Since April 2010, the Student Learning Center’s Cultural Movie Night has been providing Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center students, faculty and staff an excellent opportunity to get a rare insider’s view into the culture and issues that lie behind many of the languages taught to military personnel at the Presidio of Monterey.
Happening every second Wednesday of the month, Cultural Movie Night’s goal is to encourage the development of cross-cultural competence by screening award-winning and critically acclaimed international films in their original language with English subtitles. Recently, the SLC finished showing their 20th film, “My Tehran for Sale,” Aug. 10.
Each movie includes a post-film discussion covering important issues brought up during the film or relating to the film’s country of origin. Film presenters from DLIFLC facilitate the discussion often adding insights from their personal knowledge and experience to the topic being discussed.
“We are very fortunate to work with great presenters from the target language,” said Dr. Marina Cobb, academic specialist at the SLC, who was tasked with implementing the program in 2010.
“The post-film discussions are extremely beneficial since people get to ask questions and hear various perspectives that cover a broad spectrum,” explained Cobb. “And although we have had differing views, the conversation has always remained very polite.”
Cobb related comments she received after a particularly lively discussion following the showing of a Thai movie. A couple of military officers told her they learned more about the current tension between Thailand’s Muslim and non-Muslim population in that one discussion than during the entire basic language course.
Although the Cultural Movie Night program is targeted to DLIFLC students, it has proved popular with faculty and staff as well. Cobb said that students are usually outnumbered at the films, suggesting this may be due to schedule conflicts and multiple responsibilities that compete for military language student’s time. During the Aug. 10 screening students accounted for slightly less than half the 29 attendees.
Attending Farsi student, Airman Jonathon Cavada, Air Force 517th Training Group, said he heard about the movies from teachers and saw a flyer outside class on a bulletin board.
“I’m here because this type of activity helps when I’m taking the [Defense Language Proficiency Test],” explained Cavada. “If I have a lot of background knowledge of the language’s culture it makes it easier to understand what I am listening to or reading in that language.”
Cavada added that by watching films one can better understand why some things are said in certain ways and learn some sayings that are particular to that language.
“It also makes me more aware of what is going on in Tehran and with the Iranian people,” Cavada said when asked specifically about “My Tehran for Sale.” “It’s the same with anything that you are trying to learn, you have to learn the background. It helps to know what’s going on in the country.”
“My Tehran for Sale,” the 2009 award-winning film from director Granaz Moussavi, follows the struggles of a terminally ill actress living in Iran’s capital city as she forges a relationship with an Iranian-born Australian citizen. This unique insider’s perspective gives insight to the barriers faced by Tehrani women and the artistic community under the current Iranian regime.
The issues presented within the film proved to be eerily prophetic with the recent real-world arrest of the film’s lead actress, Marzieh Vafamehr, by Iranian authorities in July. Her arrest is widely believed to be directly related to her acting in “My Tehran for Sale.”
“The Iranian filmmakers have an unfortunate barrier to face within Iran from state censorship. The success of the Iranian women filmmakers often surprises,” explained Nick Farr, who was co-presenter at the Aug. 10 showing. “However there has been a high price to pay, with many female filmmakers, those in front of the camera and behind, having been arrested by the government with no charge or access to legal representation.”
Farr went on to explain the reality of life for Iranian women is complicated and often very different than the common Western perspective.
“What we see in the West is the Iranian women oppressed and chained by fundamentalist Mullahs,” said Farr during the post-film discussion. “Yet, under the iron rule of Mullahs, Iranian women have received Nobel Peace Prizes, Iranian women have conquered Mount Everest, the current Iranian champion for car racing is a female, and 60 percent of current Iranian college students are female. I am very proud of the strength of Iranian women.”
Text and Photos
Steven L. Shepard , Public Affairs