Edwin Jahiel, 1925-2010

Since my early Nineties arrival in Champaign-Urbana, I’d witnessed Edwin Jahiel shuffling to and fro at the Art Theater numerous times, often after he’d come out of a matinee. I never knew him personally but it didn’t take me long to identify him once I began reading his News-Gazette work, since his conversation with Art employees invariably turned to French and European cinema. Slightly hunched over and with a cane at his side in the most recent decade, Professor Jahiel offered opinions in his charming accent on what he just watched and what he would love to see scheduled at the theater. It had been on my mental list to contact this man and get a gage through conversation on what made him tick, being a mystery to me since I did not go to school in the C-U. Given that his enjoyment of film had apparently been compromised greatly due to the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease, I’d already been a few years late prior to his passing last Tuesday, December 14, at age 85. Shame on me.

The initial pieces honoring Jahiel that you see linked below paint a picture of an archetypal arts enthusiast who followed his interests passionately and unconditionally through his entire life, making film and language studies his causes célèbre as well as his profession. They also hint at adventurous early years during which he jumped between several international universities and engaged in political subterfuge in his native Greece during World War II, invoking brief thoughts of both Ian Fleming and Francois Truffaut as writers who engaged in acts romanticized by their respective writings. Once settled in the C-U to teach French at the university, Jahiel brought film culture to bear on our fair twin cities beginning with Daily Illini articles and graduating to both the News-Gazette and the Urbana Courier. Forming a campus film society in the Sixties, Jahiel would eventually convince the university to solidify the presence of cinema academia and found the Unit for Cinema Studies, recently incorporated into the College of Media. Jahiel was also known for stressing the exploration and understanding of real life when contextualizing “reel life.”

We should also belatedly note fellow UI professor Steven P. Hill (1936-2010) who passed away on June 20 in Bloomington, IL, and was also heavily involved with on-campus efforts to promote film appreciation. Like Jahiel, Hill taught languages – in his case, Slavic tongues like Czech – and savored the international cinema, particularly of Russia. Possibly even more eccentric than Jahiel in his passions, Hill is shaded in the articles linked below as a detail-intensive researcher and über-fan of world cinema, hosting get-togethers at home in the classic, intimate “film club for film lovers” sense. With the loss of these gentlemen, the retirement this year of Jahiel protégé Richard Leskosky, and recent retirement of English professor Robert Carringer, also instrumental in the establishment of campus film culture and author or co-author of several film books, the original UI Cinema Studies era has more than likely reached its conclusion. Fin.

~ Jason Pankoke

Read: E. Jahiel salute by Tom Kacich, News-Gazette

Read: E. Jahiel remembrance by Paul Wood, News-Gazette

Read: Edwin Jahiel obituary in News-Gazette

Read: Film writing by Edwin Jahiel

Read: S. Hill remembrance by Paul Wood, News-Gazette

Read: Steven P. Hill obituary in News-Gazette

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