The college ended its agreement with Amherst Cinema that provided Amherst students with free movie tickets due to college-wide budget cuts. The program has existed, in at least some form, since the Spring of 2022.
The Office of Student Activities reinstated the program, which had been active prior to the pandemic, last spring at the request of the Amherst Film Society, led by President Sophie Durbin ’25. Originally only funding movie screenings after 8 pm, Student Activities expanded the program in the Fall 2022 to fund all movies.
“It was a big success,” Durbin said. “Tons of students were taking advantage of [the free movies].”
However, Durbin said that Student Activities told her that they had underestimated how much it would cost to fund the tickets, and as a result, they have gone significantly over their allotted budget for the program. Durbin explained that this has become a pressing issue partway through this semester because of the budget cuts.
A representative of Student Activities did not respond when asked to confirm Durbin’s explanation of the program’s ending.
In response to a Student inquiry, Dean of Students Angie Tissi-Gassoway wrote, “The program, which was funded by [the] AAS and student activities, was not funded for three months — March through May — and is being reassessed for next year.”
While it seems unlikely that Student Activities will be able to continue to fund the program next semester, Durbin plans to pursue alternative funding sources, such as the President’s Office, in hopes of offering free movies to students once more. She hopes that once she secures funding, the arrangement will become permanent, meaning it will not need to be renegotiated with the college each semester.
“It’s very rare to have a small, art-house theater like [Amherst Cinema] so close to us,” Durbin said. “Lots of people don't realize how special it is to have a small independent cinema like this one.”
In Durbin’s view, access to free movies at Amherst Cinema goes beyond idle entertainment: “I don't really see it as pure entertainment so much as education.”
“Amherst Cinema’s programming is incredibly unique,” Durbin said. She added, “There are lots of cool events like premieres where you get to meet the director or screenwriters. So it's a great opportunity for people who are interested in entertainment careers, and to be exposed to lesser-known films that you can't see anywhere else.”
Ankit Sayed ’24 echoed this sentiment: “Amherst Cinema is a great counterpoint to [the movie theater at] Hampshire Mall.” He added that the cinema “provides students with the opportunity to see a lot of indie movies as opposed to the commercial ones at Hampshire Mall.”
As a Bangla student, Amherst Cinema’s screenings of Bangla movies have allowed him to connect with his heritage and share it with his community in a way that would not have been available to him otherwise.
Alexa Ekhelar ’25 believes that the college allowing students to see movies for free is even more important because of Amherst’s rural location. Watching movies at Amherst Cinema has been “an important part of [her] college experience outside the classroom, especially because there’s not much to do in a small town and a rural area like Amherst.”
In addition, Durbin received feedback from Amherst Cinema that the agreement with the college has helped their business, especially after losing sales during the pandemic. “The director [of the cinema] emailed me and said that they had had more sold-out shows than ever before in their history,” she said.
“As a school, especially an elite liberal arts college, it’s important for us to support local businesses like Amherst Cinema,” said Ekhelar.