Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Spring Events at the Center: Director David Davies’ Chinese Film Series

Most of my week nights at the HNC are spent studying in the library or occasionally preparing for exams or group projects together with classmates. This spring semester, Center students Chelsea Toczauer and Sasha Chopenko have worked together with American Co-Director David Davies to create a welcome new opportunity for Chinese and American classmates to get together, enjoy a movie, and discuss opinions over snacks and drinks. Every Monday night, there is a screening of a classic Chinese film, which is first introduced by the Director Davies who provides a few guiding comments and historical background to get the conversation going. Half-way through each film, we break for discussion and refreshments, which generally continues after the end of the film as well. .

Some of the films featured this semester: The Love Eterne (1963), Fists of Fury (1972), and the Red Detachment of Women (1961)

The other day I had the chance to sit down and talk one-on-one with Director Davies about his reasons for starting the film series, and the importance of film in conveying cultural and historical understanding. The following are a few excerpts from our conversation.

What prompted you to start this semester’s film series? What were you hoping to accomplish?

Director Davies: One of the things that I’ve heard from students at the Center is that they want more opportunities to discuss things together, with both Chinese and American students. There are only a few ways we can do that, either by creative pedagogies in the classroom or through extracurricular events and activities. One thing that everybody likes is watching movies and discussing movies because everyone is given something to think about and will have some kind of reaction or opinion. I’ve also taught a few film classes in the US and have wanted to teach here at the HNC but haven’t yet found the time to lead a formal a class. So this seemed like a natural opportunity to interact with students,  have a discussion, and learn something over the course of the film series. Also Mondays and Movies both start with the same letter, so that works well!

One thing I’ve been thinking about as I’ve been watching these movies is how film can serve as a more comprehensive or more intimate way of conveying cultural understanding to a wider audience. What is your take on this?

Director Davies: Remarkably, a lot of students are increasingly busy with extensive coursework and don’t have time for broader engagement with the social sciences, humanities, and art and literature; movies can provide an easy opportunity for that kind of exposure. Films are cultural productions and say something about the people who produced them and the people who viewed them. One of my favorite sayings is “the past is foreign country”, and that is true for Chinese people and Chinese history as well. By watching old films you can gain some insight into why these stories were told and who the people were who created them, as well as the context in which they were received by viewers. Movies are also very accessible, as a form of popular culture and as an extracurricular activity that students can participate in without needing to do any additional preparation work on top of their coursework.

Do you have any ideas for future film series at the Center?

Director Davies: For next fall, I’ve thought about doing an American film series, maybe using classic science fiction films. And then we could switch back and forth, every spring having a Chinese film series and every fall having an American film series. It might also be fun to do one semester on classic American westerns followed by a semester on Chinese 武侠 martial art movies.

Thank you again to Director Davies for talking with me. And thank you also to Sasha Chopenko and Chelsea Toczauer, for the time and planning that they have put into the film series, especially during their thesis writing period!

Written by Amanda Bogan, HNC MAIS 2018