Dartmouth Film Society themes series ‘Question Authority’

by Will Tackett | 2/23/16 6:01pm

As presidential candidates began to pass through campus and election pamphlets were passed around this past summer, the Dartmouth Film Society began to examine the idea of the absolutism of governmental authority. This spark turned into the theme for the DFS’ termly film series at the Hopkins Center: “Question Authority.” Under this theme, DFS included films such as 2016 Oscar nominees “Brooklyn” (2015) and “Trumbo” (2015) as well as classics such as “Chicken Run” (2000).

Film Society director Johanna Evans ’10 said that the theme was inspired in part by the upcoming presidential election.

“You could tell that the issue of government’s role in society, whether to trust the government or not trust the government, choosing an establishment candidate versus choosing a Washington outsider, it was already a big part of the conversation,” she said.

The film series emphasizes how film influences the relationship between authority figures and those subject to their authority, in particular how film can inspire people to question authority.

“It is an interesting time to reflect on the ways that movies affect the way you think about the government,” Evans said. “The basic idea was looking at the ways that cinema has shaped our ideas of authority and particularly government authority.”

“Jafar Panahi’s Taxi” (2015), for example, explores how the act of film-making can be a form of resistance in itself. Although banned by the Iranian government from making movies, Panahi films one in a taxi, interviewing the citizens of Tehran about social issues plaguing the country. The illicit production of the film serves as a way to undermine the authority of the Iranian government itself.

The initial focus of the series was on one’s own government as the enemy, but DFS expanded the theme to include other kinds of authority figures. DFS member Alex Hurt ’16 said that there can be many interpretations of the theme.

“You could be talking about more social order or political order or you could be talking about a predetermined destiny for your life,” Hurt said.

One such alternative authority figure is the farmer antagonist in “Chicken Run,” a Nick Park film in which a flock of chickens attempts to escape from their doomed life on a farm. Hurt said that “Chicken Run” was one of the films he was particularly excited about having in the series.

“I remember watching it when I was a kid,” Hurt said. “I thought that it was kind of a cool departure from our normal pattern. It was fun to see it on the screen again.”

With the Academy Awards coming up, this term’s series involves more new releases. DFS chose to include more Oscar-nominated films in the series in order to satisfy audiences’ interest in seeing these movies before the awards ceremony.

They also made a conscious effort to include foreign films in the series. One such film, “Mustang” (2015), a French film nominated for an Oscar for best foreign language film, follows five young orphaned sisters growing up in conservative Turkey. “Mustang” replaced “Son of Saul” (2015), another Oscar-nominated film in the foreign language category, in the series when the studio decided to not give DFS permission to show “Son of Saul.” In “Mustang,” the authority is essentially the patriarchy, manifested in the form of the sisters’ abusive uncle.

DFS member Mac Simonson ’16 said he was glad that “Mustang” ended up being included in the series due to the limited presence of foreign films in movie theaters outside of New York or Los Angeles.

“Being able to program that stuff here and have an Upper Valley and student audience for it is great,” Simonson said.

“Labyrinth of Lies” (2015), another foreign film included in the series, tells the story of a lawyer who finds out about a German government attempt at covering up the Holocaust. Evans noted that the film fits the theme of the series particularly well.

“That is more of a clear example of the government deliberately trying to stop justice and push the little guy and erase this atrocity and one person standing up and questioning the government’s right to do that,” Evans said.

“Suffragette” (2015), also fits the theme in a straightforward way. DFS member Ava Giglio ’19 was particularly excited to see it because it came up as part of the Telluride at Dartmouth screening of six films this past September.

All of the movies in the series “reflect that kind of suspicion that Americans in particular have towards authority figures and I think it’s in our blood,” Evans said.

The series will conclude with a screening of “Macbeth” (2015) on Sunday, March 6 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. in Loew Auditorium.

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