New Approaches to Teaching World Cinema/ Cinema Journal Teaching Dossier Vol. 2(1)



New Approaches to Teaching World Cinema

Cinema Journal Teaching Dossier Vol. 2(1) Winter 2014
Co-editors: Diane Carson and William Costanzo

Table of Contents


William Costanzo and Diane Carson

At a time of accelerating globalization, when our students’ movies and their lives are increasingly shaped by transnational flows of media, politics, finance, technology, and cultural values, introducing them to world cinema is more important than ever. Yet the challenges facing us as teachers remain far-ranging and complex.

Which films, regions, periods, and movements should we focus on? What textbooks, paratexts, and other resources should we use? How should we address the problem of coverage in a one- or two- semester course? How do we overcome the obstacles of access, subtitles, or cultural differences? How can we best incorporate relevant issues reflected across time and countries? How can we adapt our courses to changes in the field? These are among the pressing problems foremost in our minds as we design a new syllabus or prepare to meet a class, yet they are often minimized or missing from our scholarly publications and conference presentations.

This dossier seeks to place such issues front and center. It highlights promising, innovative ideas from experienced teachers who take different approaches to world cinema, approaches that reflect significant developments in scholarship, pedagogy, theory, and current trends in global film production.

The essays offered here represent a range of theoretical perspectives, institutional settings, and course levels. The authors teach the gamut of students from general undergraduates to graduate film majors in schools ranging from Western Washington University to the University of the West Indies. Their pedagogies are grounded in the issues and debates that characterize our profession, pedagogies based on teaching films both from traditional canons and from the newest frontiers of global cinema.

What our six contributors share, among other beliefs, is a commitment to student-centered learning, to expanding their students’ film experiences, deepening their understanding of the world encompassed or excluded by the world’s cinematic texts, and giving them the wherewithal to make their own discoveries. It is no accident that so many of these essays cite Dudley Andrew’s term, “an atlas of world cinema,” which suggests an analogy between teachers and field guides: offering students different maps of the world, helping them trace the global flows, the crisscrossing paths of influence and power, furnishing them with exploratory tools rather than with encyclopedic knowledge of the terrain, inviting them to struggle with the unfamiliar instead of making everywhere feel just like home.

In the lead essay, Michael Talbott confronts a central problem of teaching world cinema with a simple but effective strategy. By placing a question mark at the end of his course title, he opens worlds of possibilities for those of us who have been struggling with contradictory texts, confused canons, and unwieldy syllabi. After a quick survey of colleges and textbooks that define world cinema in wildly different ways, he proposes an approach that makes this “terminological instability” the main subject for our students. He invites them to explore along with us the historical shifts in uses of the term, its various meanings around the world, and the factors that motivate these meanings. In this way, students learn that definitions of world cinema can depend on when, where, and why it is applied. Talbott describes practical classroom projects that accomplish these ambitious goals, projects that anchor students’ research in specific films, filmmakers, and movements while giving them far-ranging opportunities for building and testing broader theories. It is this focus on the questions surrounding “world cinema as a critical category” that gives “a continuous through-line to the course.”

Shekhar Deshpande and Meta Mazaj take up the challenges of balance and inclusion. What place in our curricula can we give to films that are overshadowed by the blockbusters dominating world markets? Deshpande and Mazaj begin with a clever and engaging use of Gravity (2013) to establish, in both literal and figurative terms, their argument about Hollywood’s global aspirations and those “muzzled other voices” represented by the Inuit fisherman whom Sandra Bullock briefly contacts from her troubled space station. A web-link gives us access to the fisherman’s perspective (a video made by the director’s son) that is obscured and eventually erased amid the big-effects adventure of an American astronaut in orbit. Their essay seeks to recover the muted voices by offering conceptual tools to help students map world cinema in all its dynamic complexity. Their three-point cinematic compass registers the many shifting centers of filmmaking activity, each with its own histories and cultural perspectives, while it measures the interplay of aesthetic movements and geopolitical orientations. Deshpande and Mazaj illustrate these intricate ideas with examples that many students will find engaging and provocative. Their links connect us to short videos like “Aningaaq” (the Inuit film), Caju and Castanha’s performance in Chacun son cinéma (a Brazilian send-up of the Cannes industry), and a Coen brothers short (a Texan watches a Turkish film, Climates, and finds “a helluva lot of truth in it”) that will enliven and enlighten almost any classroom.

