Cultural Film Fests

By Maddie Gombis  In accordance with North Park’s desire for students to engage the city as their classroom, Dr. Robert Hostetter offers a class during which he uses Chicago film festivals as a teaching tool. Throughout the summer, students have the opportunity to attend the Chicago International Film Series, work with Dr. Hostetter at the Chicago Cultural Center downtown, and discover the importance of film festivals and international film to our understanding of others.

As a communications class, the 10-week long hybrid program requires students to meet at the Chicago Cultural Center for class discussion. Dr. Hostetter asks that students attend festivals such as the Chicago International Film Series, the 14th African Diaspora Film Festival, the 22nd Black Harvest International Film Festival and the 13th Annual Screenings Program. On top of viewing at least ten films among these festivals, students will engage texts that will allow them to draw connections and understand the cultural significance of each film.

The 14th African Diaspora Film Festival, which takes place on June 12-18, presents a range of Black independent films from across the globe in an effort to provide viewers with a diverse mix of “foreign, independent, classic and urban films representing the global Black experience,” according to Facets.com.

The Gene Siskel Film Center hosts the 22nd Annual Black Harvest Film Festival, which features Chicago premieres of films that tell the stories of African-American and African diasporic experiences. According to their website, they wish to show works that raise questions and touch on issues that relate to the global Black experience.

The festival that is central to the class is the Chicago International Film Festival Summer Screening Program. According to Timeout.com, this free weekly screening program exhibits a wide range on “international award winners spanning different styles and genres.”

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The primary goal of this class is to use Chicago as a “‘classroom’ to discover intercultural points of view, the interplay of gender, class and ethnicity, exile or diaspora experience, national cinemas, international co-productions, transnational cinema, and the cultural importance of film festivals,” Dr. Hostetter’s syllabus says. He wants students to explore and question the importance of film festivals in our culture and how they “develop intercultural awareness and understanding.”

Historically, Chicago has been a beacon of hope and "home" for immigrants finding a place in America, but by the same token, it has been a place of unrest as cultures clash and fail to make peace. Attending film festivals that show a wide variety of experiential accounts allows viewers—most notably North Park students—to begin engaging in a multicultural dialogue.

Most importantly, the prominence of film festivals that deal with the black, African and African-American experience is crucial to engaging and understanding a part of the city that most North Park students rarely dare to enter. The South Side gets a bad rap for its stereotypical gang violence, but it is such an integral part of Chicago's history as an immigrant-built city.

Not only does this Chicago Film Festival class work in tandem with the Chicago Intensive to truly make the city a classroom for North Parkers, but it also works to further the “intercultural” facet of North Park’s values. Whether or not students choose to be thoughtful about their intercultural experience, they will take away a multitude of stories from the myriad immigrants that built Chicago and have inhabited it since.