Festival brings foreign cinema to Meadville

The annual International Film Festival, curated by Allegheny’s Department of Modern and Classical Languages, begins Wednesday, Jan. 31, at the Movies at Meadville with the 2017 French documentary “Faces Places” at 7 p.m.

The five-week festival targets students in language programs at Allegheny and will feature films representing the five modern language programs offered: Arabic, Chinese, French, German and Spanish.

“I hope that, by asking the students to go see foreign films, we are creating audiences that, in the future, are going to see a more diverse selection of movies and not just American movies,” said Wilfredo Hernandez, associate professor of Spanish. “Don’t get me wrong, I love American movies. But I think it’s important to know what is being done in other countries by other artists.”

Organized by Hernandez and the modern and classical languages faculty in partnership with the Movies at Meadville, the festival is free and open to the public.

Round-trip shuttle service between Allegheny College and the Movies at Meadville is also free, according to Ruter Hall Building Coordinator Reese Campbell, who has assisted Hernandez and the department faculty in organizing the 2017 and 2018 festivals.

Campbell said the festival has been advertised in the Meadville Tribune, as well as on WQLN Radio in Erie.

“We try to get people from at least around the region interested,” Campbell said.

While the festival selections are largely inspired by language students, community engagement is an important consideration for the modern language faculty, according to Hernandez.

“We agreed that the films have to be representative and appealing for a larger audience, and in that regard, I am very happy with the results because, generally speaking, the films talk to a larger audience and not only to the students in the language,” Hernandez said.

Achieving these results involved a selection process that began during the fall 2017 semester. Department faculty suggested films to Hernandez, who then researched each film and read American and European reviews. A list of preferred films was submitted to Paul McNulty, general manager of the Movies at Meadville, who sought rights through his regular booking process for the films.

“We’ve done it for a number of years now,” McNulty said. “This year was actually the worst year for finding the Arabic film, and we went through a dozen films to get one. Sometimes, there’s no U.S. distributors, and this year was the toughest year to get the rights.”

Hernandez said the Department of Modern and Classical Languages provides the funding for the shuttle service and film rights. Obtaining film rights for the festival provides a unique experience for the Allegheny and Meadville communities, according to Hernandez.

“In America, the market is dominated by the Hollywood industry, so they don’t show more than what they produce,” Hernandez said. “The circulation of foreign films is somewhat limited to big cities in this country, which is very sad because you don’t get to know what other artists are doing.”

Hernandez said the first film of the festival, “Faces Places,” hasn’t been screened in Pittsburgh or in any other local space. In fact, “Faces Places” has only circulated among a few major U.S. cities, including New York, Los Angeles and Detroit.

Laura Reeck, professor of French and chair of international studies, saw “Faces Places” while in Paris in July.

“My impression of the film was that, for me, it had provided a short amount of time that seemed timeless. … It was almost like this indulgence in slow time,” Reeck said.

Directed by French filmmaker Agnes Varda and French photographer JR, “Faces Places” introduces viewers to France in a way that is not dramatic or monumental, Reeck said.

“The film is a documentary, and part of what it does is show the lesser-known faces of France,” Reeck said. “It’s helpful for students and the general public to understand that France is not Paris.”

“Faces Places,” along with festival films “Coming Home” and “Julieta,” are directed by the best, according to Hernandez.

Hernandez said Zhang Yimou, who directed “Coming Home,” Pedro Almodovar, who directed “Julieta,” and Varda are considered exceptional directors.

“We are showing films of a high quality,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez began teaching at Allegheny in 2000 and has been the festival coordinator for the past five years, but he said the festival has been providing access to foreign cinema since before he arrived on campus.

The department has previously partnered with the Academy Theater in Meadville to host the festival, which has been organized by several different faculty members since its inception. The film selections change every year, but the more than 20 year tradition endures.