Often, the greatest lessons in life are learned outside of the classroom, through mediums other than lectures and assigned readings. While books present a more conventional approach to finding out more about major issues in history, movies can also provide a different outlet for students to turn to for information. That’s why, beginning this year, the Academic Advising Office introduced the first annual Diversity Classic Film Festival. Each month, a film that communicates an important issue such as race, gender, creed or sexuality will be shown in Gibble Auditorium.
Assistant Director of Academic Advising, Jean-Paul Benowitz, explained that the films which were chosen are the ones which dealt with important components of diversity in a constructive way for the first time.
“They are not the first films to [ever] deal with issues of diversity, but they are the first films to deal with issues of diversity where they are opening up a dialogue,” Benowitz said. “They are making people think critically about these issues.”
Film can be an excellent way to communicate ideas and begin thought provoking conversation among peers. Each movie that is shown is selected to complement whatever is the nationally recognized theme of the month. A discussion facilitated by two faculty members from two different disciplines will follow each viewing.
“We want students, faculty, staff and the local campus community to watch the films and to think about how the filmmaker is challenging us to wrestle with these subjects,” Benowitz said. “The film festival is a great way to create a venue where the issues of diversity can be discussed.”
The first film, “Harvest of Shame,” was shown Monday, Sept. 12 in conjunction with National Hispanic Heritage Month and was facilitated by Dr. Fletcher McClellan and Dr. Michael Pisapia. The second film, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” was shown Monday, Oct. 10 in accordance with National Arts, Humanities and Book Month. Dr. Kyle Kopko and Dr. John Teske helped lead the discussion afterwards.
For students who missed the opportunity to attend either of these showings, the next film, “Little Big Man,” will be shown on Monday, Nov. 28 at 7 p.m. in Gibble Auditorium. This somewhat satirical film deals with the westward expansion of white European populations as they interfaced with Native American populations. Faculty leaders McClellan and Dr. Robert Wheelersburg have a great interest in this subject and also for this film, as they have used it previously in various educational settings.
The festival will continue next semester with “Hoop Dreams” taking the screen on Jan. 23, followed by “The Defiant Ones” on Feb. 6, “The Children’s Hour” on Mar. 26 and finally “South Pacific” on Apr. 16. Full schedules of times and faculty mentors for each film can be found on posters hanging throughout campus.
So far, the program has been successful. As a result, the films for both the 2012-2013 school year, as well as the 2013-2014 school year, have already been decided. Diversity is something that needs to be continually addressed on campus, and most students find films interesting and view them as an attractive way to learn or spend time.
“I rather doubt most students know how powerful these films have been in shaping our culture and in forming our views about diversity,” Benowitz said. “If we didn’t have this film festival, the likelihood of [students] going to the library to see it, finding it online, getting it through Netflix or watching some classic movie channel is probably slim. But bringing it to campus and having it embraced by the faculty hopefully will get them to appreciate these films and learn from them.”
The festival provides the ability to think about diversity not only on campus, but in personal communities and globally as well. By actively participating in the diversity film festival, Benowitz believes that students are provided with a forum where they can have a constructive, open dialogue about diversity. “It is not the only forum where this happens, but I certainly think that it is part of what we can provide in terms of getting people together to think about these things and discuss them.”