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Friday, June 04, 2010

Early summer film festival

In my continuing quest to update my film class, I've seen a number of recent flicks (on DVD/DVR) with potential utility. At the very least, I'll now have a better handle on student papers that consider these movies.

First, I finally viewed "Watchmen," which was based on a graphic novel with the same title. I own the book, but haven't yet had a chance to read it. In past semesters, students have reviewed the film for class and it clearly has some implications for international relations. The film is set in an alternate reality in 1985. Richard Nixon is still President, with Henry Kissinger at his side. Dr. Manhattan, injured in a scientific experiment, is a one-man military machine. The big blue character is also essentially a missile defense, protecting the U.S. (and perhaps mankind) against the failure of deterrence. Eventually, the plot finds an independent pathway towards U.S.-Soviet cooperation and perhaps nuclear disarmament.

I didn't find "Watchmen" to be as relevant to my class as "V for Vendetta," also based on a graphic novel and set in an alternate reality. Moreover, the film wouldn't replace "Dr. Strangelove" on my syllabus.

Earlier this week, my spouse and I watched "Offside," an Iranian film focusing on a group of young women trying to attend a World Cup soccer match in Tehran. The regime forbids Iranian women from attending, though one character has a terrific exchange with a soldier (or police officer?) about this practice -- asking why foreign women can attend, why Iranian men and women can attend movies together, etc. The comedic film is very well-done, though perhaps more appropriate for a comparative politics class. I could use it to consider gender in IR, but currently use "The Whale Rider."

"Standard Operating Procedure" is an Errol Morris documentary about the Abu Ghraib prison abuses. The filmmaker interviews many of the individual soldiers (mostly guards) you would recognize from the infamous photographs and tells a somewhat sympathetic tale about their experiences in Iraq. While their behavior was wrong and is criticized, the film argues that far worse techniques (even torture resulting in death) were employed by the interrogators inside the prison. OGA employees -- the acronym for "other government agencies" (including CIA)-- are shouldered with most of the blame. The title and ending sequence suggest that the methods employed inside the prison were SOP. I do not currently use any documentaries and am not sure this would be my first choice. It could replace "Breaker Morant," but it would need to be paired with a strong selection of readings.

Perhaps I'll generate a list of recommended films to supplement each week of the syllabus!

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