Stephen Balogh

Follow this student projectionist for a behind the scenes glimpse at Doc Films.

Class of 2013 | Philosophy

Stephen Balogh spends many an evening operating sound towers, ventilation systems, and lights.

No, he’s not a member of The Black Keys’ stage crew. The third year Philosophy major is a projectionist at Doc Films, the University of Chicago’s student film society, which screens movies every night of the academic year. Doc is also the longest continuously running student film society in the nation, according to the Museum of Modern Art’s records.

At 5:30 pm on Friday, Balogh—with the help of two apprentice projectionists—begins preparing for the 7 pm movie showing in the Max Palevsky Cinema in Ida Noyes Hall.

All the action takes place in a small room above the theater, filled with various equipment, cables, filing cabinets, cleaning supplies, and over 50 reels that Doc owns, with a backdrop that includes a large painting of a scorpion.

Balogh first became acquainted with this room as a second year, when he trained as an apprentice projectionist. Before landing a regular gig as a projectionist, he put in his three quarters of dues. Balogh helped a projectionist while learning the ropes, gaining experience with different types of film and the Doc Films equipment. He showed his first film as a lead projectionist just last summer.

Balogh confidently begins the familiar routine by turning on the sound towers, or the amplifiers for the surround sound in the theater. Next, he turns on the ventilation system to keep the projection booth cool during the show. Then the cinema lights up.

With a gloved hand, he winds the film, mailed from a distributor only a week ago, from a plastic reel onto a metal one.

“It’s dangerous to project directly off of the plastic reels since they're really fragile and occasionally warped, so we always rewind onto our own metal ‘show reels,’” Balogh explained.

Balogh gently and carefully examines the film reel for bumps, decay, and erosion prior to the showing. 

Balogh has always had an interest in film. In high school, he and some friends started a film club. Balogh, whose hobby is filmmaking, hopes to receive a fine arts grant for this summer to make an experimental film. He believes Doc Films is one of the greatest things about UChicago.

“It’s a unique film venue––Doc shows a vast number of art house and relatively obscure films, generally within a series with a theme, and does it every single night,” said Balogh. “I'm under the impression that there are very few cinemas within the nation, let alone at other schools, that present this type of programming or show a comparable number of films.”

About a half hour after Balogh performs a “test run”—he checks the audio and image, and refocuses—audience members begin to arrive. As he and his apprentice projectionists watch the crowd trickle in, one of them remarks, “I’m a big fan of the guy sitting in the third row!” Balogh says he does have a few audience members who consistently attend his shifts.

But while Balogh appreciates an audience, it’s not the only reason he’s involved with Doc. “I was drawn to Doc as a volunteer because I thought it would be fascinating to be involved in the actual projection of film,” Balogh remembered.

Balogh appreciates the opportunity to project films that he has never seen before in theaters. His favorite film he’s ever projected is Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love. Balogh projected this film during a series featuring P.T. Anderson and Wes Anderson films last quarter.

In his spare time, Balogh is a rock DJ at WHPK, plays bass in a punk band called “Preachy Preach,” works in the preservations department in the digitization laboratory in Mansueto Library, and is involved with the Neighborhood Schools Program.

“It's definitely rewarding to be a part of an organization that's trying to keep the history of film alive,” said Balogh. “Cinema has a vast history, especially for just being around for a hundred years or so, and I think Doc is a place that is actually committed to exploring and preserving that history––which is awesome.”

Balogh’s hour and a half of preparation have paid off. He smiles as he appreciates the opportunity to project a new film for a new audience.  

By Lily Gordon, Class of 2015

Photo by Emily Lo, Class of 2012

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