Window to the World: Launching a Foreign Film Series in Edinburg, TX

GFI chats with The University of Texas-Pan American about unique collaborations, persistence, and bringing Global Lens to town

Nadia Gallegos (left) and Virgina Haynie Gause, the people responsible for bringing Global Lens to UTPA!

Sometimes we speak with a venue interested in hosting Global Lens, and everything falls into place relatively quickly and easily—screening facilities are available, marketing support is plentiful, and the schedule practically writes itself. In other instances, however, things don’t come together right away, and instead, it takes some time to actually “make it happen.” This was the case with The University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA), who had been speaking with us off-and-on about organizing a Global Lens program on campus since 2008, but for various reasons, wasn’t able to do so until just this past year.

One of the factors that finally made it possible was the introduction of our Educational Affiliates program in which university and college libraries can purchase a full Global Lens DVD set and then screen those films for public audiences. This option, with its affordable cost and scheduling flexibility, allowed UTPA to show Global Lens 2010 on campus—screening a different film every month beginning at the end of 2010. This “experiment” of sorts proved to be a great success for UTPA, and they are now gearing up to continue with Global Lens 2011 starting in November.

This week we touched base with UTPA’s Nadia Gallegos (Business Analyst for Admissions and New Student Services) and Virginia Haynie Gause (Media and Marketing Librarian) about how they met and worked together to make Global Lens a reality for the University.

Nadia, it seems as though we’d been discussing Global Lens at UTPA for years—and then in 2010, everything suddenly “clicked” and you hosted the series for the first time.  What made this possible?

Ever since I learned about Global Lens in 2008 through MoMA’s film website, it felt like an “Aha moment.” It made me daydream about the possibility to continue bringing a taste of the world to our community, this time through one of my passions, international films. In addition, reading about the GFI intention and finding out that the Global Lens series were not only astounding educational films, but also affordable, made it a promising project.

A Global Lens introductory meeting at UTPA in June 2010

Well, now you’ve piqued our curiosity—how did you go from “aha” to actually putting together a Global Lens program on campus?

The first step was finding the time after I started graduate work, but as months move forward, the interest got stronger. So, I developed a plan with possible ways to make it happen. One of them was meeting Virginia, my enthusiastic film partner in the series. I decided to contact Virginia as I kept running into her at different cultural events in the community. Seeing how many similar events we both enjoyed, made me think she would be someone who might also like the idea of bringing international cinema to our community on a monthly basis. Also, I knew she had professional experience organizing events on campus, so she could provide guidance in terms of fundraising policies. Virginia loved the idea and we joined forces to bring the Global Lens series to our community. Several staff, faculty, friends, library and alumni affairs showed interest and supported our project. Once we’re able to raise the funds, the rest fell into place. In addition, different departments at the University such as marketing, public affairs, library and video resources helped us tremendously with promotion.

Speaking of departments, Virginia, you mentioned that faculty at UTPA participated in Q&A sessions for Global Lens, along with other film-related events.  I think the example you gave was an Indian panel for OCEAN OF AN OLD MAN….Can you tell us more about this?

Our panel for OCEAN OF AN OLD MAN consisted of Jayshree Bhat (Coordinator of Continuing Education at UTPA), Dr. John Abraham (Computer Science professor at UTPA), Shamila Nambiar (English instructor at South Texas College in McAllen) and Shirley Edinbarough (UTPA graduate student).  Several UTPA faculty gave their students special credit for attending Global Lens screenings this past year.  These included Dr. Margaret Graham in Anthropology, Dr. Michael Minor in Marketing and International Business, and Dr. Gary Mounce in Political Science and others.  Dr. Farzaneh Razzaghi, Dean of UTPA Library, led a stirring discussion after the initial screening of MY TEHRAN FOR SALE. Global Lens films also gave us the opportunity to reach out to the international students, faculty, and staff on campus. We usually asked the audience if we had anyone born in the country where our screening took place.

A poster advertising the Global Lens screenings at UTPA

Is it typical for the Library to sponsor arts & culture events, such as a film series, for the campus?

