Chris Jacobs, retired senior lecturer in English, passed away Saturday, Oct. 7, at Altru Hospital, surrounded by his family. He was 63.
Faculty members across campus mourned him Monday. He was known for his love of the arts, especially movies and theater.
Christopher P. Jacobs was born May 6, 1954 in Pittsburgh to Dr. Francis A. and Dorothy (Caldwell) Jacobs. Though he never married, he had a wide family of friends from coast to coast.
A film buff with a special interest in the silent cinema since childhood, he earned a master’s degree in film and dramatic production criticism from UND. He began teaching introductory film classes as a lecturer in 1995, and continued until his early retirement in May 2017.
He taught the Intro to Film sections from 1995 through 2017, and also taught a Creative Writing class focusing on screenwriting, a class on creative movie production using digital video equipment, and another on the horror film genre. He gave guest lectures on film for the history and communication departments.
From 2006-2011 he conducted a summer moviemaking workshop for teens, and occasionally one for adults, with Kathy Coudle-King, senior lecturer in English.
“He was incredibly knowledgeable about film and film history,” said Coudle-King. “Film was his life and he was happy to share it with people.”
“A devoted teacher and scholar of a range of films, Chris was also an old-fashioned craftsman when it came to making films, which he produced at his own expense simply for the love of creation,” said Rebecca Weaver-Hightower, professor of English and postcolonial studies. “Chris also had an encyclopedic knowledge of movies. I never asked him about a film, no matter how obscure or from where in the world, that he hadn’t already seen–and most of the time owned, as well. He held weekly film viewings for the University and Grand Forks community in his basement theater, where he exposed many of us to movies we wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise. He will be greatly missed by the University and community.”
“He was a kind, funny guy, and a real pleasure to talk with,” said Eric Wolfe, associate professor and chair of English. “He had an amazing knowledge of film, and the number of films he had watched is remarkable. In the last few years he has been film studies for the English department. It’s a big loss for the department. He was a resource for us, and he was interested in so many things.”
“Chris was really a stalwart in the department,” said Kathy Dixon, professor of English. “We will miss him and his concern for students, and his constant willingness to stick with them. He had very large introductory classes, and when some of the students didn’t do the work, he stayed dedicated to them.”
“Chris held office hours on the couch at the end of the hall,” said Kristin Ellwanger, administrative assistant in English and a friend. “Students who took his class seriously got a lot out of it. It wasn’t an easy class and he expected a lot from his students. He loved to talk about old classics. He took film seriously yet had a lot of fun. He had a deadpan sense of humor.”
In January 2013 Jacobs was asked to be one of the two judges for the 2012 Short Film and Video Competition sponsored by Dark Green Books for movies based on the work of British poet Luke Andreski. In July 2010 he signed a contract to co-author an introductory college-level film textbook for Bridgepoint Education, Film: From Watching to Seeing, with Arizona film critic Bill Goodykoontz, which first published in 2011. They revised and updated it for a second edition that was published in 2014.
He also worked as a movie theater manager until the company was bought by a larger chain, and continued to work as a projectionist at the former Midco 10 Theatre, now the Carmike 10, until the theater switched from 35mm film to digital production in 2007.
He served as the movies editor for The High Plains Reader for 23 years, and was the longest-running film critic in the region.
Love of movies
Jacobs was known for his knowledge and love of movies, screenwriting and production.
He built a home theater, which he called the “FotoPlay Cinematheque,” in the basement of his home and invited friends for movie screenings — vintage and modern, American and international, studio and independent. He amassed a collection of well over two thousand Blu-rays and DVDs.
Besides filmaking and video production, his other interests included using computers for desktop publishing and graphic design; music listening, performance, recording, and occasional composition (almost all kinds — classical, ragtime, jazz, blues, hard rock, heavy metal, etc.); live theatre (viewing, performing, and directing); and ancient history (particularly ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome).
He worked briefly on the Coen brothers’ Oscar-winning film, Fargo. He was involved in writing and producing a number of films, including Dark Highways, a North Dakota neo-noir thriller which qualified for entry in the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival. It was nominated for best screenplay at the SMMASH Film Festival in 2004.
“I met Chris around 1980 (or a bit earlier), during our graduate school days,” said Steven Rand, Senior Lecturer in English. “Even at that time, he lived for film; it gave his life meaning, joy, connection to art and other people. Luckily, I was one of those many people. As a break from our grad work, Chris invited me to write and act in a movie with him, but of course Chris was in charge of the “cinematography.” That production always gave us a connection, and even though he and I didn’t hang out during the years, we would chat in Merrifield from time to time–about films, about teaching, about that primitive movie we had made. It was always a pleasure to talk with him. As many people have said, Chris was a gentle person who enriched the world through his being part of it.”
Chris was active in Holy Family Church Choir since junior high school and later in St. Michael’s choir until his illness prevented it. He was involved in arts in the community in theater and film, working to establish the Fire Hall theater and to preserve the Empire Theater for an Arts Center.
In 2014, he developed a rare blood disorder and bone marrow failure, and received a bone marrow transplant at Mayo Clinic in 2015. He returned to teaching until budget cuts prompted his early retirement in May 2017.
He is survived by his mother, Dorothy; brothers, Gregory (Margaret) and John (Rebecca); sisters, Paula Helgerson (Jeff) and Peg VanDrisse (Mark); nephews, Thomas Helgerson (Jenny) and McKenzie Jacobs and nieces Anne McClimon (Matt), Carrie Helgerson, Caitlin VanDrisse and Kelly VanDrisse.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be given to Holy Family Church, St. Michael’s Choir, or the Gift of Life House at 705 Second Street SW, Rochester MN 55902, or the charity of your choice.
Memorial Mass: 12 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017 at Holy Family Catholic Church, Grand Forks, N.D.
Visitation: 5 to 7 p.m. Friday with a 7 p.m. vigil service at the Historic Norman Funeral Home. Visitation will continue for one hour prior to the liturgy in the church on Saturday.
Interment: Calvary North Cemetery, Grand Forks.
Information provided by Chris Jacobs’ website, Department of English, Norman Funeral Home, and Grand Forks Herald