Last Wednesday marked the beginning of the 20th annual Massachusetts Multicultural Film Festival. Sponsored by the Interdepartmental Program in Film Studies and Curator Catherine Portuges, the festival is held almost entirely on campus making for a superb opportunity to see some of the latest offerings in international cinema.
Each year’s festival revolves around a theme, this time the framework for the collection of pictures is “Continuities.” The idea behind “Continuities” is examining the past through the present while looking at contemporary social issues that are highly relevant today.
The films, which run every Wednesday evening through April 24, address a variety of issues; from institutionalised racism of Romanian Gypsies (“Our School”), disillusioned youths of Spain (“The Wild Ones”) as well as a documentary investigating the impact of the tattooed numbering on Holocaust survivors (“Numbered”).
With such a wide variety of stories on show, the festival is an excellent chance to not only witness a different culture of film making, but also learn about some of the current global social issues at the heart of the performances.
The opening film of the festival was “Elza” (“Le Bonheur d’Elza”), the directorial debut of Smith College alumnus Mariette Monpierre. The semi-autobiographical narrative follows a young Parisian woman on her return to her native home, the Caribbean island Guadeloupe, in order to find and confront her unknown father.
The charming personal tale is draped in the rich, vibrant culture of the Caribbean, and the extensive use of landscape shots of Guadeloupe accentuates the natural beauty of the island, giving an insight into the little known location.
The film’s intention is to match the paradox of the island’s stunning natural beauty with the turmoil and struggles that face the social lives it inhabitants, in this case, Elza’s dysfunctional family. With a strong performance from lead Stana Roumillac as the emotionally conflicted Elza, the film is an enjoyable tale of finding your identity on a personal level but also is a wider examination of society’s issues in the unique setting of Guadeloupe.
This Wednesday’s showing is “Our School,” a ‘documentary portrait of institutionalised racism, poverty and the conflict between tradition and progress’ among the unfairly isolated gypsy, or Roma, community of Transylvania.
The film has been highly regarded by critics at its recent outings as well as being touted by The New York Times for its brutally honest and harrowing portrayal of the treatment of Romania’s largest ethnic minority group.
Director Mona Nicoara will be in attendance for a question and answer session after the screening to further explain the film’s issues and how they are personal to her, adding an extra incentive to witness Wednesday’s showing.
On top of the weekly screenings, there will be a talk on April 25 from Thomas Elsaesser, a historian and professor of film and television studies at the University of Amsterdam, titled “What’s European about European Cinema?” The talk will be focused on the impressive art of European filmmaking especially in contrast to the Hollywood dominated industry.
Based on the opening film, the 20th annual Massachusetts Multicultural Film Festival promises to be a special event for local film fanatics. Admission is free.
From its inception in 1991, the festival has grown in stature and has become a celebrated event that attracts acclaimed filmmakers, including world famous German director Werner Herzog last year.
Among the nine international filmmakers this year, three of them are Five College alums, giving the festival a local vested interest for those in the audience from campus.
The festival was started as a way to add an extra dimension to the Film Studies program to reflect a wider spectrum of film, notably the international market. With Cinemark Cinema at Hampshire Mall dealing mainly in contemporary film and Amherst Cinema only being able to pay host to a limited number of alternative film, the festival provides the perfect opportunity to show a range of international motion pictures that can’t be found anywhere else.
Jonathan Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.