The DeBartolo Performing Arts Center (DPAC) is hosting “Albertine Cinematheque and Contemporary French Film,” a film series that runs from January 19th to March 2nd on Thursday nights at 6:30 p.m. Each week, students from Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s, Holy Cross, IUSB and community members in South Bend enrolled in the one-credit course watch contemporary French films and then stay after for a discussion with a faculty member. Anyone can watch the films at DPAC, even if they are not enrolled in the course.
Dr. Sonja Stojanovic, assistant professor of French and Francophone studies, is the instructor for the course. She said the series is funded by Albertine cinematheque that is part of the FACE Foundation (French-American Cultural Exchange in Education and the Arts) that invites applications every year for the festival grant program.
“This year we are one of 50 other campuses to receive the grant,” Stojanovic said. “A list of about 20 contemporary films is made available by the cinematheque program and we are invited to choose at least six films and create public events surrounding these films.”
Ricky Herbst, cinema program manager of the Browning Cinema at DPAC, spoke further about how the series was conceptualized.
“We have a mix of films that explore the colonial past and present of France particularly as it relates to West Africa. That is one kind of narrative that emerges from this very eclectic series,” Herbst said.
Justin Klonoski, a sophomore at Notre Dame, enrolled in the course to apply what he’s learnt in previous French courses which he has taken as part of his International Economics major.
“These are… movies made in the last two to three years, so just being able to understand the socio-economic context behind these movies… really helped me develop an appreciation for the talent of the creators and modern French culture,” said Klonoski, who will be studying abroad in Paris in the fall.
Klonoski said he enjoyed the film “Nous” (We) by Alice Diop, the first film of the series, that played on Jan. 19. The director is the daughter of Senegalese immigrants who grew up in the banlieue, the suburbs of Paris.
“The point of the movie was that her mother died a few years ago, and she regretted not having a lot of recording and film of her,” Klonoski explained. “So she decided to… create a film of other people in the banlieue like the elderly, young boys, there’s even a scene with alcoholics.”
Herbst contextualized how local audiences can think about “Nous.”
“The director comes from a background and a place where her voice would traditionally not be highlighted. She’s meditating on what it means to be part of a culture and knowing that if you’re not going to be fully part of that culture, you do your best to put your stamp on it,” Herbst said.
Herbst explained that the film raises big, philosophical questions we are all able to enjoy and think about, such as “how would I make this movie about my own life about my own environment?” and “how could I tell a story about on campus or in South Bend?”
Stojanovic said she is looking forward to the screening of the animated film “Josep” that is set during the Second World War and will be screened on Feb. 9. Stojanovic said over email that the film tells the story of Josep Bartoli, a painter and cartoonist who, in 1939, became a refugee following the Spanish Civil War and was detained in a French internment camp.
“Each film screened in the series is followed by a discussion moderated by Notre Dame faculty and ‘Josep’ will be moderated by Pedro Aguilera-Mellado, assistant professor of Spanish and Iberian Studies, who is working with colleagues in Spain to connect us with a special guest… I hope people stay for the discussion and find out who [the guest is]” Stojanovic said.
DPAC has been organizing film series like these since 2018 under the title “Learning Beyond the Classics.”
“We make readings, introductions and discussions available to hybrid classes of students and community members,” Herbst said. “We have the price point at $2… and we hope that that lowers the barriers for people who want to come in and take a college level class. The series is free for Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s, Holy Cross, IUSB and high school students.”
Klonoski emphasized how accessible and relatable the films in the series are.
“Even if you don’t understand French, the subtitles were really accurate. They didn’t take the direct translation of the French… but they actually took the more artistic meaning behind it,” Klonoski said.
Stojanovic views the series as a way for people to expand their horizons.
“The French section of the department of romance languages and literatures is planning on offering more film-based 1-credit courses in the future, open to all no matter the level of French – [so] look for us when you sign up for courses under ROFR,” Stojanovic said.
In his work curating the series, Herbst said his primary objective was for people to gain an awareness of their biases and to give them the tools to become a more informed audience member, not only for movies they might watch, but for the news they encounter and the stories they read.
“A really good way to become a better person is to become a more astute movie watcher, because you need self awareness… to very quickly interpret the world in front of you,” Herbst said.