Monday, October 12, 2015

Teaching World Cinema with a Transnational Perspective

"World Cinema" is a fairly standard course in universities these days. Yet how does transnational theory and pedagogy inform how "World Cinema" courses can be taught?

This was the the topic of the "Teaching Transnational Cinemas" panel chaired by Iain Smith from the University of Roehampton at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in the spring of 2015. Smith began the session by noting how World Cinema courses are often based on a national model (Japanese film, German film, Nigerian film, etc.) which tends to ignore the interconnections between national traditions. In addition, while the term "transnational" has been theorized (thinking beyond the scope of the nation, considering cross-cultural encounters and racial tensions, etc.), it is important to consider transnational pedagogy--especially since students may struggle without the framework of the national when approaching cinema and cultural flow.

My strategy has been to steer away from focusing primarily on the national model by organizing a World Cinema course by theme--in the cultural studies model which analyzes ethnicity, gender, and class relations--rather than nation. Yet certainly, the nation remains a fixture when considering cultural flow. Each week, students come to class having already prepared contextual summaries of the films that will be screened so that an understanding of time, place, and the importance of the films is in position before we move to thematic concerns.

During weeks 1 and 2 I begin the course with a brief introduction to film narrative and film techniques/aesthetics, since my course is presented as a general education option, primarily to students who are not majors in film studies. Students read Film Art: An Introduction by Bordwell and Thompson which I believe provides an excellent framework from which to discuss and write about the function of film techniques within film compositions.

The rest of the semester is organized by these themes: Identity, Authority, and Poverty.

Weeks 1-3: Film Narrative and Film Aesthetics
Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
Motorcycle Diaries (Salles, 2004)
In the Mood for Love (Wong, 2000)

Weeks 4-8: Identity
Whale Rider (Caro, 2002)
The Lives of Others (von Donnersmarck, 2006) 
Persona (Bergman, 1957)
The Last Train Home (Fan, 2010)
High and Low (Kurosawa, 1963)

Weeks 9-12: Authority
Battleship Potemkin (Eisenstein, 1925)
The Battle of Algiers (Pontecorvo, 1966)
Princess Mononoke (Miyazaki, 1997)
Three Times (Hou, 2003)

Weeks 13-15: Poverty

Wasteland (Walker, Harley, Jardim, 2010)
Bicycle Thieves (De Sica, 1948)
Biutiful (Iñárritu, 2010)

During class sessions, we discuss the ways film narratives and techniques reveal the unique, particular conditions the characters experience, but as the course progresses we can also see the way globalization links the characters' experiences in interesting ways.

For example, the documentary The Last Train Home (Fan, 2010) shows the global effects of the 2008 stock market crash, while Bicycle Thieves (De Sica, 1948) shows the impoverished conditions that followed World War II in Italy. Princess Mononoke (Miyazaki, 1997) and Wasteland (Walker, Harley, Jardim, 2010) both represent and critique responses to global ecological dilemmas. The course culminates with a film that projects transnational connectivity and themes. This year students will be watching Biutiful (Iñárritu, 2010) as the course's final film.

This method of organizing the course is under constant revision. If you teach World Cinema or a Transnational Cinema course, I'd be interested in hearing any feedback and/or comments you may have.