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March 11, 2009

Outside the Box [Office]

New SCA Screening Series Exposes Unexposed Films

By By Charles Benimoff

It’s one thing to tell people “think outside the box,” but it’s another to actually show them how to do it. Thanks to the creation this semester of the Outside the Box [Office] screening series, students, alumni, faculty and other guests have that chance as they take in a unique roster of first-run films from around the globe that they might otherwise never see.

The series, created by SCA Special Events Coordinator Alex Ago and launched on January 2, offers fare from Canada, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Philippines, Russia, Thailand, as well as the United States and several other nations. Genres and themes run the gamut from the story of a boy who travels across America to get his wheelchair customized by MTV’s Pimp My Ride to the tale of a Filipino family that operates a run-down porn theater.

“A lot of people think the cinema school only exposes our students to mainstream film and television,” Ago said. “But there’s much, much more than that, from documentary production to international studies, to experimental animation and interactive projects. We created this series with an eye toward augmenting that exposure,” he continued.

Critical Studies Professor Akira Mizuta Lippit also commented on the potential of the series. “There’s always room to improve the diversity of the things you bring in, not just in terms of origin but also in terms of style, of politics, of experimental or avant-garde filmmaking or video artist.”

Arranging the screenings has presented some challenges only magnified by the obscurity of the titles Ago is seeking out. As in Leonard Maltin’s CTCS 466 Theatrical Film Symposium class, the screening selections here, ranging from the Thai actioner Chocolate to the powerful experimental American documentary Must Read After My Death, are heavily dependent on chance and availability of the prints. Not all of the studios have been able to loan a pre-release copy of their movies to the school so Ago has been forced to work with what he can get. Thankfully, however, he is good at getting things.

Reactions to the selections so far have been positive, particularly from international students, who are happy to see their countries represented.

“What they're doing is great,” said Nathaniel Go, who is a senior working on his B.F.A. in screenwriting. “We need to recognize that there are other regions in the world out there telling their own stories through film. I feel I can learn a lot from watching those that are not mainstream,” he added after attending the screening of the drama Serbis, which comes from his home nation, the Philippines.

European cinema has and will be represented, though not in the classic form students are used to seeing in courses such as CTCS 201 International Cinema. February 25 featured the exhibition of Nikita Mikhalkov’s 12, a modern retelling of 12 Angry Men, and the French film Shall We Kiss? is slated to unspool on March 19.

“Students learn about the French New Wave in class, so this will provide a way for them to see what French cinema is like today,” explained Ago. “It would be a shame if one’s only experience of French film was, say, Goddard and nothing else.”

Beyond broadening the viewers’ world, the screenings also serve the artists. Several of the presentations feature question and answer sessions with the people involved in the production. Follow-ups can also take place online.

“Whenever we attend a screening, we send a virtual tip to the filmmakers supporting their work and creativity,” said Go.

Outside the Box [Office] screenings take place, with a few noted exceptions, every Wednesday night at 7 P.M., in SCA 112. Special weekend screenings will be arranged for indie films while Wednesdays are used for documentary and foreign works. Screenings are open to all students, faculty, alumni, and friends.