Guest post by Dr. Alicia Kozma, Director of IU Cinema.
International films are central to the core of the U.S. art house. In the 1950s and 1960s, art house theaters were often the only places you could see international films. Today, it would be rare to find an art house theater worth its salt that did not rely heavily on international programming. Here at IU Cinema, we’re proud of our international film repertoire, and of the fact that we’ve shown from more than half the countries in the world.
But what, exactly, are international films? And what we do mean when we say “international?” On a superficial level, international films are just that: films that cross national boundaries. Yet on another level, international films are a legacy of national cinema, that notoriously slippery term that encompasses a wide range of industrial, aesthetic, and economic strategies that countries across the world employed — and still do — to push back against the global dominance of Hollywood.
The concept of national — and thereby international — film is fraught. Often style, language, and production location are key pieces of information that assign a “nation” to a film. But film is messy in the best ways possible: its aesthetic and ideas float across our artificial geopolitical boundaries, circulating in reciprocal spheres of influence and inspiration. Nations may be beholden to boundaries, but film art rarely is. That is why determining what is “international” about international cinema can be so difficult. Take, for example, Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. The movie is set in a fictional Iranian town, filmed in Persian, subtitled in English, and reflects many aspects of Iranian culture. Yet it was shot in California by a British-born Iranian American director, stars Iranian or Iranian Americans, and is in part an homage to the most American of genres: the Western. Is this an Iranian film? A U.S. film? How do we decide? What “counts” as international?
These are the questions we at the Cinema grapple with when programming our International Arthouse Series. The series is one of the first ever established at the Cinema (and one of our very favorites) and showcased new releases in arthouse film from across the world. However, we increasingly found ourselves facing three problems when thinking about the programming philosophy and reality of International Arthouse. First, many of the films we were playing were either U.S.-based or English language-based. Second, if the film was not U.S.-based, it was likely coming from the same small set of “usual suspect” international film markets in Western Europe or Japan. Third, we were regularly lacking films from some vibrant film centers. Compounding these issues is that there is a glut of amazing new art house titles, an embarrassment of riches we felt like we were not tapping into.
And so, International Art House was reformed, and New Americas Cinemas was born. New Americas Cinema is a new series this fall that focuses on new art house releases from North, Central, and South America. Correspondingly, International Art House will now focus on films not from North, Central, and South America. The series will run in opposite seasons, so the Cinema will have new art house titles on the screen year-round with intentional global variety and broad reach. Just like International Art House, each title in New Americas will play twice, and both series are done in partnership with our good friends at the Ryder Film Series.
We could think of no better way to kick off the first run of New Americas Cinema than with the patron saint of Canadian filmmaking (well, my patron saint, anyway), David Cronenberg, and his new film Crimes of the Future. Crimes is a darkly funny satire of art, celebrity, and human adaptation. Next up is Tahara, the debut of U.S. director Olivia Peace, which tackles the simultaneously banal and devastating complications of the friendship of teenage girls, sexuality, and religion. The New York Times called it a “a canny portrait of teenage insensitivity and sexuality amid a tragedy,” and I cannot describe it better than that.
The sole documentary in the series is the so-wild-it-has-to-be-true The Pez Outlaw. The film follows a man whose hobby of collecting Pez dispensers leads him into an international conspiracy. The less we say about this one ahead of time the better; it will help to preserve the jaw-dropping-to-the-floor-ness of the film. Following that is Dos Estaciones, a searing Mexican drama about one woman’s struggle to save her family’s tequila factory from the twin menaces of environmental collapse and global conglomeration. The lead actress, Teresa Sánchez, won a special jury award at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival for her performance, and director Juan Pablo González won the True/False Film Festival True Vision Award. Closing out the series is Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria, a bewildering drama about a woman who begins experiencing a mysterious sensory syndrome while traveling in the jungles of Columbia. Memoria is, perhaps, the film that best exemplifies the beautiful messiness of film as a global art: a film with a Thai director, a Scottish star, shot in Colombia with a large Colombian cast, spoken in Spanish and English, a co-production between nine countries, and the Colombian submission to the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film.
We also have two special-event screenings for New Americas Cinema. The first is a one-time screening of the 2022 Sundance Indigenous Shorts Tour, and the second is a one-night-only engagement of the new documentary Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song. Why are these special events? We will be screening the Indigenous Shorts free of charge in celebration of Indigenous People’s Day, and Leonard Cohen is just, well, special.
I hope you are as excited as we are to explore the big – and ever-growing – world of international film with this new series, complications and all.
See you at the movies!
This semester’s New Americas Cinema begins with Crimes of the Future on Aug. 19 and 20, followed by Tahara on Aug. 26 and 27, The Pez Outlaw on Sept. 9 and 10, Dos Estaciones on Sept. 16 and 17, Memoria on Sept. 23 and 24, the 2022 Sundance Indigenous Shorts on Oct. 11, and concludes with Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Song, A Journey on Dec. 2 (event page still to come).
Dr. Alicia Kozma is the Director of Indiana University Cinema. She researches, writes about, and teaches film. Learn more at www.aliciakozma.com.