by Trace Thomas, photo by Riannon Rowley
It is not every day that someone can experience a different culture in Lubbock, especially for free, but the Global Lens does its best to do just that.
Global Lens is a film series that is curated on an annual basis by an organization called the Global Film Initiative, a non-profit based out of San Francisco, Calif. Susan Weeks Coulter, who is the board chair, founded the organization in 2002. Its mission is to promote cross-cultural understanding through the medium of cinema. It is the only traveling feature-length narrative film series of its kind in the world.
The Global Film Initiative holds an annual competition every year that film makers from around the world submit their work. Out of that, an advisory board made up of film makers from around the world picks 10 films. Associate Professor Robert Peaslee Ph.D., first brought the Global Lens film series to the College of Mass Communications four years ago.
“All these films are from outside of what we would call the west, North America and Western Europe basically,” Peaslee said. “The idea is to get an audience here in the United States.”
For the 10 chosen films, the initiative helps market and distribute to the different institutions that host the series. They open the series every year at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Global Lens has screenings in 44 U.S. states and one U.S. territory. There are more than 60 institutional and theatrical screening partners. Texas Tech is the only university in Texas that shows the films.
“This is the third year we hosted the whole series and the first year we showed three films, so four years total,” Peaslee said.
Peaslee first heard of Global Lens as a doctoral student at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
“I really like what they are doing,” Peaslee said, “so when I got here I just started looking around for some money.”
The Institute for Hispanic and International Communication, directed by Kent Wilkinson, Ph.D., and the Cross Cultural Advancement Center have been sponsors since the beginning. This year the Louise Hopkins Underwood Center for the Arts and the Flatland Film series have become sponsors. All the sponsors take part in sharing the cost for bringing the films in.
“It doesn’t cost a lot of money but it does cost a little to bring the films here,” Peaslee said, “I started knocking on some doors for sponsorship.”
Associate Professor Jimmie Reeves, Ph.D., remembered when Global Lens sent out a number of e-mails soliciting interests among faculty of Texas Tech to put on this film series.
“To be honest I saw it and thought, no way is it too much work,” Reeves said, “but Dr. Peaslee got on the faculty. He was young and didn’t have any common sense at the time and didn’t realize what he was getting into.”
Another component of the Global Lens screening that not every other institution does is a panel that follows each of the films. The panel consists of three or four faculty from across campus that helps put context behind the film. The panel gives the audience a little more background to what they have seen. Peaslee usually tries to have a mix of faculty that will provide the audience with lots of different angles on the film at any given time. Peaslee said that just a few criteria would lead him to ask someone to be on a panel.
“Sometimes if they just have a general knowledge of film, if they have some geographic understanding of where the film is located, sometimes it is over language, and finally if somebody has expertise on a particular thematic concern of the film,” Peaslee said. “For example if the film is about suicide or a trouble family relationship I may have someone from psychology come or human development and family studies come in.”
Most of the faculty members have served more than once. Reeves has served on the panel more than nine times. Reeves explained how he usually prepares for the panel.
“I always try to watch the film as close to the screen as possible,” Reeves said. “I usually find something general to talk about, what students can get out of Global Lens as a whole, and something specific to talk about, what someone could get out of the particular movie.”
Senior Electronic Media & Communications student Alison Morris went to multiple screenings this year. She explained that the panels would help her understand the themes and symbols presented in the films.
“I didn’t know what some of the films were about and having a panel of experts giving me a detailed analysis really made the experience,” Morris said.
The feedback from the faculty and staff from the College of Mass Communications has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I certainly get a lot of positive feedback over the quality of the films and the overall presence of the films on the campus,” Peaslee said. “We get a fair amount of people from the community because they do not get to see anything like this in the Tinseltown or Movies 16 because there are not a lot of screens devoted to American independent films, let alone foreign films.”
Opening night this year brought in close to 100 viewers for the screening. Global Lens usually draws anywhere from 40 to 60 people to a screening. The audience usually consists of students seeking extra credit. Peaslee said most students’ reactions are mixed.
“A lot of the films are kind of difficult, and that is the point, to experience film as something that can be complex or challenging or difficult rather than simply escapist and enjoyable which is what we get on a weekly basis in the movie theaters,” Peaslee said. “That said, I think most students appreciate it once they go. Generally they find that they might not want to do it all the time, going to a movie that presents these ways of seeing the world or imagining what film could be; they see it as an educational experience.”
Morris, who originally went to the screenings to gain extra credit for a class, described her opinions of the films she saw as being unlike anything else she had seen. She described the content as rough, but beautifully crafted so that it transcended a normal viewing experience.
“The films were so intense and raw and enthralling, I felt like I was experiencing deeply personal stories from people who have gone through horrendous tragedies and struggles,” Morris said. “The movies were shot and told in such an artistic and often symbolic way that they really made you feel things.”
Peaslee describes the movies as being character-driven.
“Instead of overtly telling you a story they tend to challenge you to think about what you are seeing while you are seeing it to sort of be emotionally involved on that level,” Peaslee said.
Morris explained the educational importance the films had on her as she said the films allowed her to be placed in the conflict of these stories.
“The films made me really think and care,” Morris said, “it was like learning about war and genocide from a tragically human standpoint. It made me truly understand suffering.”
With an overall successful year, Global Lens is on track to return in years to come.
“I think there is a lot of support to keep doing it and there is full support to keep going as long as we can,” Peaslee said. “It is just a matter of finding the money each year.”
Reeves believes that as long as Peaslee is at Texas Tech, Global Lens will be at Texas Tech.
“I worry that once [Peaslee] leaves it may not survive his departure,” Reeves said. “I do not see it as being endangered at this point.”
In the end, Peaslee just hopes to bring people who love movies together.
“Part of (Global Lens) is building a community of people who are interested in international film who can then find other ways to contribute to that sort of thing,” Peaslee said. mc
Trace Thomas is a May 2012 public relations graduate from Levelland, Texas.
Riannon Rowley is a senior electronic media & communications major from El Paso, Texas.