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History Takeover: A TitHead Tale

Brisa Zielina
Grinnell College’s annual Titular Head (TitHead) student film festival has been a longstanding tradition, serving as a cinematic celebration of Grinnell culture.

In light of the 48th annual Titular Head (TitHead) student film festival on Saturday, April 20, some students involved in the creation of this year’s TitHead and alumni commented on the importance of this tradition over its many decades. Whether a film about partying in Burling, goat interpretations, caesar salad, or infiltrating the baseball team, these Grinnellians say this tradition spotlights student creativity and brings the campus community together. 

“It still holds a spot in my heart from my time here,” Jay Dick `93, senior director of equitable advocacy and partnerships in the Government Affairs Department at Americans for the Arts, said. “We would all gather our popcorn and go watch it. And it was hilarious. We’d love to go see it.”  

In 1989 and 1990, his first and second years, Dick said the event was held in the Forum, where the Spencer Grill used to be. “Some people would sit outside the glass to look in and try to hear. It was really packed in there.” 

During his third year, around 1991, he said the Harris Center opened and the festival was hosted in a proper theater where more students could fit, although it was still a very packed and popular event. 

Dick currently stores VHS tapes of TitHead videos from his time at Grinnell in his basement. One that he remembers fondly followed a student looking for a place to study on the fourth floor of the Burling Library but couldn’t find any. “So they went back downstairs and as soon as the elevator closed it turned into a big party upstairs,” he said. “It was really loud and people were dancing. And some of my good friends were in that video.” 

Originally a competition akin to Relays, Titular Head (TitHead) now represents a chance to bond over contemporary campus topics.
(Brisa Zielina)

Krishna Mysore `24, the Organizer for TitHead this year, said he thinks TitHead “is an event of shock and raunchiness,” where “breaking school rules on video and maybe breaking laws on video” is an important part of the tradition’s history. 

Mysore said that although he wanted to preserve the tradition of connecting the films on screen to onstage activity, he decided to make the event shorter by limiting the amount of audience participation. There were still activities to partake in such as the lettuce eating competition and musical chairs, but Mysore said he thought students would prefer a shorter event. 

Mahiro Noda `26, a Vivero Digital Fellow who worked with the Office of Development and Alumni Relations (DAR) along with current TitHead organizers to document the historical archives of TitHead, said she watched over 600 films from 1989 onwards. According to her archival research in the Department of Special Collections and Archives, TitHead was originally a competition during Relays, similar to a beauty pageant, until 1989 when it became a film festival. More information about The S&B archives related to TitHead can be found on the website she created.

Although Noda’s research places the origin of TitHead in 1989, according to the TitHead organizers’ email stating 2024 is the 48th year of the tradition, TitHead would have started in 1976. Dick said he did not know the exact year it started, as his first semester was fall 1989, but he said he remembers hearing that TitHead had been around since the 70s. Regardless of the origin, the Grinnellians echoed a similar sentiment about the importance of TitHead in Grinnell’s history. 

“I think TitHead would be a really good source for someone to understand the history of Grinnell or student life in general because it encompasses so much of what it’s like to be a Grinnellian in a particular time,” Noda said. 

“It just brought people together. It was a sense of community,” Dick said. Events like TitHead, he continued, “are things that help connect you back to campus.” 

In terms of how TitHead has evolved over time, both Noda said there is a visible change in technological development from the 1980s to the present day. Dick said, although film equipment was less accessible, students could rent cameras from the college. 

Oliver Palmer `24, the emcee of this year’s TitHead, said that during the COVID-19 pandemic, he received a link in his first year to watch TitHead videos virtually. Not knowing what the tradition was, he said he ignored it. 

“Second year was my favorite one because it was my first one,” Palmer said. “I think it really brings all of the campus together. It allows people to share their creativity with the whole school and allows us to touch on common experiences — like the baseball TitHead, everybody wonders what goes on with baseball and then someone makes a very harmless and funny video that reminds us of the community that we have here. TitHead is one of the events where school spirit feels the most intense.” 

Attending TitHead for the first time this year, Noda said she got to “reflect on how much digital work can do in terms of preserving history.”

“At the same time I got to think about the limitation of documented history that can’t capture the feeling of being at the event in person, being in the same space together with the same students, applauding together and laughing together,” she said. “It was a really different feeling than it would have been just watching all these films by myself.” 

“I would strongly encourage people to make TitHeads,” Palmer said. “It was really fun being like — oh it’s past my bedtime on a Thursday night in the HSSC at midnight, filming. It was a nice change of pace from being so academically focused.” 


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About the Contributors
Claire Giannosa
Claire Giannosa, Staff Writer

Claire Giannosa is a second-year from New York City studying English and Anthropology at Grinnell. In her free time, she loves reading and writing fantasy books and going on sunset walks with friends. Besides studying, leading Creative Writing Club, and S&B work she can usually be found on Mac Field playing ultimate frisbee.

Brisa Zielina
Brisa Zielina, Staff Photographer
Brisa Zielina is a first year and an aspiring Theater major with a concentration in American Studies from Los Angeles, California. She loves singing and acting and uses the word “slay” way too often. When she’s not slaying the day, she’s probably in rehearsal or studying on the third floor of the HSSC. If you see her around campus, say howdy, she’s always happy to make new friends!
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