Throughout the fall, the MSU Department of History is putting on their second annual international film series playing films from all over the world. Professors in the history department hope the students will realize the importance of international cinema by having the opportunity to connect with it. “There were a few things that went into our thinking about it. The first was to allow students to experience foreign films. It’s a shame because there aren’t any theaters in the Lansing area that play films like that,” said Ethan Segal, history professor who coordinated the film series last year. “The second was because it’s practical. We only teach for 50 or 80 minutes a class period, so watching films can cut into two classes. This provides an easy venue to share them with the students.” Professors each have their own week during the series to present a film of their choosing that connects to what they are teaching in the classroom. The series offers several viewpoints from an array of countries including Japan, Argentina, the United Kingdom as well as historically significant films from the United States.
Although the professors choose the films based on coursework, students from outside the classes are encouraged to join the screenings. “I think it’s a really good thing in the sense that it’s something students can get into,” this year’s coordinator, professor Erica Windler, said. “It gets them out in realizing that there’s more to their learning experience and their university experience than what happens in the classroom. By doing that, they hopefully form a sense of community.”
The professors that host the films are often inclined to give a short presentation about the time period and the film and may hold discussions afterward with those in attendance. The movies they chose are often a favorite of the professors as well. “A lot of times it’s hard to go and look if you’re at Blockbuster or Netflix to pick something from this huge mess of films and know that it’s going to be good,” Windler said. “Where as you have these films that have been suggested by people that really know what’s going on, and they’re films we want to use to attract people. We hope that not only will they have intellectual content but that will be interesting for students.” While they offer extra credit to their students to go see the film, Segal and Windler both hope that the students will get a little more out of their experience than a few extra points.
They hope students will be happy to have experienced something they otherwise wouldn’t have. “It’ll encourage them hopefully to keep talking about things that they’ve seen and to think about also how film serves as an interpretation of society,” Windler said. “We hope that it will open students up, even for a brief moment, to cultures and time periods that they might not otherwise have exposure to.” Exposing students to a new culture is something relevant outside of the history department as well. Film studies students analyze movies from many countries around the world and media classes within departments use film to learn customs through film as well.
Maria Murdrovcic teaches one such class. Her media and conversation class uses film as a tool for both language-use and for learning about Latin American and Spanish cultures. Murdrovcic, a native Argentinean, thinks that Latin movies speak volumes to the culture and mindset of the Spanish-speaking world. “It’s a different way of picking topics, telling the stories, narrating what is going on,” Murdrovcic said. “And the difference at first is shocking and afterwards, it’s kind of, ‘Ok, how can we understand this way of telling us something we are accustom to seeing a different way.’” The films Murdrovcic shows in class deal with topics ranging from oppressive governments to homosexuality in the Latin American culture and often have more than one context in which characters deal with such issues.
Murdrovcic explained that Latin films use words and speech a lot more while American films use acting. Topics like love and comedy, while a key part in Latin cinema, take a back seat to bigger issues like history, culture and politics. “I like the movies that propose tensions between characters for different reason and how those tensions will allow me to talk about cultural issues, political issues, historical issues, esthetic issues,” Murdrovcic said. “I use the movie because I like it first, but also because it’s a good excuse to allow me to talk about realities that are far, far away.” Murdrovcic engages her students in projects and discussions dealing with topics expressed in the films. They get a deeper understanding of the characters, their motives and the culture.
While film students also learn other cultures through the use of international cinema, they are concentrating on a different aspect entirely. “I think you can really open up your mind to what film can be,” film studies senior Alex Reyme said. “Get rid of some prejudice. Expand upon domestic film. Doing anything or researching anything from a different part of the world is beneficial.” One of the main benefits is solely having something in common with people you didn’t have much in common with before through what you learn in a film.
Between the subtitles and the foreign language, watching an international film is a different type of movie-going experience all together, but the perspective you get from international films is something not easily matched in the US. “You see how much Hollywood movies follow a set pattern and there’s so much more the world of cinema has to offer than Hollywood can give,” Segal said. “Don’t get me wrong, Hollywood films are great, but there’s so many ways to tell a story with film.” Segal chose a Japanese film called Ran to host for the series this fall. Although it is fiction, he hopes the time period his students will come across more clearly as they see a different take on King Lear story based in Renaissance Japan.
The films from the history department’s film series may shy away from the typical Hollywood movie, but still gives credit to great American films like The Graduate. It shows the film world’s diverse points of view. “I would say that every country has its own history of film. Hollywood just has its own identity and it happens to be in America,” Reyme said. “A lot of times foreign films aren’t as streamlined. They’re always more about character development. I think that’s a defining factor for international art cinema across the world.” Whether art or a tool for learning, the films shown on MSU’s campus are beneficial to students’ academic and life experiences.
So will these films change everyone’s ideas about what makes a good film? Probably not. “It’s hard to compete with the familiar, with the effortless, with the predictability of a North American movie,” Murdrovcic said. “And the attraction and the beauty of it all.” Hollywood may have its appeal, but a free movie, some popcorn and becoming a little more aware of the world is certainly worth watching an international film.

The films are shown on campus in the Life Sciences building at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesdays. Visit _________ for further information.

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