Film series aims to broaden diversity

By Mary Mattingly | 1/8/14 7:19pm

While Hollywood films often reach many corners of the world, not as many Americans can say they consistently seek out foreign language films. The Chiaroscuro International Film Series, which kicks off its eighth season on Jan. 12, aims to bring culture to Grand Rapids while encouraging audience members to seek culture, themselves.

“We basically work to bring awareness (to) broad-based diversity and culture,” said Katharina Häusler-Gross, a professor of German and Foreign Language Methodology at Aquinas College and president of Chiaroscuro. “It is culture defined in an international sense. There are 32 nations represented in the Grand Rapids metropolitan area. It only seems fitting that this (film) series puts emphasis on an awareness of the various cultures represented throughout the world and in Grand Rapids.”

From January to March, the series presents a foreign language film every other Sunday at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts located in downtown Grand Rapids. Each series, which is free to attend, has a theme that ties all films together. This year, the series presents “Global Cities” and on Sunday will premiere its first film, the 2006 French film, “Paris, Je t’Aime,” or “Paris, I Love You.” Most importantly, the series is meant to bring Grand Rapids students and filmmakers together to spark discussion and form new relationships.

“Film is a combining medium,” Häusler-Gross said, “which can also be seen in the number of co-productions Chiaroscuro features this year. The number of cities depicted in these films – from Paris, Hamburg, Budapest, Istanbul, Krakow to Tallinn – show metropolitan areas that can be found in various parts of the world. This year, a number of global cities in Eastern Europe are featured that may not be well known by many Americans. While people may know of Hamburg (Germany), how many have heard of Tallinn, the capital of Estonia? The films seek to portray cultural parts from the world that are not always well known by Americans.”

The series begins at 2 p.m. with the showing of a short film, which has been created by a local filmmaker. The people behind the film, such as the filmmaker, producer and actors, are invited to attend a Q&A session following the showing. This portion of the series aims to draw attention to up-and-coming filmmakers in the West Michigan area.

“This has been very well received,” Häusler-Gross said. “The audience does not just want to see films, but to also meet people the people behind it. It’s a wonderful opportunity for the audience and artists to get together and converse about how the film was made or what techniques were used.”

After the short film is the international feature, followed by a panel discussion. Experts in academic fields related to the film are brought in to help the discussion along.

“I was asked to participate in the panel discussion following the projection of the movie because I am originally from Paris (and) came to the U.S. in 1984, but lived and studied in Paris until then,” said Anne Caillaud, a professor of French at Grand Valley State University. “I have regularly attended the Chiaroscuro film series over the past years as a spectator. I think this is a unique opportunity to bring the Grand Rapids community, as well as institutions of higher education, together.”

The afternoon concludes with a social hour. Refreshments, which are also free to attendees, are provided from the country in which the film was made. This Sunday, hors d’oeuvres will be provided from Paris Café and Desserts of downtown Grand Rapids, which specializes in European desserts.

While the series strives to bring cultural awareness to Grand Rapids, it also works to attract business. The series is meant to encourage attendees to explore any restaurants and other businesses that may be near the UICA.

“January through March, it can be a lot of snow and cold (in Grand Rapids),” Häusler-Gross said. “But we are trying to encourage people to go downtown and come to the UICA. We wanted to give people a vibrant event to come to; that is also why it is free of charge. We want to get people downtown and exploring downtown Grand Rapids.”
While Hollywood films and internet-streaming media sites such as Netflix may be readily available to college students, Häusler-Gross urges them to seek entertainment outside of the mainstream.

“We know you have at your fingertips anything you want, but why not come down to the UICA and explore your own city?” she said. “Get together with students from other colleges and make new friends, form new relationships and experience something your college might not provide for you.”

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