My title at UTPA is Media and Marketing Librarian. Within the Marketing part of my job, I design and host events that will make people take greater notice of the library and its resources. This includes art exhibits, book signings, and our Innovative Voices series where we have hosted authors Elena Poniatowska from Mexico City and alurista from San Diego. Because we live in such a global society these days, it is imperative that we learn as much as we can about other counties. Yet, in my 38 years as a librarian here we never had an affordable program for offering our students, faculty, staff, and the general public a year round program of international films, until we found Global Lens! And we are elated that Global Lens lets us put the films in our online catalog to become a permanent resource of cultural awareness after we screen each film.

We typically tout Global Lens as a ‘window to the world’ and during your recent visit to San Francisco, you really made that phrase come to life—by opening a window into your world of Edinburg, TX.  In fact, we’re still thinking about those Gulf prawns you described…

UTPA has about 19,000 students and is located in Edinburg, TX, a city of about 73,000 people and the county seat of Hidalgo County.  About 87% of its students are undergraduates. About 85% of its students are of Hispanic origin. It is a regional university with about 96.7% of its students coming from Texas, .6% from out of state, and 2.7% from foreign countries.  For a formal portrait of UTPA see http://collegeportraits.org/TX/UTPA.

Edinburg is merely 20 miles north of the Mexican border. UTPA has a gorgeous campus with very uniform architecture that gives it a distinctive and modern look.  It is framed with palm, ash, and live oak trees. A covered walkway with matching brick columns connects its central campus and is popular with walkers who get their exercise early in the mornings and during late afternoons. It is noted for its award winning mariachis and ballet folkoric dancers…

You also mentioned something about the city’s changing population?

Yes, we are growing more diverse, now having a Hindu temple and cultural center in Edinburg as well as a Muslim mosque.  We also have a Muslim mosque in McAllen, and residents from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Argentina, China, Vietnam, and Japan among other places. My husband George and I attend the annual Filipino Independence Day celebrations each June at a park in downtown McAllen, and he and I are also members of the India Association of the Rio Grande Valley and the Malayalee Association of the Rio Grande Valley!

So, Nadia, we know Virginia is originally from Alabama.  And you?

I am from Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico. It is a border city with Hidalgo, TX. I grew up in Reynosa until I finished high school, then lived in Arizona for a year and later moved to Texas.

And you mentioned that you’d long had plans to launch a foreign film series on-campus and that, to some degree, the partnership with GFI made this possible.  Why was this an important goal for you?

Right after graduating from high school back in ’98, I got an invitation from a friend to go to Arizona to attend English Institute. It was a life changing experience for me. I made friends with people from Japan and Korea, among other countries. I completely loved the cultural exchange and easygoingness that existed among the group. It was exciting to me trying new dishes (some even homemade!), exchanging healing methods when having a cold, learning about our individual traditions, smelling new spices, beauty tricks, listening to their favorite music or sharing about Mexican folk music, etc. It sure was an inspiring period that ever since I’ve been attracted to different cultures.

A year later, I started my bachelors at UTPA, and being an international student had easy access to other international students on campus. I made friends from Bangladesh, India, Turkey, Germany, Spain, etc.  A few months later, we all revived the International Student Association, where the cultural exploration continued to be awesome. During two years, we organized food and dance festivals, celebrated holidays from our countries, outdoors activities, etc.

Virginia Haynie Gause (left) and Nadia Gallegos at the Global Lens opening reception in September 2010

All these cultural experiences have brought so much to my life that I have always thought about sharing the light with those around and possibly encourage them to enjoy the world with a fresh twist as well as provide social and political awareness. After learning about Global Lens, I felt it would be an exciting source to continue with such an enriching cultural path. If we dissect a film, we realize that it is more than just the scenes or the story: it is also about the scenery, would it make you want to go to Argentina?; what they enjoy eating, would it make you want to explore to China or eat with chopsticks?; their music, would it make you want to visit Mexico?; the human message, would it make you want to help?

Through my years as a student and staff, I’ve found UTPA as a welcoming institution to internationals and a strong supporter of the arts. So, when deciding on the venue, UTPA was just the ideal place to screen the series as it would also give me a good chance to give back to an institution I have a lot of appreciation for.

And we’re certainly very appreciative to have in Nadia and Virginia, two of the most enthusiastic and devoted supporters of Global Lens that GFI has had the privilege to work with. Summer is just now winding down, but we can’t wait to see what they’ve got planned for their opening night festivities in November!

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