With films spanning the globe, the free Chiaroscuro International Film Series kicks off its 12th season on Sunday, Jan. 14.
The annual series began in 2006 with a goal of “encouraging dialogue about world cultures” and to “examine the art of cinema through viewing and discussion of award-winning films from around the globe.”
Each year, members of the organization’s elected board and volunteer committee choose a theme and select the films from several nominees.
The five films that make up this year’s lineup share the common theme of “borders.”
“Using a variety of narrative, cinematic and thematic devices, each film explores the idea of borders – geographical, interpersonal, metaphorical or otherwise,” explained, Toni Perrine, professor of film and video production at GVSU. “The films range from social dramas to quirky comedies, and span regions of the world from Sweden to New Zealand.”
Perrine said one film in particular, “House Without Roof,” provides a good example of this year’s theme.
“A collaborative film from Germany, Iraq and Qatar and directed by Soleen Yusef, it is a story about the journey of three siblings who were born in the Kurdish area of Iraq, and subsequently grew up in Germany,” Perrine said. “They want to fulfill their mother’s last wish to bury her in their home village beside her husband, who was killed in the war under the Saddam Hussein regime. On this difficult quest, they are faced with their disapproving Kurdish extended family as well as with their own personal challenges.”
Films are shown every other Sunday from mid-January through mid-March. A 15-minute panel discussion, including a film expert and an individual connected to the region/culture represented in the film, follow each showing.
“The panel discussions, though brief, are integral to the experience as they provide thoughtful analysis and cultural context in a casual, conversational environment,” Perrine said. “Often the panel discussion provokes further conversation afterward, during the reception in the theatre lobby.”
Perrine said the films selected are “exceptional films” that are not widely offered in West Michigan theaters. They are selected based on criteria that include: variety in country of origin, length, critical acclaim, availability, and status as a West Michigan premiere viewing.
Perrine said as Grand Rapids grows and more transplants from around the world join the community, the Chiaroscuro International Film Series is one way to create a more welcoming environment.
“An awareness and appreciation of diverse perspectives and experiences moves us toward becoming a truly welcoming, cosmopolitan destination. Chiaroscuro enriches the West Michigan cultural landscape by presenting exceptional films in a setting that encourages discussion and enjoyment through a shared social experience,” she said.
The film series originated due to the efforts of two West Michigan transplants, Gretchen Minnhaar, a renowned artist and architect, and Zulema Moret, a professor at Grand Valley State University, both of Argentinian heritage.
“They have invested greatly over their many years in this community to encourage a thriving, welcoming place to live and work for people of all backgrounds,” Perrine said. “Creating the film series was a way to cultivate a greater understanding of world cultures and diverse perspectives through the medium of film.”
Perrine said what makes the Chiaroscuro International Film Series unique from international film series or festivals in other cities is the variety of support it has received. Support for the festival comes from public, private, non-profits and academic entities.
“It is offered free of charge in an easily accessible downtown theatre,” Perrine added.
The programs begin at 2 p.m. on scheduled Sundays, January through March, and include the feature presentation, a panel discussion, and a reception with refreshments. All programs are free and open to the public. The films are shown at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, 2 West Fulton Street.
The 2018 films and their screening dates include:
Mediterranea (Carpignano, 2015) Italy/France/USA/Germany/Qatar
Two men make the dangerous journey from Burkina Faso in Africa to Italy for a better life, only to face hostility and violence once they arrive at their destination in this revealing look at the life-and-death struggle of refugees.
Force Majeure (Östlund 2014) Sweden/France/Norway
Original Title: Turist
A Swedish family vacationing in the French Alps is confronted with a devastating avalanche. In more ways than one, the family’s world is shaken to its core.
House Without Roof (Yusef, 2016) Germany/Iraq/Qatar
Original Title: Haus Ohne Dach
A difficult journey to the homeland of three siblings who were born in the Kurdish area of Iraq and subsequently raised in Germany. They want to fulfill their mother’s dying wish to bury her in her home village beside her husband, who was killed in the war under the Saddam Hussein regime.
Two Days, One Night (Dardenne, 2014) Belgium/France/Italy
Original Title: Deux Jours, Une Nuit
A factory worker discovers that her workmates have opted for a EUR1,000 bonus in exchange for her dismissal. She has only a weekend to convince her colleagues to give up their bonuses in order to keep her job. Starring Marion Cotillard.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Waititi, 2016) New Zealand
A charmingly offbeat comedy about a rebellious kid and his foster uncle who are targets of a manhunt through the wild New Zealand bush country. Starring Sam Neill.