Join the virtual Spanish film series

by Jim Lundstrom

In a Foreign Land

Aesthetes, Cinephiles, Latinophiles and Philomaths, take note of the virtual film series launched this month under the auspices of the University of Minnesota-Duluth’s World Languages and Cultures.

The free online film festival features five documentaries from Spain, and is open to everyone.

“It’s the first time we’ve ever done a virtual film series. If there’s anything good that’s coming out of the pandemic it’s us trying new and different things and seeing how we move forward,” said Professor of Spanish Studies Maureen Tobin Stanley, who is co-organizer of the film series with Jennifer Brady, department head and associate professor of Spanish Studies.

The World Languages Department has held in-person film series in the past at Zinema in downtown Duluth and last fall a German film series was held at West Theatre.

Tobin Stanley said past film series have been a great – and all-too rare – opportunity for bringing students and community members together for the viewing and then sharing their thoughts.

“This is just one more opportunity to get students and the community involved and spread the love we have for our field,” she said. “Being a professor, when students engage with community members, that to me is just this beautiful symbiotic pairing, where students are intellectually stimulated, the community member is intellectually stimulated and they’re having this fabulous conversation about whatever was in the film … That’s what cinema does – an individual experience that can be shared collectively. It brings folks together but also reinforces their individualism.”

This is how the virtual film series works:

• sign up here.
• Watch the brief introduction by either Professor Brady or Tobin Stanley, and then the film at our convenience.
• Tune in for the Zoom discussion 7pm Mondays.

“Since this is the first time we’re doing it, I’m sure there will be some wrinkles we’ll have to iron out,” Tobin Stanley said, adding that she had to learn Zoom to put the series on.

“This is a learning experience,” she said.

Participants have the option of joining in English or Spanish; post-film discussions will be held in the language of choice.

The five documentaries (described on the next page) were chosen for the social issue each addresses.

“Although it has to do with Spain – Madrid is 4,700 miles away from where we are – they are universal topics,” Tobin Stanley said.

The first film is En Tierra Extrana (In a Foreign Land), by Icíar Bollaín, one of Spain’s most famous female directors and a former actress. In the past she has tackled domestic abuse (Take My Eyes) and the privatization of natural resources (Even the Rain). In this one, she looks at the phenomenon of interEuropean migration.

“With the economic crisis of the previous decade, 700,000 Spaniards left Spain,” Tobin Stanley said. “This film interviews many Spaniards who went to Edinburgh, Scotland. Most of the film takes place in one room, where, in the background, through a window, we see constantly Edinburgh Castle. As we listen to emigres give their testimonials, we have the constant reminder that whatever accent they are speaking in from Spain, they are in Edinburgh, Scotland.”

In her introduction to the movie, Tobin Stanley asks views to look for ways Bollaín has used to humanize her subjects.

And another thing I asked folks to be mindful of, as they’re watching the film, note the filmmaker’s presence or absence, to wonder to what extent erasing herself from that is she giving greater protaganism to featuring a live subject on the screen?”

The next film – Clase valiente: El poder de las palabras (The Brave Class: The Power of Words) – should touch some open nerves as it deals with political speech and the public’s reaction to it.

“One of the reasons we’ve chosen that one, because this is an election year right now in the U.S. This year, especially, there are very strong sentiments,” Tobin Stanley said. “So we thought that would be a really good film to see at this time. Because film has the power of getting us close to issues, but at the same time it gives us enough of a safe distance that we can intellectualize and be analytical.”

Tobin Stanley said she chose the third film in the series – La Casa de Mi Abuela/My Grandmother’s House  – for its closeness to our current situation.

“My Grandmothers House I chose because with the pandemic a lot of individuals are sharing living spaces with family members of a different generation. This has to do with a grandmother and her young granddaughter living together. All of this, hopefully will spur dialogue, get people excited, learn about issues in Spain, but also know that they feature universal ideas and they relate to every body.”

My Grandmother’s House 

As a final thought on the series, Tobin Martin said, “We always have to be very thankful for people who make our dreams come true,” and named generous support from the College of Liberal Arts Office and Dean Jeremy Youde, the Royal D. Alworth, Jr. Institute for International Studies and Director Cindy Christian, and Pragda, a Spanish and Latin American film distribution, promotion and licensing company.

FILM 1: En tierra extraña/In a Foreign Land (English and Spanish with English subtitles). Streaming access to watch this film between 9/11/2020 and 9/20/2020. Zoom discussion in English and Spanish: Monday, Sept. 14 @ 7 pm. DESCRIPTION: Gloria is one of the 700,000 Spanish people who have left Spain since the 21st-century economic crisis began. The film portrays the experience of intra-European exile tackled by Spain’s highest-profile female director, Icíar Bollaín (Even the Rain, Take My Eyes).

FILM 2: Clase valiente: El poder de las palabras/The Brave Class: The Power of Words (in Spanish, Catalan and English with English subtitles). Streaming access to watch this film between 9/18/2020 and 9/27/2020. Zoom discussion in English and Spanish: Monday, Sept. 21 @ 7 pm. DESCRIPTION: What hides beneath a political speech? Can the world be changed with words? The Brave Class reveals the methods of political language in our way of understanding the world. We comprehend reality through an invisible and yet extremely important filter: language. The Brave Class is a social experiment that introduces a concept into the daily speech of politicians and communications experts during the 2015 Spanish elections. This involved many people in acts of public intervention, urban art, and other forms of social activism.

FILM 3: La casa de mi abuela/My grandmother’s house (in Spanish with English subtitles). Streaming access to watch this film between 10/30/2020 and 11/08/2020. Zoom discussion in English and Spanish: Monday, Nov. 2 @ 7 pm. DESCRIPTION: A beautifully constructed documentary that depicts with great subtlety the changing ways in suburban Spain. Adán Aliaga has turned a simple subject into a dashing and fast-paced, remarkably candid documentary on family life in Spain, modernization and generational change. A tribute to grandmothers everywhere, filled with painterly images of southeastern Spain and a director’s love for his family.

FILM 4: Spain in Crisis: A Collective Response (in Spanish with English subtitles). Streaming access to watch this film between 11/06/2020 and 11/15/2020. Zoom discussion in English and Spanish: Monday, Nov. 9 @ 7 pm. DESCRIPTION: This crucial collection offers a fresh and much-needed per-spective from artists and activists alike on the current Spanish fiscal crisis and the 15M movement, which influenced popular protests around the world, including the USA’s own Occupy Wall Street. At a time of global economic crisis, Spain in Crisis: A Collective Response could not be more necessary or timely.

FILM 5: Asier eta biok/Asier and I (in Spanish and Basque with English subtitles). Streaming access to watch this film between 11/13/2020 and 11/22/2020. Zoom discussion in English and Spanish: Monday, Nov. 16 @ 7 pm. DESCRIPTION: It tells the story of the friendship between Aitor and Asier Aranguren from their time growing up together in the conflict-affected and politicized ‘80s of the Basque Country. Eventually, Aitor moved to Madrid to pursue his dream of becoming an actor, and Asier joined the terrorist group ETA. Years later, Asier was arrested and interned in a French prison, where he was detained for eight years. When Asier was released in 2010, Aitor wanted to recover his relationship with his childhood friend and try to understand what could have led to him to join ETA, so he went to his release in France with a camera in order to tell this story.