Imagine if you were a filmmaker, spent perhaps years making the film you always wanted to make, but when it came time to open it to audiences you are told the film will be banned in your own country. Art, the art of making films, often reflects real life. But if the film, the story, is censored by government authorities, what does that reveal about life in that particular country? This fascinating subject, Censorship in Films, will be the theme of this year's Chiaroscuro International Film Series held at the Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts beginning January 13.
"These are films with compelling stories that entertain and inform audiences," says Gretchen Minnhaar, founder of Chiaroscuro. "I'm especially proud to help bring them to Grand Rapids audiences. The subject matter is often considered too controversial in their countries of origin, and then banned from public showing. Here in Grand Rapids, they should elicit engaging discussions from our panel and audience."
Last year's theme was Humor Around the World. The Chiaroscuro series showcased five films from five different nations, each one a comedy. Audiences got the opportunity to see how humor often is the same and yet sometimes preceived differently in many parts of the world. For the Censorship in Films series, audiences will watch movies and hear panels discuss the subject matter in films from countries such as East Germany, Senagal, China, India, and Lebanon.
The films are shown on Sundays, starting at 2:30 p.m., from January through May (see the films and dates below), free of charge, at the Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts (UICA), 2 West Fulton, in downtown Grand Rapids. Engaging discussions by panelists and/or specialists in related areas also are scheduled, and wine and refreshments are served. Preceding each feature presentation is a short film by a local filmmaker. The films in the series include:
January 13: Earth (India) Earth (released in India as "1947: Earth") is a 1998 film directed by Deepa Mehta, that is based on Bapsi Sidhwa's novel Cracking India. The story is set in Lahore in the time period directly before and during the partition of India in 1947. A young girl, Lenny, narrates the story through the voice of her adult self. She is from a wealthy Parsi family who hopes to remain neutral to the rising tensions between Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims in the area. Lenny's nanny Shanta, a beautiful Hindu woman, is involved with the masseur Hassan, a Muslim. Both are part of a small group of friends from different faiths (some of whom work for Lenny's family). However, with the partition of India, this once unified group of friends becomes divided and tragedy ensues, when a train of Muslims arrives at the local depot.
January 27: Moolaadé (Senegal) Moolaadé ("Magical protection") is a 2004 film by Senegalese writer and director Ousmane Sembène. Set in Burkina Faso, the film tells an inspiring story about a group of women who stand up for their rights against the traditions of their village.
It addresses the subject of female genital mutilation, a common practice in a number of African countries, especially those immediately south of the Sahara Desert. The film argues strongly against the practice, depicting a village woman, Collé, who uses moolaadé (magical protection) to protect a group of girls. She is opposed by the villagers who believe in the necessity of female genital cutting, which they call "purification". February 10: Die Architekten (East Germany) Die Architekten ("The Architects"), directed by Peter Kahane, is one of the last East German films made by the East German DEFA film production company. It was released shortly after the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990 and is considered a significant cineastic contribution to the country's time of political and personal transition.
The film depicts the society's grinding down of Daniel Brenner, an idealistic architect in his late thirties who - like many others of his generation - is deeply frustrated by life under the old Communists but somehow tolerates it. More than any film in recent memory, this film portrays the destructive impact that a spiritually cold environment can have on the human spirit.
February 24: The Blue Kite (China) The Blue Kite is a 1993 drama directed by Tian Zhuangahuang. Banned by the Chinese government for its content, the film reveals the impact that various political movements - including the Anti-Rightist Movement and the Cultural Revolution - had on directors in the 1950s and 1960s. However, the film soon found a receptive international audience.
The story is told from the perspective of a young boy (Tietou) who is growing up in the 1950s and 1960s in Beijing, who experiences the changing impact of patriarchal figures in his family during three episodes: the Hundred Flowers Campaign, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution.
March 10: Beirut Hotel (Lebanon) Beirut Hotel (Arabic: ????? ?????? Beirut bel layl) was directed in 2011 by Lebanese film maker Danielle Arbid. Banned from viewing in Lebanon due to mentioning the Hariri assassination in the plot, the film tells the story of Zoha, a young Lebanese singer trying to break free of her ex-husband's influence and Mathieu, a French lawyer suspected of being a spy. Over ten days, they experience an affair made up of fear and desire, intrigue and violence. The censors claimed that "the film's depiction of the political situation would endanger Lebanon's security." Since the end of the fifteen-year-long war, in 1990, Lebanese officials have been promoting a dangerous amnesia to the country's troubles. Artists, especially filmmakers, have been continuously trying to counter that amnesia by creating works that discuss, confront, and analyze Lebanon's tempestuous past and present.