Dartmouth Film Society kicks off historical series
By Caela Murphy
Published on Thursday, January 10, 2013
On Friday, the Dartmouth Film Society will kick off its winter series called “Historical Fiction,” featuring 19 films that tell stories of notable important historical periods, events and people.
DFS director Johanna Evans ’10 said she hopes that viewers will leave with an interest in how individual perspectives can influence the ways in which stories — even historical ones — are portrayed.
“I study literature, but I feel that in some ways, film is even better at showing that the way that you tell your story or the way that you read the world as a story is very particular to your camera and your point of view,” Evans said.
Because this film series features movies based on history, Evans expects that viewers will become even more self-conscious than usual about how the perspectives and decisions of the filmmakers influence the unfolding of a story on screen.
Like past DFS series, this one features a wide variety of films including documentaries, foreign films and well-reviewed new releases.
“The idea is that there will be a little bit of something for everybody, but also that it will be educational in some way and viewers will be able to see the progression of films on a certain theme,” Evans said.
The series will feature four foreign films, including “Farewell, My Queen” (2012; screening Jan. 13), “A Royal Affair” (2012; Feb. 8), “The Leopard” (1963; Feb.17) and “The Well-Digger’s Daughter” (2011; Feb. 24).
In “Farewell, My Queen,” a French historical drama, the devotion of Marie Antoinette’s personal reader, Sidonie Laborde, is tested when she is appointed as the monarch’s body double amidst the chaos of the French Revolution.
“The Flat,” a documentary, (2012; Feb. 3), focuses on the surprising and troubling discoveries that Arnon Goldfinger made while cleaning out the Tel Aviv, Israel flat that had belonged to his grandmother when she emigrated from Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
The series will also present films that convey a wide range of emotion. Hard-hitting and tragic films such as “Les Miserables” (2012; Mar. 3) and “Paths of Glory” (1957; Jan. 20) will be balanced with more light-hearted films like “Destry Rides Again” (1939; Jan. 27), “To Be or Not to Be” (1942; Feb. 10) and the darkly-comedic “MAS*H” (1970; Feb. 9), a counterculture film depicting the outrageous exploits of mobile army surgical hospital staff during the Korean War.
Evans said that the wide variety of films will provide viewers and DFS members with an intellectual and educational experience, and noted that she looks forward to coming to the discussions to learn how to look at films in a different light.
“One of the reasons why we play a variety of films is not only to encourage a variety of people to go to the films, but also because it’s meant to be an academic pursuit,” Evans said.
Several of the films in the series are adaptations of works of historical fiction literature. In “Anna Karenina” (2012; Feb. 15), the latest adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel, married aristocrat and socialite Anna (Keira Knightly) challenges the norms of 19th century Russian society by pursuing a passionate romance with bureaucrat Count Vronsky (Jude Law). In another boldly adapted romance, “Wuthering Heights” (2012; Jan. 18), Emily Bronte’s male protagonist, Heathcliff, is portrayed as an Afro-Caribbean runaway slave. “Sense and Sensibility,” (1995; Jan. 12), Ang Lee’s adaptation of the Jane Austen classic, tells the story of two sisters caught between love, marriage and their society.
Two of the new releases that will be screened revolve around U.S. foreign policy. “Argo” (2012; Jan. 19) is based on the true story of CIA operative Tony Mendez’s (Ben Affleck) plan to rescue six U.S. diplomats hiding during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis by pretending to produce a science-fiction movie called “Argo.” “Zero Dark Thirty,” (2012; Mar. 1) a thriller by director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal, the Oscar-winning team behind “The Hurt Locker,” chronicles the covert, decade-long manhunt operation that led to the elimination of Osama Bin Laden in May 2011.
Viewers will be able to compare these depictions of America’s covert foreign policy operations, according to Alex Stockton ’15, a member of the DFS directorate.
“‘Zero Dark Thirty’ and ‘Argo’ are both based on real events, but have very different approaches to telling those events,” Stockton said. “In Film Society, we get to analyze that and elaborate on that relationship.”
Evans highlighted the significance of including new releases in the series, noting that DFS members will typically create a theme based on recently released movies. Evans praised Tien-Tien Jong ’10, who came up with the theme of historical fiction for this film series, for choosing such an apt subject.
“Being involved in DFS for so long, I haven’t seen a series that fit as perfectly with the new releases as Tien’s did,” Evans said.
Because many of DFS selections have been nominated for this year’s Golden Globe Awards and are likely to receive Oscar nominations, Evans believes ticket sales will increase. “Lincoln” (2012; Jan. 25), “Django Unchained” (2012; Feb. 16) and “Zero Dark Thirty” have all received Golden Globe nominations for best picture. “Les Misérables” was nominated for best picture in the comedy or musical category, and “A Royal Affair” received a nomination for best of foreign film.
Despite the importance of including new releases, the series will also feature several classic films. Evans said that in designing this series, the DFS had to balance the old with the new.
“In terms of choosing the films, it’s very difficult to balance wanting to play old classics that people may want to see on the big screen for the first time with wanting to play new films that people may not have seen yet,” Evans said.
“Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” (1989; Jan. 11) for example, is a film that many people have already seen, but is also a cult favorite. In this comedy, two clueless teens (Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter) travel through time, picking up historical figures such as Socrates, Napoleon and Joan of Arc to take part in a class history project. Stockton says that he is looking forward to rewatching the movie and analyzing it with the overarching theme of historical fiction in mind.
Similarly, Bob Hamlin, a member of the Dartmouth Film Society for several years, is excited for the screening of “Destry Rides Again,” even though he has already seen it.
Evans and Stockton said that the accessibility of movies online may influence students’ decisions to attend a particular film. Stockton said that while these developments have changed the way in which our society perceives movie watching, the advantages to seeing films in theaters have not been lost.
“Film watching has become something so personal,” Stockton said, “The DFS’s goal is to give people an alternative to that, so that you can go to watch a film with a big audience and then get to talk about it afterwards with people who also appreciate the art.”
Although many people simply attend the screenings of the films, one of the most important aspects of the DFS is that it provides opportunities to discuss the films afterward, according to Hamlin.
“The DFS has two goals,” Hamlin said. “One is to show an interesting range of films that most people would not find it easy to see. The second is to provide a forum for discussion.”
The films in this series will be screened in the Loew Auditorium in the new Black Family Visual Arts Center.