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Southeast Missouri State University

Foreign Language Film Series Purpose Statement

The film series began in 1991 as an activity in Spanish language classes. The following year, the series was formalized and expanded by the addition of films in French that were shown on a regular basis. Presently, the Department of Foreign Languages offers approximately twenty-five to thirty films each semester in three languages: French, German, and Spanish. Faculty in the department select films in a variety of genres that range from new releases to classic productions by well-known directors. These films remain a required component in foreign language classes and are open to the University community as well as to the general public. The attendance at each film averages between twenty and forty, thereby serving several hundred viewers each semester.

This film series makes a valuable contribution to the liberal education offered to students at Southeast Missouri State University. By requiring that students see and analyze a number of films each semester, we recognize the value of film as one of the liberal arts, which also include music, the visual arts, and literature. The film series contributes to a comprehensive undergraduate education. Films are chosen for their artistic or historical value; viewers should be aware that points of view represented in the films are not necessarily those of the faculty, the Department, or the University.

The most obvious benefit of the film series for students of foreign languages is the opportunity to hear native speech and to gain some insight into the cultures in which the languages are spoken. Attendance at the films increases the students' contact hours with the target language and culture. In addition, students' ability to hear and understand the languages that they are studying encourages them to pursue their language studies. Students are able to relate their own experiences to what they see in the films, learning to identify and appreciate cultural similarities and differences.

The film series offers more than these basic linguistic and cultural benefits. The serious study of film enhances students' critical and analytical skills identified as important goals by the University in its general education program. We expect students to move beyond the superficial level of personal likes or dislikes to the kind of critical analysis that they do in their studies of literature, art, and music.

"Film and the electronic media have drastically changed the way we perceive the world- and ourselves- during the last eighty years, yet we all too naturally accept the vast amounts of information they convey to us in massive doses without questioning how they tell us what they tell. [...] On a more advanced level, film is clearly a sophisticated art- possibly the most important art of the twentieth century- with a rather complex history of theory and practice." (Monaco, James. How to Read a Film: The Art, Technology, Language, History, and Theory of Film and Media. 2nd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981. p.vii)

In their written analyses, we expect students to learn to recognize and appreciate the technical, ideological, and aesthetic contributions made by filmmakers from countries other than their own. It is for this reason that we show films by directors such as Luis Buñuel, Pedro Almodóvar, François Truffaut, Louis Malle, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog, among many other important filmmakers.

"The artist's choice in cinema is without limit; the artist's choice in literature is circumscribed, while the reverse is true for the observer. Film does not suggest in this context: it states. And therein lies its power and the danger it poses to the observer: the reason why it is useful, even vital, to learn to read images well so that the observer can seize some of the power of the medium. The better one reads an image, the more one understands it, the more power one has over it. The reader of a page invents the image, the reader of a film does not, yet both readers must work to interpret the signs they perceive in order to complete the process of intellection. The more work they do, the better the balance between observer and creator in the process; the better the balance, the more vital and resonant the work of art." (Monaco, p. 128)

Students who have had no previous exposure to foreign language films or to film studies may at first find some of the material presented to be controversial, unusual, or difficult to understand. As scholars, we feel that it is the responsibility of the faculty to introduce students to works that are considered by experts to be artistically significant. At the same time, it is the students' responsibility to approach sensitive issues of sexuality, religion, gender, and language with an open mind. An accepting attitude toward a variety of artistic expression is an essential component of intellectual growth in the humanities. The wide selection of films offered each semester affords students choices about which films they may attend to complete their writing assignments.

Ultimately, the selection of films reflects the Department of Foreign Languages faculty's commitment to accepted standards of humanistic scholarship at the university level. A number of scholarly works on film studies are available in Kent Library. The foreign language film series makes an important contribution to the intellectual and scholarly environment of Southeast Missouri State University.

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