With Chip Kaufmann’s retirement and subsequent move to Hilton Head, S.C., Asheville will lose one of its brightest cinematic minds. The film historian recently taught his final class on silent movies for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UNC Asheville, hosted his last classic film screenings and discussions with Buncombe County Public Libraries and the Hendersonville Film Society and, on Friday, May 31, will sign off for the last time as BPR’s morning classical music host, a position he’s held for 36 years.
The Greenville, S.C., native grew up watching films with his mother and developed a passion for the art form’s craft and history while attending the University of South Carolina. He credits professor Benjamin Dunlap with programming diverse offerings at the student union, showing him that all films have value and instilling in him the importance of historical context.
“Film is the only time machine that man has invented. It’s been around since 1897, and you can go back and look at those older films and see how life was,” Kaufmann says. “Those people are long gone, but we have them forever captured. We will always have [Humphrey] Bogart’s voice — all of these things. That’s why the movies are so wonderful, because they are a reflection of society at the time when they are made.”
In 1979, Kaufmann was a volunteer with South Carolina Public Radio station WSCI in Charleston when he was told that his love of film and radio-friendly voice would make him an excellent fit for filling some of the three-to-five minute gaps between programs. His contributions were soon given the title The Capsule Critic.
After moving to Asheville in 1983 to work with a short-lived dinner theater in the basement of Cahoots on Grove Street, Kaufmann volunteered at BPR (then WUNF) and was later hired. In 2003, he found a home in the local film critic scene alongside peers Ken Hanke and Marcianne Miller as judges for the inaugural Asheville Film Festival. Along with fellow critic Michelle Keenan, Kaufmann then started reviewing films for Rapid River in 2005, work that earned him membership in the Southeastern Film Critics Association.
Reflecting on his time in Asheville, Kaufmann fondly recalls the “amazing experience” of Hanke and filmmaker Ken Russell in conversation at the 2005 Asheville Film Festival, and attending the weekly Asheville Film Society screenings, where he’d occasionally spar with the late Xpress critic over the likes of A Clockwork Orange and Tetro.
In Hilton Head, where he’ll live at the condo his family has owned since the early 1980s, Kaufmann plans to teach through USC Beaufort’s OLLI and continue to review classic and silent films on Amazon.com. He’ll take at least 1,000 films from his personal library with him — nearly half of which are silent titles — and is donating nearly everything he owns that was made after 1968 to the Hendersonville Film Society and his fellow cinephile friends.