SPOTLIGHT: A Natural Fit in Champaign-Urbana

Karen Hewitt at University of Illinois’s Center for Global Studies on the importance of bringing a “Global Lens” to campus…

Ann Rasmus, Art @ the Y Program Director, University YMCA (left) and Karen Hewitt, Outreach Coordinator, Center for Global Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

2012 marks the fourth consecutive year that Global Lens has been showcased at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, organized by Karen Hewitt, Outreach Coordinator for the University’s Center for Global Studies. From the very beginning, it was clear that the venue was a natural fit for the film series, and every subsequent year has continued to demonstrate this. We recently touched base with Karen to ask some questions about the Center for Global Studies and the role of Global Lens in her community.

Karen, we first spoke in June 2009 when I approached you about working with the Center for Global Studies to bring the Global Lens film series to the University of Illinois. Had the Center ever sponsored any film screenings previously?

The Center for Global Studies is a National Resource Center for International and Area Studies funded by a Title VI grant through the US Department of Education. One of the primary purposes of these grants is training in “Less Commonly Taught Languages.” In the past, we have co-sponsored film series organized by other area studies centers, such as the annual Latin American Film Series organized by the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. Because of their success in attracting faculty, student and community audiences to their their week-long series, when you contacted us, I thought this would be a perfect way for the Center for Global Studies to offer other contemporary international films to our community.

A mini-poster promoting a screening of THE FINGER in September 2012

Excuse the tangent so early on, but what kind of training for “less commonly taught languages” is provided through this grant?

Our Center supports Arabic, Turkish, and Persian language training. Our counterparts offer other languages heard in Global Lens films, such as Brazilian Portuguese, Chinese, Hindi, Swahili, and many others.

So, why is a film series like Global Lens relevant to your community?

The Global Lens series is perfect for Champaign-Urbana because we have a very diverse international population. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has faculty and students who come from all parts of the world. In addition, there is strong support for arts and world cultures and music. A lot of international cultural events take place here, usually with the support of one or more university departments or student organizations. When considering the viability of offering the Global Lens series, I thought about its relevance to university audiences as well as the potential to appeal to community members.

Did any particular departments or organizations support any of the films in this year’s lineup?

Yes! It is a long list: We have co-sponsorship support (which includes funding as well as assistance with getting the word out to students and faculty) from the European Union Center, and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. And we are getting publicity assistance from the Center for South Asian & Middle Eastern Studies, Center for African Studies, Center for East Asian & Pacific Studies, the Department of Journalism, the College of Media and Cinema Studies, and the School of Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics.

You usually show the series in partnership with the University YMCA and, for the past couple of years, with Parkland College as well. Can you tell us a bit more about these partnerships and how they came about?

The University YMCA is one of the enduring institutions connected to the university community and part of its mission is promoting international and intercultural awareness and respect. They do a lot of work with international students as well as students with interests in international development. When looking for partners that could help us identify audiences — and provide space and equipment for hosting the films — the University YMCA was a perfect partner.

And then you hooked up with Parkland in 2011…

I approached Parkland Community College because they also have a large and active international student population and a well-developed community education program. A couple other factors make Parkland an attractive partner — like the University of Illinois, they have an excellent art gallery so people in the community know to look to Parkland for interesting contemporary arts, and they are located in a completely different area of town which means there is the potential to reach a larger geographic audience. Plus, each partner has different mailing lists and contacts so we really maximize exposure for the Global Lens series.

Talk to us about your work and the Center for Global Studies. How does Global Lens relate to the Center’s mission?

I am the Outreach Coordinator and my role is to organize events and workshops and training programs on global issues and on world languages and cultures. The Center for Global Studies supports language instruction in Arabic, Persian and Turkish, and usually the Global Lens series includes one or more films in these languages so it is a natural fit for our Outreach program. The series provides an excellent opportunity for students studying these languages to hear them spoken by natives. Similarly, even for students of Spanish, which is not a “less commonly taught language”, to hear the wide variety spoken Spanish is valuable. I also like the Global Lens films because the people and scenes and settings are authentic. These aren’t studio films so the audience gets to see real streets and interiors of houses, etc.

Well, I think you’re going to be thrilled with the upcoming 2013 slate, which we’ll be announcing in just a couple weeks. In the meantime, what other projects are you working on for the University at the moment?

My next big project is also focused on culture, but it is quite different. I am organizing an educational training program for Illinois National Guard Reserve team leaders who will be deploying to Afghanistan. I’m lining up speakers to talk about the political history of the region, give some language lessons, and lead interactive sessions on cross-cultural communication and collaborative decision-making. Too bad there isn’t a Global Lens film set in rural Afghanistan that I could show!

We’ll have get to work on that!

Many thanks to Karen for taking the time to speak with us, and for being such a wonderful supporter of the Global Film Initiative and the Global Lens film series. Visit the calendar to check the University YMCA and Parkland College screening schedule!

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