Around the World in several Films: “Round up the Unusual Suspects!”

Author: Ashvin Immanuel Devasundaram

As the dust settles on the febrile buzz surrounding the Oscars, it becomes possible to take a step back, delink cinema from this veneer of glitz and glamour and reframe it through a broader global cinematic filter. The last couple of years, in particular, have conjured an eclectic and heady mix of films, from often unexpected places on the planet. As my PhD research straddles the realms of film studies, World cinema and film philosophy, I reckoned this may be a propitious moment to round up the ‘not so usual’ cinematic suspects. Let us cast a glance at films that provide us with vibrant, colourful, uplifting and occasionally disturbing glimpses of other nations, cultures and people.

Wadjda, is the first Saudi Arabian film made by a female director, and also the first filmed entirely in Saudi Arabia. This film is essential viewing, if only to afford the wider world a glimpse into the lives of ordinary Saudi citizens, particularly women and children. The title character – 10 year old Wadjda is a revelation and her honest, impish performance is at once charming and captivating.

Paulo Sorrentino’s tribute to Rome, The Great Beauty is a whimsical masterpiece, as evocative as anything Federico Fellini has created. France’s powerhouse credentials in art cinema were reinforced with Blue is the Warmest Colour and Stranger by The Lake. Both films shimmered and rippled in their representations of lesbian and gay relationships, whilst Apres Mai’s (Something in the Air) palpable rendition of the 1970s radical student movement was heightened by its impeccable aesthetic.

Director Anand Gandhi’s poetic and philosophical Indian masterpiece Ship of Theseus used the modes of hyperlink cinema along with bustling Mumbai cityscapes, to entwine three disparate narratives- a blind photographer, a rebellious monk with liver cirrhosis and an improbable good Samaritan on a quest to retrace a stolen human kidney.

Last year saw the release of two outstanding biopics. Legendary auteur Andrzej Wajda’s Walesa: Man of Hope about the Lech Wałęsa led solidarity movement in Poland, and Margarethe von Trotta’s film, Hannah Arendt about the eponymous German philosopher’s brush with the banality of evil.
Alternately labelled dormant or moribund, American independent cinema received a boost in the form of Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene; a brooding and disturbing immersion into America’s penchant for obscure cults.

Joshua Oppenheimer’s chilling exposé on Indonesian death squad leaders in darkly disconcerting ‘The Act of Killing’ is an example of innovative narrative approaches to the theme of genocide.

British cinema had its own coruscating examples, with Ken Loach’s hysterically funny and quintessentially Scottish, The Angel’s Share, and the powerful, documentary retrospective, The Spirit of ‘45 – a paean to the post-1945 Labour welfare state. Clio Barnard’s The Selfish Giant, was an inspired reworking of the Oscar Wilde tale and Philomena, a powerfully understated narrative continuation of Peter Mullan’s monumental The Magdalene Sisters.

Chilean film ‘No’ starring Gael Garcia Bernal of The Motorcycle Diaries fame, was a politically charged, irony-tinged exposition, about dictator Pinochet’s absolute power and a ‘Yes/No’ referendum poised to determine the birth of a new nation- themes that will no doubt find resonance in several other quarters of the world!

All in all, being a part of Heriot-Watt University’s department of Languages and Intercultural Studies, it is especially wonderful to witness this general glut of global films colouring the spectrum of transcultural cinematic exchanges and informing our perceptions of a constantly changing world.

The global village and the information superhighway have often been credited with enmeshing cultures and people and bringing the world closer together. In my view, cinema is doing the same job…and arguably in far more enjoyable fashion!

Why Bother Doing Research? Part II

It must seem very odd. Just occasionally, trained, experienced professionals choose to return to the academic arena from whence they came to study a PhD. Despite the fact that, as we revealed a few weeks ago, research is highly necessary for the Translation and Interpreting industries, it still might seem puzzling why people would voluntarily decide to do it. To help explain why, and perhaps even inspire you to do research yourself, we quizzed a few of the Department of Languages and Intercultural Studies‘ own PhD students to discover their reasons.

There are multiple reasons as to why I choose to do a PhD.
To start with, my husband is doing his PhD in Rome, therefore, it would be very practical in terms of distance and time difference if I can find a place in Europe to do a PhD since I graduated this year as an MA student and really don’t want to go to Rome as a dependent.
Secondly, I want to find a job in a good university as a lecturer and a PhD degree is required to enter that profession in Chinese universities.
Most importantly, Chinese Deaf signers need attention from the academia, the society and the government. Yet researching into Chinese sign language interpreting is just at its beginning, therefore, a lot of exciting work can be done in the field.

I do my PhD because of I can do it in UK. My field of research (Public service interpreting) is underdeveloped in China. While it is still in the stage of initial development, UK has established relatively sound system and training program in this respect. China needs the know-how in this field to catch up with the global trend. And because I received sponsorship from the Chinese government, I will have ample time focusing on exploring the development of this field in UK. Furthermore, I have never been abroad before, so I want to have a look at the outside world and make more friends and promote China’s culture here.

I left my academic position in the US to come to Heriot-Watt to do my PhD. Technically, I don’t need a PhD for my current position as a researcher. What I was compelled by was the opportunity to do the particular research that I wanted to do. It could be argued that I could have accomplished this by seeking out a PhD program in the US; but Heriot-Watt is positioned within the field of translation and interpreting studies like no other university in the States. I wanted to study alongside those within my field but not necessarily interested in the same aspect of the field. I came to Heriot-Watt to get the kind of exposure that you just can’t get in your home country – to be around different types of people and to live a different experience. You can’t learn those things in the classroom; you can’t learn those things through research. You can only learn those things by doing them.

My passion for Filmmaking follows close on the heels of a sustained interest in the idiosyncrasies of Film Theory and Film Philosophy. After my tenure as a Documentary Researcher with Channel 4, I decided to juxtapose both realms-the hands-on praxis of constructing cinema, and the theory that constitutes the foundational bulwark of any such creative undertaking.  I was consequently impelled to immerse myself in an academic pursuit contingent on an interdisciplinary and intercultural approach. Enter, Heriot-Watt University (on cue!), to grant me a wonderful opportunity to do a PhD in their department of Languages and Intercultural Studies (LINCS). Ever since embarking on this journey (September 2011), I have been astounded but the multifarious dimensions of experience and learning that are part and parcel of a PhD!

So there you have it. The reasons for doing research are as varied as the people doing it. Still, the two things that all researchers have in common are passion and a whole bunch of unanswered questions. That’s why we do research!


Authors: Lots of people!