January 23, 2015 at 2:03 pm

New: Transcultural Encounters and Border Crossings Film Series

With Dr. Michael Gillespie, Dr. Katarzyna Marciniak is curator of the new Transcultural Encounters and Border Crossings Film Series at the Athena this spring.

Dr. Katarzyna Marciniak

Dr. Katarzyna Marciniak

Marciniak, Professor of English, specializes in transnational studies, and the film series’ theme reflects her scholarly interests. Gillespie is Assistant Professor of Film Theory, with the Department of African American Studies and the School of Interdisciplinary Arts’ School of Film.

All courses taught by Marciniak have a transnational cinema component, and her students have been galvanized by the various cinematic texts she introduces in her curriculum. Broadly speaking, the Transcultural Encounters and Border Crossings Series addresses various regions across the globe, engaging with issues such as border politics, migration, refugeeism and asylum-seeking, transnational encounters, war on terror, cosmopolitanism and citizenship, foreignness and liminality, and race and racism – all topics that are pertinent to the post-9/11 climate we all inhabit. National borders are figured in these kinds of films as both violent geopolitical constructs and abstractions related to ideas of difference, otherness, travel, migration, neo-liberal capitalism, neo-colonialism and trans-cultural translation.

As Marciniak explains, transnational cinema has become one of the most exciting and dynamically developing fields within film and media studies. Categories such as “cinema of the borders,” “cinema of migration,” ‘or “cinema of displacement” are intimately linked to the experiences and discourses of exile, immigration, and border crossings. These labels attempt to classify new filmic narratives which, because of their thematic foci and complicated production contexts, cannot be linked exclusively to a single national culture. Furthermore, these new terms consciously depart from the ghettoizing rubrics of “ethnic cinema,” “minority cinema,” or “immigrant cinema.”

The films chosen for the Athena film series reflect these concerns and often poignantly explore the issues of foreignness, strangeness, and politics of difference. The theme taps into the complexities of cross-cultural encounters and, as the films show, invites us to think about the often thorny experiences of hospitality, tolerance, and acceptance toward migrants who are stereotypically considered as outsiders—others, strangers, or guests—and whose very presence unsettles the preconceived notions of national belonging. Simultaneously, many of the films point to the emotional complexity that often surrounds discourses of transnational encounters, the reception or ‘adoption’ of foreigners, highlighting the difficulties of contending with xenophobic sentiments, she adds.

Given this context, the following criteria informed the choice of films:

  1. Since transnational cinema has flourished principally in the post-2000 period, all the films selected for screening are recent productions.
  2. They consciously chose films that are not necessarily mainstream or widely used in their classrooms.
  3. They included the work of both female and male directors.
  4. They were careful to include films that reference a variety of geo-political regions, so that the series has a distinctly global context.
  5. They also were attentive to a variety of issues or themes that will be highlighted in the course of the series: gender/queerness/transgender, domestic service, border conflict zones, migration, undocumented identity, issues of legality and illegality, and migrant labor.

See film screening information.

The opening screening on Jan. 17 featured The Syrian Bride (2004) by Israeli director Eran Riklis. The Syrian Bride focuses on a complex depiction of liminality and border identity while engaging the contentious status of the Israeli/Syrian border. A young Druze woman living in the Golan Heights region is preparing to marry a Syrian actor and in order to wed she must cross the border. Once she crosses, she is likely never to be allowed to return home.

Dirt (2003) by American director Nancy Savoca, of Sicilian and Argentinian background, features an undocumented El Salvadoran woman employed as a domestic worker in luxury apartments in Manhattan. Savoca will participate via skype in a discussion after the screening to entertain questions from the audience.

Children in No Man’s Land (2009), by a Panama-born, U.S.-based documentary filmmaker Anayansi Prado, investigates the plight of unaccompanied minors who cross the U.S.-Mexico border in search of their parents in the United States.

Marciniak says she selected these films for the opening screenings because she wanted students, faculty, and community members to contemplate the violent nature of borders, the precarious conditions endured by migrants, “our” dependence on their labor, and “our” complicity in the exploitation of their work. Prado’s documentary, in particular, instills in the audience feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. This tonality reflects post-9/11 global tensions, the new obstacles created to deter migratory movements, the heightened alertness about “foreignness,” and the perceived need for ever-increasing levels of border security. Growing anti-immigrant sentiments in the United States target specifically nonwhite “aliens” as a source of national worry. There is no question that post-9/11 anxiety, and the subsequent “war on terror,” have amplified a desire of global proportions to police and discipline those who are classified as questionable others, she says.

Making and Breaking the Law logoThe second part of the series will showcase the work of female and male directors from diverse geopolitical regions and encompass such productions as Unveiled (2005) by the German director Angelina Maccarone, an American filmmaker of a Peruvian background, Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealer (2009), and a Palestinian filmmaker Abu-Assad’s Paradise Now (2005). Unveiled features an Iranian lesbian refugee who assumes the identity of a man at the refugee detention center at Frankfurt Airport and enters Germany as a male. Sleep Dealer has been hailed as the first “Third World” science fiction film, a cyberpunk of the south; it offers a provocative idea of “tele-migration” straddling the U.S.-Mexico border. Paradise Now focuses on the controversial issue of suicide-bombings and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

Wealth & Poverty theme logo“Overall, it is our hope that the series will raise awareness about the vital political, social, and cultural concerns that both inform global communities and are relevant to us all,” she says.

The Film Series was made possible by a generous support from the College of Arts & Sciences and a committed work by Alexandra Kamody from the Athena and Lorraine Wochna, Ohio University librarian for the Humanities. Making and Breaking the Law and Wealth and Poverty curricular themes are sponsoring the series to help us publicize the screenings.

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