Addressing “ideological problems of cultural imperialism and the attendant racial and cultural self-alienation of non-white peoples” at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Christopher Meir recenters “the traditionally American/Eurocentric cinematic canon at both the macro/curricular and micro/course design levels.” Resisting homogenizing tendencies “inherent in the design of omnibus ‘world cinema’ courses,” his university’s introductory film analysis courses validate non-western cinema by highlighting the aesthetic strategies as well as the social and political contexts of Caribbean cinema. Similarly, courses devoted to cinemas of Africa, India and Latin America “emphasize national and regional specificity.” This pedagogical enterprise offers an alternative to teaching “the ‘norm’ in individual classes and in terms of larger curricular design,” warning against ghettoizing non-European and non-American cinema as well as cautioning against monolithic treatment of non-western cinema.

By contrast, Jeffrey Middents, who teaches a single-semester “National Cinema Study” course, reevaluates his upper-level undergraduate course with an eye to including more research work.  “More interested in teaching a general methodological approach to national cinemas,” Middents solves the problem of ever-expanding content combined with the need for “more serious engagement with the research process” by shifting the “pedagogical approach back to student-centered learning.” “Applying different methodological and historical approaches to the cinema writ large,” illustrating his goals with his own approach to Mexican cinema, he guides students’ case studies with each student “gaining expertise in another country’s cinematic tradition” while also learning that “the research process itself for each country is unique.” This approach to national cinema leads students to discover “the intersections and disjunctions that make up the real cacophony of global filmmaking.”

Equally committed as our preceding authors to guiding students to recognize “the personal relevance of global films,” Matthew Holtmeier asks students to connect film content directly to a current event with “the larger goal of this assignment . . . to discover something new about what a student already knows through an unfamiliar global text.” His essay takes us through the four stages of his assignment, showing how students work to relate personal/cultural connections between their experiences and those depicted in a film. Through a specific example (and links to others), he details ways “the connection between the global film and the current event mutually enriches our understanding of both” while also communicating the contemporary relevance of texts to the students.

And finally, equally concerned with the cinematic representation of real events, Eralda Lameborshi uses a comparison/contrast approach, taking two films depicting the same historical moment in order to “emphasize the heterogeneity of the regions they narrate, and [to] complicate narratives by decentralizing dominant historical and cultural accounts and placing them in conversation with marginal ones.” She thereby urges students to “consider the positions of the audiences, the directors, and the producers,” knowing that there is “power in this ability to collect and reconstruct knowledge about histories and cultures, and it is crucial to analyze these junctures in world cinema classrooms.” Choosing director Angelina Jolie’s In the Land of Blood and Honey (2011) and Danis Tanović’s No Man’s Land (2001), she illustrates Edward Said’s contrapuntal reading in the context of Eastern European film. Lameborshi’s strategy, and our other contributors’ approaches, transform the film studies classroom “into a space where humanities students can see the omissions and inclusions, the amplified and the voiceless, and thus, gain a better understanding of the stories films tell.”

All of our authors have been mindful of the benefits of electronic publication, especially the ability to leap with a mouse click to related texts in a variety of media. In this dossier, you’ll find many useful web links to film clips, scholarly articles, course syllabi, sample assignments, and popular websites. We believe that all teachers of world cinema can gain from the explorations and analyses modeled by our contributors, who urge us to reexamine our conceptions of the field, expand our visions, and strengthen our classroom practice.


William Costanzo is a SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of English and Film and has taught at Westchester Community College for more than forty-four years. A graduate of Columbia College and Columbia University, he has written six books on writing and film, including Great Films and How to Teach Them (NCTE, 2004) and The Writer’s Eye: Composition in the Multimedia Age (McGraw-Hill, 2007). Dr. Costanzo’s latest book, World Cinema Through Global Genres (2014), has just been published by Wiley-Blackwell.

Diane Carson is Professor Emerita at St. Louis Community College and past president of the University Film and Video Association. Her latest book, written with Cynthia Baron and Mark Bernard, is Appetites and Anxieties: Food, Film, and the Politics of Representation (Wayne State, 2014). She has contributed to and edited several anthologies on John Sayles, on acting, and on multicultural media. She has received the SCMS (2008) and the UFVA (2010) Pedagogy Awards for her commitment to teaching.

