Around the world in 30 years: Cinema International celebrates 30th anniversary

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By Gisselle Hernandez, Features Editor 

This semester, students will wade through vast Chinese landscapes, trek through the Colombian Amazon, feel for a French baroness and escape to the streets of Germany, all courtesy of Cinema International at Murray State.

Thirty years ago, Mike Waag, professor emeritus of Spanish and Latin American Literature, decided to internationalize the campus foreign films that were scarce in the Murray community. Since then, the Cinema International program has been showing a series of foreign ­films every semester, from Spanish to Portuguese with a few American films scattered throughout. Waag retired from coordinating the program a couple years ago, and this semester, Therese Saint-Paul, professor of French, has taken hold of the reigns.

A lot of thought and effort go into planning a semester’s worth of foreign films, Saint-Paul said, not only from the committee coming up with films that will be accessible in the U.S. but finding funding for the showings. The program is funded through donations from the community and organizations on campus. Its principal sponsor is the Institute of International Studies, and Waag said approximately $5,000 is spent every year on Cinema International. With budget cuts being a shared concern across campus, Waag said over the years it has often become worrisome if the program could continue but that they somehow have always been right on the edge.

Saint-Paul said despite funding concerns, they will not stop having worthwhile films.

“We will do everything we can to keep them going and finance the movies,” she said. “You don’t have to have a lot of money to be educated.”

The Modern Languages department, where the idea of Cinema International spawned, often gives extra credit to students studying foreign languages who attend the showings. Saint-Paul said they always try to involve movies that have something important to say or are representative of some culture.

“I really think movies are powerful tools for communicating culture issues and developing critical thought,” she said. “We try to show movies that represents all the languages we teach plus we also try to have movies that represent the diversity of students on this campus.”

Saint-Paul said a lot of students didn’t really understand or didn’t always appreciate what they had seen at first and that their reports were misrepresentative of the movie. Because of this, she instilled a new strategy: after every movie she hosts a discussion about the it among the viewers. She said this has been effective after looking at students’ reports afterward and seeing it deepened students’ appreciation for the movie. She also plans to bring people from the culture the film represents so they can be reference as someone who knows the culture from the inside out.

There are eight films shown every semester, each showing lasting through the weekend, although some films have been shown a couple of times throughout the 30 years. Waag said the program has many regular moviegoers, especially since its free to not only Murray State students but the community.

He echoed Saint-Paul’s thoughts on the value of the films, saying he thinks one can get their entire education by coming to every single film.

“A lot of students have feel [sic] that way too,” he said. “We have one student who would send us money for years after she left here because she said this was the greatest thing she had for her education.”

When the first film, Metropolis, made its way to the Curris Center Theatre’s screen, the visibility was nothing like it was now, Waag said. But after years of generous donations, he said he is able to show beautiful films in a state-of-the-art theatre.

Waag said the aesthetic experience has a lot to do with it as well, like the film they are showing this weekend, Nightingale.

“It is a gorgeous, beautiful film that takes us through China. People wouldn’t know how beautiful [China] is and the film lets us have a look,” he said. “Who knows, some student might see the film tonight and may go on a study abroad program to China one day.”

The program’s purpose is not only to educate audiences on the cultures of the different films but Waag said they try to show make ties with a lot international students.

“Again, like tonight we have a film from China and I’m sure some Chinese students will appreciate to see a manifestation of their culture being shown here, making them feel more of a part of this university,” he said.

Foreign films are different than American or popular films, he said, because they tend to be serious as opposed to sheer entertainment.

“Not to say they’re not entertaining, they certainly are. But there’s an intellectual dimension to it,” he said.

The committee also shows seasonal movies, like scary movies on Halloween (Alien this semester) or classic romances on Valentine’s Day (like Casablanca). The movies are also subtitled, something some students might not be aware of, Waag said. The participation varies depending on the movie showing that night, but nevertheless, Waag said each movie leaves viewers with a lesson to take home.

“They give a different perspective of the world you would get from any other culture in the world and try to understand how other people outside our own society, our own culture, our own county live,” he said. “How else are we ever going to achieve some kind of peace in the world if we don’t have any understanding or don’t even recognize that nobody in the world are like us? And they have every right to be as they are and we would do well to understand and to enjoy the diversity. It’s not a question of tolerating, it’s a question of embracing, and making life more interesting.”

Cinema International accepts donations from anyone willing to support; Saint-Paul says any dollar counts, especially because the program is expensive to uphold. All showings are posted on the Calendar of Events on the Murray State website.