DFS fall series deals with themes from hit musical ‘Hamilton’

by Will Tackett | 9/13/16 12:01am

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit show “Hamilton” (2015), a hip hop-based musical about the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton, has captured the hearts of people everywhere, and the Dartmouth Film Society is no exception. Every term, the society, among other tasks, organizes and presents a film series based around a theme. This term’s film theme is entitled “Hamilton’s America.”

The series showcases films that share themes with the Tony Award-winning musical, ranging from political idealism to ambition and even scandal.

“We were looking at the films that were coming out this fall to see what do they have in common,” said Johanna Evans ’10, DFS manager. “We found that a lot of the films that really spoke to us and that we were excited about all shared a theme with Hamilton.”

They mentioned the idea to visiting film studies professor Noah Isenberg, who happened to have taught Alex Horwitz, director of “Hamilton’s America” (2016), a PBS documentary about the making of the hit musical. Horwitz was also a roommate of Miranda’s at Wesleyan University. The documentary features an insider’s look at the writing of the musical, footage of performances and interviews with experts.

“The way we figured it, there’s a reason why ‘Hamilton’ is so popular right now. The themes that ‘Hamilton’ seizes upon are things that are really popular in film,” Evans said. “Things like ambition, or people who are outsiders trying to break into a world they don’t have access [to].”

One such example is “Southside With You” (2016), a film based on Barack and Michelle Obama’s fateful first date walking around Chicago. The film touches on the theme of political idealism versus practical reality, an issue also explored by “Hamilton.”

“I think this belief that you can make a difference from any background with the right set of skills and the right belief in what this country can accomplish is something that I find inspiring,” said Alex Petros ’19, a member of DFS, who will be DFS co-director for the spring term.

Another film in the series, “Equity” (2016), tells a story about an investment banker looking to work her way up the corporate ladder. Evans said that “Equity” could fit with “Hamilton’s” theme of an outsider trying to break into a hitherto inaccessible world or with the story of Aaron Burr, Hamilton’s real-life nemesis and a prominent character in “Hamilton.”

Typically, DFS decides the theme for the upcoming film series one or two terms in advance. They usually propose themes, narrow them down to two and then vote on the final one. However, this past summer, only one student in the society was on campus. Consequently, Evans and Sydney Stowe, acting director of Hopkins Center Film, which oversees DFS, decided on the theme themselves.

“We play the ‘Hamilton’ soundtrack every week in the office, much to the dismay of all of our neighbors in the building,” Stowe said.

Petros noted that the theme allows for a broader scope of films to be screened as its based on a “disparate collection of inspirations.”

By linking the films to “Hamilton,” DFS wants more people to come that might not otherwise attend film screenings, Stowe said.

“We’ve given them a sort of way in by saying, ‘This is part of the ‘Hamilton’ series,’” Stowe said. “Sometimes that makes it easier for people to look at movies they wouldn’t normally consider.”

Usually, the series contains nine parts, but this term DFS left the last two weekends of the term open to allow flexibility in the schedule if, for instance, a director offered to come to campus at some point during the term.

Stowe is particularly excited about “Hell or High Water” (2016), a modern-day Western about two brothers in Texas who lose their land to a bank before starting to rob branches of the bank in pursuit of some sort of justice.

“They don’t make a lot of movies like that anymore,” Stowe said.

The highlight of the series will be the screening of the titular documentary “Hamilton’s America” on Sunday, Oct. 23, just two days after the film is set to premiere on PBS. The screening will coincide with a visit from Horwitz, the film’s director.

In addition to the “Hamilton’s America” series, DFS is presenting “Shades of Noir,” a series done in collaboration with film and German studies professor Gerd Gemünden examining classic, noir films.