Roger Durling ’82 and Damian Chazelle’s Virtual Visit to Peddie Film Club

Sukhroop Singh ‘24, Staff Writer

“He was bigger than life, but he was down to earth at the same time,” said Chris Du ’23, co-founder of the Peddie Film Club. On January 15, the club hosted a virtual library event with Roger Durling ’82, head of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and Damian Chazelle, award-winning director of “Whiplash” and “La La Land.” The event was followed by lunch with Mr. Durling on January 21.

Du founded the club this year with senior Elias Segal and arts teacher Mr. Dale. He started the club because of his opinion that there was a lack of true genuine involvement in clubs at Peddie, and also because of his huge love for film.

“I wanted a place for people to come and either enjoy a movie or group together and make a movie because a film takes a village to make,” he said. “I wanted people who loved doing this one thing to come together and do this one thing, to appreciate this thing, to love it, and to learn about it.”

The immediate success of the club helped Du tremendously in convincing Durling to attend the two events. Almost 30 people showed up to the club’s initial meeting, which told Du immediately that he had a real club in his hands.

It then came to reaching out to Durling and planning the entire event. “We knew he was coming to the board meeting, so I just wrote him an email,” Du said. “And he was so nice, he replied to the email instantly. He’s this really busy guy in Hollywood, balancing all these directors’ movies. He’s basically carried this film festival.” Du explained Durling’s love for the school (he graduated from Peddie in 1982 and often cites it as a huge life-changer for him) as another factor in making everything happen. “Peddie was really influential to him, and so he really wanted to come here and talk to the kids about something he loves. ”

Then, of course, came the surprise that Durling was also inviting the award-winning and critically acclaimed director of “La La Land,” Damien Chazelle, to the Zoom. “I’m pretty sure I woke half of the dorm up. I was so shocked,” Du said. “And then I had less than three days to put together [this] event — how do we do it? It was a really hard process … Mr. Dubrule offered us space in the library, Mr. Wriede planned out the date, Ms. Miller helped with all the tech, Mr. Dale was great in teaching me so many valuable lessons about communicating and so much else …”

Du also spoke of the personal resonance the entire event had for him. After coming to America from China, he enrolled in Princeton High School as a freshman. His English teacher there, Ms. Dunham, had taught Damien Chazelle sixteen years ago and told Du that he reminded her of Chazelle. “And it was such an inspirational thing because you could see where he came from.” He says the same about Mr. Durling. “Just the passion of these two people, it’s insane,” Du said.

After the success of the January 15 event, organizing the January 21 event in Longstreet was, according to Du, “a little bit of a drop … three weeks of summer application, two weeks of preparing for Saturday, school work, and then Friday, Mr. Durling.”

The event, of course, was another resounding success. “The turnout was amazing. We ran out of tables, we ran out of chairs, some people had to cramp up against the sofa, the plates ran out. I told Mr. Dale that there were going to be 30 maximum — 40 people eventually came. They had to cut up the pizza boxes to use as plates.”

And Mr. Durling was, of course, larger than life. Later in the event, Du projected a scene from “Psycho,” which Durling had wanted to analyze with the students. In order to get to the monitor where the video was being projected, Durling “crawled through the tables, on the floor, and stood up in front of the kids to explain it. You have 30 kids watching the director of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival crawl on the floor.”

The depth and detail of Durling’s analysis of what only amounted to a couple of frames captivated the entire audience, and nobody could bear to leave, even if it made them late to class. “No one wanted to leave,” Du said. “The other class came in and shut the door, but nobody wanted to leave.”

The event also reignited and gave a new perspective to the abundance of Peddie artists who showed up. “A lot of people came up to me afterward and were like,’ This is so inspiring to me,” Du said. “‘I’ve always loved film, but I’ve never heard from someone actually inside the industry talk about what to pay attention to.’”

Regarding the future of the Film Club, Du has grand plans. “A big thing is consistency … we want exploration, and we want to have fun …  learning how to analyze movies with Mr. Durling, and also how to make movies. We want to host student film competitions, help make student productions, and have more of these explorations into this broad genre of motion pictures.

“This club is nothing without its people and their love for film … before Mr. Durling and the clickbait emails, people already had a genuine love for movies, but we just weren’t playing the right ones, and we weren’t gathering together to have that experience.” While the Peddie Film Club aims to inform its members about the film industry, its primary purpose is to bring the Peddie community together through shared entertainment.