting way too much effort into this f---ing meme club,” Bertolin said.

Of course, when a group of jokesters make goofs for years on end, not every joke is going to land well. The mistakes of screening “Basket Case” and “Soul Plane,” two films that were hyped up without being vetted for their offensive content, have left a scarring burn among leadership long after their screenings.

While they still wanted the club to be a space for edgy, off-kilter films where hateful words could be reclaimed and reappropriated through comedy, it was clear that it was time for necessary changes.

“[The club’s] going to be inclusive, because if it’s not, then nobody’s having a good time,” Stark said. “Then we can do good, gimmicky stuff together.”

That’s why, nowadays, the club makes sure to put clear and thorough content warnings in front of every film they present. It’s a way to ensure that everyone is comfortable, so they can focus on what truly matters — the bad media, the good times, and a happy, thriving community.

The Anti Cinema Cinema Club hosts film screenings at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays in Savery 260. If you love all things schlocky and surreal, you’ll feel right at home.

Reach contributing writer Calvin Jay Emerson at Twitter: @cjdailyuw

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