Cinema is a driving force in the cultural and political conversation of our modern age. Without even knowing it, we are all influenced by the representations and images of film, television, and media, and, in an age where media has such a powerful hold over us, it's important to not just acknowledge the influence of the media, but to take note how it can be used as a tool for change, correction, evolution. In this new series, Understanding Cinema, I am going to be breaking down the social, political, and artistic power of cinema and explore how this art form goes beyond simple entertainment. In this first installment, I explain why studying film is important and how it can make a difference in understanding ourselves and our world.
There is no denying that we live in a political tense era. Our world is filled with brutal intolerance and a severe lack of appreciation and understanding of different cultures and ways of living. In a time of media misrepresentation and cultural propaganda, art and film become a vital device in awakening people to the realities of the world that are often misunderstood or misinterpreted. Film teaches us valuable lessons about the world, about ourselves, and about our place in and our impact on society. Films can open doors to new worlds, new cultures, and new ideas that may otherwise be unavailable.
I can personally attest to the power film has to change the way someone perceives the world — because my world has, and continues to be, changed by films. Through films, I learn not just about myself, but about my country and it’s marginalized minorities, about the inequalities faced by those different from myself, and about the world with all its horrors, but equally all its wonders. In Moonlight, I learned about the Black experience and the social exclusion of being a black gay man in modern America. In This Country, I learned about the young people in rural England who feel trapped in their lives, unable to succeed or progress because of the physical and psychological chains of their country. In The Act of Killing, I learned about the extents of human morality and the horrifying influence power has on men. These are experiences I could never have as an individual: I’m not a black gay man in Miami, I’m not a young person living in the Cotswolds, and I’m not a murdering gangster in Indonesia. Yet films have allowed me to cultivate these experiences, to see the world in a way I could never see it without art. Films celebrate the human experience and provide a means for others to share in those experience, and I have become a more tolerant, understanding, and thoughtful individual because of it.
So, why is film studies important? Because it helps to build a more open-minded world, a world full of people who can experience the lives of those they can’t understand, to see the world from another’s eyes and, if only for just two hours, leave themselves and their prejudices behind. It’s crucial that we continue to curate films that challenge perspectives and broaden minds in order to create a world that is less ignorant and more accepting of differences, which is something we are in desperate need of today.
Vikram Shivram Dhanve
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