History is focus of Film Series

Release Date: 3/6/2007

Each semester, students have several opportunities to travel back into history and experience the past through the History and Film series.

Dr. Judy Walden, a film fanatic and associate professor of history, started the History and Film series in the spring of 2000 as a way to show students that history can be fun and encourage historical discussion and analysis outside the classroom. Since the event began, Walden has shown nearly 40 films, including All Quiet on the Western Front, Les Misérables, Kingdom of Heaven, and Gladiator.

The series began as an extra credit incentive for Walden’s World Civilization class, and has since grown to 20 to 45 students attending each event held every three to four weeks.

When selecting which films to show, Walden said they must meet several criteria.

“The film has to have some historical relevance, and I try to select films that will match up in some way with what we’re discussing in my World Civ. classes,” said Walden. “For example, one of the topics we cover in World Civ. II is how Japan and China responded to increasing western dominance in the nineteenth century—this theme works very well with The Last Samurai.

To provide variety, Walden will look for at least one “crowd-pleaser” film that would be popular among students, plus one foreign film, such as this semester’s Joyeux Noel and other older films students might not have seen or that had only limited theatrical releases.

Walden, who found her love for history in her first college history class, said one of her favorite films she has shown is Rabbit-Proof Fence.

“It’s a fascinating story with great acting, beautiful stark cinematography (a lot of it takes place in the Australian outback), and a great score by Peter Gabriel, one of my favorite musicians,” said Walden. “Some of my other favorites are movies that, for different reasons, made a big impact on the students. One of the surprise hits was To Live, a Chinese movie that focuses on one family’s experience during a very turbulent period of recent Chinese history.”

Not only do students get to watch historical films, but Dr. Walden also likes to engage the audience in thought-provoking discussions afterwards, ranging from general reactions to the film to filmmaking techniques.

“Some films raise ethical questions (e.g., examining the behavior of the missionaries in Black Robe), some films invite comparisons to issues in American history (e.g., the forced assimilation of aboriginal children in Rabbit-Proof Fence), and sometimes we discuss the overall historical accuracy of a movie,” said Walden.

Senior art major Susan Walker from Fort Smith, Ark. said she enjoys seeing how others around her interpret certain films.

“It always surprises me to see how other people read into the symbolism of films, which is usually reflective of their personal views,” said Walker. “By attending the events, I get the opportunity to view films that would not have otherwise been brought to my attention.”

Students interested in learning more about history and film will have the opportunity to enroll in upcoming classes. Dr. Steve Oatis will be teaching a summer course on film called World War II, and next fall, Dr. Walden will teach Medieval History on Film.