Shekhar Deshpande is Professor and Chair of the Media and Communication Department at Arcadia University, where he held the Frank and Evelyn Steinbrucker Endowed Chair from 2005-2008. He teaches a broad variety of courses in film theory and analysis, critical theory, cultural studies, and world cinema. His writings have appeared in Senses of Cinema, Studies in European Cinema, Seminar and Widescreen. He is the author of the forthcoming Anthology Film and World Cinema (Continuum, 2014), and co-author, with Meta Mazaj, of New World Cinema (forthcoming by Routledge, 2015).

Matthew Holtmeier is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Film Studies at Western Washington University. He received his PhD from the University of St Andrews, Scotland, with a dissertation focusing on world cinema, contemporary political  movements, and the production of subjectivity in film. At Western, he teaches a  number of world cinema courses, such as Introduction to Film Studies with a  global component, Postwar Global Film, and World Cinemas and Contemporary  Political Movements. He is also currently developing an article that has been accepted for the anthology Teaching Transnational Cinema and Media: Politics and Pedagogy (editors Katarzyna Marciniak and Bruce Bennett) titled, “Understanding  Context, Resisting Hermeneutics: Ways of Seeing Transnational Relations,” with co-author Chelsea Wessels.

Eralda L. Lameborshi is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Stephen F. Austin State University and a doctoral candidate at Texas A&M University. Her work focuses on world cinema and post-1989 Eastern European film. Other areas of interest include film theory, postcolonial theory, and contemporary literatures of immigration, migration, and exile.

Meta Mazaj is a Senior Lecturer in Cinema Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. She has taught world cinema in both large lecture classes and smaller seminars, and most of her courses in the history and theory of cinema include world cinema as either a primary focus or a component of the course. Her articles on Eastern European Cinema, Balkan cinema, “small” and marginal cinema have appeared in Cineaste, Studies in Eastern European Cinema, and Situations: Project of the Radical Imagination. She is the author of National and Cynicism in the Post-1990s Balkan Cinema (VDM Verlag, 2008); co-author, with Timothy Corrigan and Patricia White, of Critical Visions in Film Theory: Classic and Contemporary Readings (Bedford St. Martins, 2010); and co-author, with Shekhar Deshpande, of New World Cinema (forthcoming by Routledge, 2015).

Christopher Meir has taught Film Studies at UWI, St. Augustine since 2008, where he has taught Indian Cinema, designed the department’s courses in African Cinemas and Latin American Cinemas and helped to lead the curricular shift towards non-western cinemas. He has also published an article on film education in the Caribbean in The Education of the Filmmaker in Africa, the Middle East and the Americas (Mette Hjort, ed., 2013) and written several forthcoming pieces on Indian and South African cinemas.  He is the author of Scottish Cinema: Texts and Contexts (2014, Manchester University Press), the co-editor of Beyond the Bottom-Line: The Producer in Film and Television Studies (2014, Continuum).

Jeffrey Middents is Associate Professor in the Department of Literature at American University in Washington, DC, specifically focusing on late 20th Century Latin American fiction and film.  His film-oriented courses cover a wide range of concepts, including national cinemas, genre, the auteur, stardom, film criticism, and short films. His published scholarship includes the book Writing National Cinema: Film Journals and Film Culture in Peru (Dartmouth, 2009) and essays on documentary aesthetics in Chile, Peruvian director Luis Llosa’s films made under producer Roger Corman, the concept of “Latin American Cinema” in the 21st century, and the racial complexities of the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. His current project is an auteur study of Mexican/transnational director Alfonso Cuarón.

Michael Talbott is a Lecturer in global cinema at the University of Vermont. He was previously an Adjunct Professor of Film Studies at Moorpark College and has regularly taught Contemporary World Cinema. Also a PhD Candidate in the Department of Cinema Studies at New York University, his dissertation is titled Familiar Difference: Film Festivals, Film Funds and Contemporary World Cinema. He is the winner of a 2010 Society for Cinema and Media Studies Student Writing Award for his essay “A Global Language for World Cinema: The Twin Aesthetics of North-South Coproduction.”

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