Millburn Memories

Written and compiled by Matthew Smolenski

Upon entering Millburn House for the first time in 2018, I was immediately greeted by a large Steenbeck editing table. Although situated in the entrance to the Film and Television Studies department for display purposes only, my pre-interview brain immediately conjured images of the film worker gracefully repurposing vast repositories of raw footage into something meaningful on its flat surface.

In 2007, a storage depot was repurposed as Millburn House, an inter-disciplinary education centre that has housed the University of Warwick’s Film and Television Studies department until the end of this academic year. Although the department’s move to the new Faculty of Arts building is undoubtedly an exciting location for many students to tentatively enter or re-enter in-person learning, Millburn has housed too many meaningful experiences for staff and students alike to discard its memory.

So, like the editor that might once have used the department’s Steenbeck editing table, let’s assemble some memories of the building and take a look back at the thoughts and stories volunteered by those who remember it fondly:

For one anonymous department member, it was something as simple as the building’s open day snacks that made a strong first impression: “I don’t remember massive amounts about the day, but I do remember the selection of sandwiches at the buffet rather well. The egg and dress sandwiches were a particular standout for me.” Helen Wheatley, meanwhile, remembers the initial staff move to the building, back when the department was housed in the ground floor of the Humanities building: “There were lots of (understandable) concerns about how we would all manage to get back and forth from the centre of campus in time and my (brilliant, but sadly ignored) suggestion was that the university build us a high speed monorail. Despite missing the feeling of being part of the wider faculty community in the Humanities building, I learned to love the ‘apartness’ of Millburn. My much-missed friend and colleague Victor Perkins and I enjoyed birdwatching together from our adjacent offices and we were delighted to have a real range of species visiting our bird feeders”.

Some of Helen’s strongest memories of the building, however, are of her Horror and the Gothic module’s annual film festivals organised by students, which fellow lecturer James Taylor also identifies as a highlight of his time in the building: “The Horror and the Gothic film festivals that were held in the department, from the great film choices to the gloriously gruesome decorations made by the student organisers and often left up in the department for weeks afterward!” Helen describes these festivals as a takeover of the building, moving in over the weekend “because it was ‘our’ own building (despite the odd physicist wondering what the hell was going on)”.

Decoration from the Horror and the Gothic module’s ‘Political Horror’ festival in 2020

In contrast to these rather unorthodox horror film festivals, some of the building’s more conventional screenings also stood out to department members. Student Ambassador Ellie Upton, for example, recalls attending a screening of Singin’ in the Rain with incoming first years during an induction day. “Their responses to the film were fantastic”, she says, “and it was great to see how much they enjoyed it.” Unlike Ellie’s classic musical favourite, James Taylor fondly remembers putting on unconventional extra-curricular screenings as a PhD student. Films such as “Batman & Robin, Southland Tales, Demons and Dracula 2000 are a few highlights… we’d regularly get takeaway for these events and constantly had trouble with delivery drivers struggling to find Millburn House”.

Art by Marta Małgorzata in Millburn House’s postgraduate space depicting members of the postgraduate community (and pop culture friends) from 2016

One anonymous department member fondly recalls the build-up and pay-off to a module screening decided by popular vote: “We were allowed to vote for any film on Mubi at the time and Dazed and Confused was one of the options. One person said “I really want to watch that with you all cause it’s one of my favourites” and almost everyone in the room (bar two very unimpressed Alphaville fans) didn’t have particularly strong opinions on what to watch and agreed that it sounded like the most fun. Because so many of us agreed we ended up winning by a very suspicious-looking landslide (something like 17 votes in total with Alphaville as the second highest having 2). We were ecstatic! When the opening credits played it got even better: the film was produced by Alphaville Productions and we all watched the Alphaville fans silently seething at the perfectly hilarious irony.”

Reel Talk editor Harry Russell remembers Millburn’s break room most fondly, saying that “other departments may have bigger or fancier ones, but ours just always felt conducive to the closeness of the department. This is especially true regarding the potential to start chatting to people in other years and just get to know them at least a little bit.” One of my personal favourite Millburn memories relates to this break room, where I placed my handmade submission box for Reel Talk’s first Alternative Oscars. Silently watching other students as they filled out and discussed the submission forms was a testament to the passion of the department and the closeness Harry mentions.

Of course, much of this social dimension was unfortunately gone from Millburn in its final academic year amidst measures taken during the coronavirus pandemic, but one story from Julie Lobalzo Wright provides perfectly bittersweet closure with an anecdote of her experiences working there during lockdown restrictions: “I was finishing one of the longest teaching days I have ever had (3 online sessions, 3 in person). As the seminar wound to a close, I looked out my office window and there was a lovely fawn. It was very All That Heaven Allows.” If one thing about Warwick’s Film and Television Studies department is guaranteed, no matter where it is based, it is that no student will every graduate without having seen All That Heaven Allows at least once.

Reel Talk would like to extend its thanks to all survey participants for their time and memories, we hope everyone has a great summer!

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