Cinemas of Economic Crisis: Interdisciplinary Teaching in Languages & Film Studies

[Ed. note: In our On Teaching series, we invite professors who have taught courses that engage with issues related to cities and culture to contribute their syllabi to the site, and to share with our readers some reflections on how the course went. See the bottom of the post to download a copy of Hanlon and Tibbitts’s syllabus, and to view other posts in the series, visit its archives.]

We titled our co-taught course Cinemas in Crisis: Contemporary Argentine and Spanish Cinema, organizing the class around these two nations and their recent film production. We wanted to expose students to the relationship between contemporary Spanish cinema (1993-2005) and the “New Argentine Cinema” movement (roughly 1997 on). A primary aim was for students to experience how each country responds to and represents certain economic shifts and realities in their cinema. By focusing on the cinema being made in these two countries, we were able to 1) control the language by having Spanish-language (with only one English film) films, 2) make use of each instructor’s area of expertise and strengths, 3) concentrate on those two countries’ particular political and economic changes, and 4) maintain a dialogue about how each cinema may impact the other artistically, in terms of the subjects they represent, and financially, in terms of production and distribution models.

A unique feature of this course is that we divided the class into two sections; during the first seven weeks Hanlon taught New Argentine Cinema and Tibbitts taught contemporary Spanish cinema. On week eight we switched sections and repeated our seven-week modules. During the final week the two sections were brought together to explore the current relationship between Spanish and Argentine cinemas, with a particular focus on Ibermedia (a funding organization for Spanish-language cinema dominated by Spain) as a new form of cultural colonization.

We saw several benefits to this approach. First, our model provides workable solutions to some common problems facing language and Film Studies departments. For liberal arts colleges in particular, many of which have only one specialist in areas like Classics or Film Studies, it also offers a way to better integrate small programs into the curriculum and utilize faculty expertise. A common conundrum for language programs is how to co-teach with colleagues in other disciplines while still maintaining high levels of language learning and exposure for students seeking greater language proficiency. Language programs can become insular by not being able to share areas of study with students who do not speak the given language of the course. Hoping to alleviate this we designed a course in which both Spanish language students and English-speaking students from other fields of study could participate.

For small Film Studies programs dependent on cross-listing with other departments to assure a sufficient selection of courses for students minoring or majoring in the discipline, the advantage of this model is that it assures Film Studies (i.e. film analysis, history and theory) is part of the curriculum of these courses. While there are many instructors in language departments with training in Film Studies, most have none, nor is it usually considered necessary to teach a film course in a language department. In language programs, films are primarily used to reinforce language skills while giving insight into culture and literature, and the instructor’s expertise in language and culture suffice for this purpose. Film Studies treats films as cultural artifacts as well, but primarily as texts to be analyzed using a set of tools or methodologies related to but apart from those used in the study of literature. It is conceivable that Film Studies students dependent on cross-listed courses in other departments could remain deficient in the fundamentals of the discipline. Co-teaching, of the kind described here, turns what might seem like a weakness of a small department into as strength. Students are exposed to Film Studies concepts and approaches repeatedly and in different contexts, which is certain to have a positive impact on learning outcomes.

Finally, we would like to note that a major advantage of this model for faculty is that it creates the opportunity for collaboration without drastically increasing the faculty members’ time commitment. Administrators routinely encourage collaboration, and we suspect that most faculty who have tried it would agree with us that it is a satisfying, even reinvigorating, experience as both teachers and scholars. At the same time, we realize that collaboration means more work. For all its benefits, for faculty, students and the college alike, busy instructors teaching up to five courses a semester cannot be blamed for avoiding taking on the extra work. That is why the structure we devised for this course is so important. It did require us to put in a lot more time preparing in the lead-up to teaching the course, but once the course was underway, we were able to recoup some of that time in the second half of the semester, greatly easing our burden in the final week. If economizing time commitment were the only benefit to our model, it might be sufficient to recommend it, but it also had the effect of reigniting the students’ interest by shifting their focus to another part of the Spanish-speaking world.

Cinemas in Crisis Syllabus

 

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