Texas Tech University Professor of Media and Communication Robert Peaslee talks to GFI about screening Global Lens and the importance of international film in education…
The Global Lens film series first caught Robert Peaslee’s eyes as a doctoral candidate at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Fast forward to the present, and Peaslee, now an Assistant Professor at Texas Tech University, has been screening GFI’s Global Lens series at the university’s College of Media and Communications for five years! This relationship has fostered engaging discussions in an educational setting, while also providing an important context for students living in a world where international stories are told from a domestic perspective…
The Global Film Initiative: 2013 marks the fourth year that Texas Tech University has hosted the Global Lens film series. What was it about the series that drew you to it in the first place? Did these films provide something that had been missing from the discussion at TTU?
Rob Peaslee: We actually began in 2009 with three films from the series, so it’s our fifth year working with GFI, but indeed the fourth where we’ve hosted the series as a whole. On the one hand, sure, there’s a relative lack of foreign film in West Texas, and the Global Lens film series addresses that lack. But really, I think that even in areas rather richer in opportunities to engage filmmakers from other countries, Global Lens consistently brings some of the most provocative and thought-provoking content available on an annual basis. I’m a big fan of the GFI’s mission, and it’s great to be in a position to support that mission here at Texas Tech.
I first encountered the GFI while doing research as a doctoral student on the relationship between the American indie film industry and the presence of foreign films on American screens. What was becoming clear to me at the time is that neither of these niche markets were really bringing any pressure to bear on Hollywood, but rather they were competing with each other, very much to their mutual detriment. Global Lens seemed like a great idea, but as a doctoral student with no power whatsoever, I was in no place to bring it in. Once I joined the faculty at Texas Tech, it seemed like a great opportunity to both improve my surroundings and contribute to the University.
GFI: The series is co-sponsored at TTU by a couple of on-campus organizations–namely, The Institute for Hispanic and International Communication and the Texas Tech Cross-Cultural Academic Advancement Center. Can you tell us about these organizations and their missions? How does Global Lens Support their goals?
RP: IHIC, directed by Dr. Kenton Wilkinson, is primarily a research center, but they also support campus programming that furthers the goals of intercultural and international understanding and dialogue.
The CCAAC, meanwhile, is charged with connecting the intercultural programming that occurs on campus with the curricular in such a way as to promote equality and inclusivity in learning. They are directed by Jobi Martinez.
GFI: After each Global Lens screening at TTU, there is a panel of interdisciplinary scholars to mediate a discussion from the audience. How do they supplement the films and provide context to the audience? Have there been any particularly exciting/interesting discussions recently?
RP: The panels do exactly as you suggest: provide context. Whether it’s the specific cultural dimensions of the film, the historical time period in which it takes place or to which it refers, the political situation in a given country, the linguistic dimensions of what’s lost in translation, or the formal dimensions of the film itself that might not be obvious to the casual film-goer, our faculty guests help us avoid a situation where a person’s first exposure to foreign film is a negative experienced based on “not getting it.” We don’t want anyone, particularly students, walking out shaking their heads, wondering why they stepped outside their comfort zone.
GFI: How/why is film as a medium able to provide such an important and powerful tool in cross-cultural education–in the classroom and beyond? What is gained by showcasing international cinema within an educational context?
RP: …Stories by design create empathy. In the news media, most stories about people from other countries, cultures, or regions are told by people who look and sound like us, so it becomes much less likely that we will empathize with those “others” when “one of us” is standing there telling us about them.
But with film, we are invited to identify–by a cultural insider, someone who lives this context everyday–with a protagonist who would ordinarily be othered in our news media. This is not to say that the news media are actively trying to mislead the audience or demonize people in other countries, but rather that the point of view from which the story is compiled and reported is almost always an etic, or outsider’s, view. International film gives us an (imperfect) emic, or insider’s, perspective. I think this is fairly profound, and I think that’s why we sense that film can increase international understanding, particularly among young people.
The Global Lens film series is an annual, curated program of narrative feature films from Africa, Asia, Central & Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. Each film in the series is selected for its authentic voice, strong cinematics and unique cultural perspective, opening a window to the diverse world in which we live. Now in its tenth year, the series continues to be a platform for exceptional storytelling. To date, more than ninety-five films from over thirty-five nations make up the award-winning and critically acclaimed Global Lens collection.
The Global Film is a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization. All proceeds from the Global Lens film series support international filmmaker grants, educational programming and resources, touring film exhibitions and other philanthropic initiatives and programs sponsored by the Global Film Initiative.