How movies develop intercultural knowledge

Thank you to the 11th Zurich Film Festival for broadening my horizon about Iran and the Dublin process for asylum seekers

I love movies. Especially Bollywood movies. I actually count flight times in Bollywood movies = Zurich –> Delhi direct 3 B’wood movies, Zurich – NYC 2 B’wood-movies and a few TV shows).

Zurich-Film-Festival-02

Picture credit: http://www.newlyswissed.com/

It all started when I went on a project in Bangalore in 2006 where I immersed in this aspect of the Indian culture. Before Bollywood I loved Almodovar, Cohen-Brothers, Tarantino, Weinstein and a recurring themes like James Bond, Starwars, Lord of the Rings. Let’s say I can spend a whole day in a movie theatre and I love the Zurich Film Festival (#ZFF).

I attend the ZFF every year but sometimes I just manage to see one movie and then I am annoyed with myself because we hardly ever get to see such a diversity of films. Before I started my business I made a wish that one day I will be able to afford the time and money to see 10 movies in the ZFF. This year I almost thought I’d miss the whole festival but due to clever re-prioritization and the right kind of friends I managed to watch five movies in three days.

What struck me as a movie aficionado during #ZFF2015 is how easy it is to teach culture through movies. A friend of mine was wondering why I had not responded to messages and I said that what I did there was actually work. Let’s say I did research my way. I am entrepreneur. I can do this.

When did I first notice that movies teach intercultural competence?

Even if Bollywood-movies are full of clichés and a lot of Indians despise them they teach us (Germans for example) a lot about the general mindset. Not only that: Watching Bollywood movies for almost 10 years now has taught me a basic understanding of Hindi and Urdu terms. I only realized when I went to Pakistan last year that I understood some of the conversations in my host family (the Urdu versions).

Movies have influenced our cultural upbringing and globalized our mindsets. In Germany in my generation (Gen X) we were influenced by Hollywood. When I first went to New York City in 1996 it felt rather familiar.

The first show I was allowed to watch after bedtime was “Dallas”. Later I preferred „Beverly Hills 90210“ over „Die Lindenstrasse“. We all watched French, Spanish and Italian movies in our youth. Some of us like Danish cinema. So yes, cultural learning through movies is not a new concept to me. I would love to offer a movie-based intercultural seminar. It’s another wish in my wish book.

What did these five movies teach me?

Let me summarize for you why I thought these movies were improving my intercultural competence.

Jag är Dublin” (I am Dublin)

The first one was a Swedish documentary called “I am Dublin”. I am Dublin is the story of Ahmed, a Somali stuck in the asylum process. He is real and my heart immediately feels motherly instincts. This “boy” has suffered, is traumatized but in a way also tough. He agrees to be filmed and he knows that the camera will save his ass. He gets deported and I am angry. The end of the movie (spoiler alert) is a relief but you and I know that now the real work starts. I know it from close friends. Once they are allowed to stay in Europe the real integration work starts. Improving language skills, finding a job and having a “normal” life. Being a refugee, asylum seeker and temporarily approved resident (ein “Geduldeter”) is a tough lot even in wealthy Europe. So definitely recommended. I was actually ignorant until a few weeks ago. (See other stories on #refugees)

“Un amour de jeunesse”

The second movie was French. Not everyone’s taste but I enjoyed to be able to hear the language, read English translation at the same time as it is again a good chance to practice. The content of the movie was more psychologically valid for me. The culture mix was interesting as the protagonist falls in love with a Norwegian. (I swear he spoke German with no accent). There is also an interesting scene covering Bauhaus, an important part of German architectural culture which unfortunately was overturned by the Nazi-style. (Can you speak of “style” in connection with Nazis?).

“The Risk of Acid Rain”

Then the third film and my main reason to attend the festival was “The Risk of Acid Rain”. This movie was touching and it taught me about Iran. I also noticed that Farsi is completely different from Arabic. I had expected that there would be more similarities but apart from “Salam” I did not recognize anything.

What I thought was interesting was how the main characters in the movie deal with the Sharia police. In our minds here we also probably did not expect that homosexuality would be touched as a topic. It was alluded to twice in the movie. What really was very funny was how the relationship between the three main characters evolved and dissolved again. My Bollywood driven mind wanted to see a “happy family reunion” at the end but the end (again spoiler alert) is more realistic. The movie was banned in Iran because of the homosexuality. You need to look for it and be warned as a “Westerner” to actually recognize it.

ATOMIC_HEART_01

Picture credits: https://zff.com/

“Atomic Heart”

With a break of 24 hours I continued with the Iranian theme. “Atomic Heart” starts out as the Iranian version of a road movie with two young women on a night out and their little adventures. The movie later falls into a surreal narrative where Saddam Hussein and another crazy character dominate the plot. The movie is funny and artistic. It helps in switching perspectives. What I realized there is how limited my knowledge of Teheran really is and again the images in the movie do not match my expectations. Teheran comes across a lot more modern, almost hip.

“Bright Day”

Another break of 24 hours later and now with a certain expectation I saw “Bright Day”, the movie I really wanted to see. I have to say that the movie was shown very late and I was already a bit tired. It touched me emotionally but some of the dialogues were lost on me. This movie was probably the most “realistic” story. In my view it showed a typical issue in a country, where power is abused by those who own money over the poorer employed staff, where those who depend have to obey and are threatened when they want to adhere to their values.

The fight of “good” versus “evil” is exemplified in the person of a taxi driver. The theme is similar to an Indian movie (“Jolly LLP”) and is ultimately about standing up for your values. Interestingly enough looking at this movie I found again, that we Christians have more in common with Muslims than what is often suggested.

I was happy to see that in all three Iranian movies the movie theatres were rather full and the audience was very interested in how life in Iran really is. I am hoping that through entertainment and art we will find more access to each other. At least, movies offer good dinner conversation and having another narrative than the typical individualistic Western-style is worth watching out for.

So how could you set up an intercultural seminar based on movies? Which bias would you need to avoid?



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