Twenty years ago, who would've thunk that Purchase College, a placid upstate party dominion and a SUNY to boot, would muster an indie-film profile that rivals those of USC, Columbia, and NYU? The roster starts with Hal Hartley and Nick Gomez and runs to Stanley Tucci, Bob Gosse (Niagara, Niagara), Eric Mendelsohn (Judy Berlin), Charles Lane (Sidewalk Stories), and Tim McCann (Desolation Angels), not to mention familiar faces Parker Posey, Wesley Snipes, Karen Sillas, Edie Falco, and Ving Rhames. Film schools are renowned for preparing their graduates for no useful employment whatsoever, and yet Purchase has matched universities that cost four times as much in giving its progeny the real tools and thrusting them into the limelight. It's certainly the first state school to lease out the Walter Reade for a night (Tuesday, March 16) in order to honor itself and show its new grads' shorts, "introduced" by the likes of Gomez, Hartley, Snipes, Posey, and Tucci.
What's the deal with Purhase, anyway? Hartley, stumping for his alma mater, maintains that it's a simple matter of art over commerce: "When I was there, between 1980 and 1984, the faculty saw the school not as a career training ground but as an art school. The program was allowed to be fairly elitist, and it had a high attrition rate. There wasn't a big emphasis on turning us into viable commodities. But a big part of what went into the 'Purchase Mafia' is that they made us do everything you had to shoot film, cut film, record sound, everything. It's just like if we were art students, we'd be made to stretch our own canvases." The faculty at the time (which was when nearly all of the college's famous grads attended) was led by '70s dropout Aram Avakian and vet doc maker Willard Van Dyke, and consisted largely of working pros. "So there was a lot of coming and going," says Hartley, "which made us more self-sufficient."
Or it could be a matter of money: as Hartley says, "I went to the film school I could afford." Gomez concurs: "It boils down to class perspective people at Purchase didn't mind working for a living. There was never any problem with finding people who would get up at 4 a.m. and drive out to a freezing location to shoot for you. And you had to be resourceful, you had to be a little bit of a con man to get the exact lens you wanted, et cetera. Anyone who can afford the tuition at NYU and afford to make movies there is coming from a certain place. It's a matter of class. SUNY grads make the best interns, too."
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