Sunday, January 31, 2016

ECU's Foreign Film Festival Opens with "My Perestroika"

ECU’s Foreign Film Festival kicks off its sixth season on Friday, February 5th with "My Perestroika," a Russian-language documentary that follows five ordinary Russians living in extraordinary times – from their sheltered Soviet childhood, to the collapse of the Soviet Union during their teenage years, to the constantly shifting political landscape of post-Soviet Russia.

ECU's Foreign Film Festival features free foreign-language films on Fridays in February at four p.m. in the Raymond J. Estep multimedia center in the Bill S. Cole University Center at East Central University in Ada.

This year's first feature, "not only evocatively captures the Russian spirit and the yearnings of a generation, but . . .  also masterfully chronicles the historic collapse of the Soviet Union and its complex aftermath," according to David Lewis of The San Francisco Chronicle.

This screening of "My Perestroika" is made possible in part through a Startalk grant that ECU has been awarded the past three years to host a Russian language summer camp for high school students from Oklahoma and other states. "My Perestroika" is one of five planned post-program activities that allow students to maintain the connection with Russian language and culture after the residential portion of the program is over.

Each film in the festival will be given a brief introduction by an ECU student or faculty member. After each screening lucky audience members will be given books, DVDs, gift certificates and other door prizes that will either be associated with the featured culture or  will be donated by a local business.  Local businesses supporting this year's Festival include the Hampton Inn (offering one free night),  Cinemark Ada, Hotshots, Truffles and Swirls, Nacho Bizness, and Mojo’s Coffee Bar. 

ECU's Foreign Film Festival is an expansion of the French Film Festival which has been held on the ECU campus since 2011. In recent years, hundreds from ECU and the surrounding communities have attended screenings of foreign-language films that are not screened in local cinemas.  The Festival is now hosted by ECU SCREENS, with support from ECU’s Cultural Activities Committee, the ECU Foundation, and the Student Government Association,  in collaboration with Sigma Tau Delta (the International English Honors Society) and the Honors Student Association. 

For more information about ECU’s Foreign Film Festival, contact Dr. Rebecca Nicholson-Weir, co-director of ECU SCREENS, at (580) 559-5929 or

Sunday, January 10, 2016

This Valentine's Day: The Beaux Stratagem

At 2 pm on Sunday, February 14th in the Raymond J. Estep Center at East Central University.
Tickets: $10 for General Admision; FREE for ECU Students (courtesy of ECU SCREENS).

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Shakespeare's Colonel Jessup?

Tom Hiddleston as Coriolanus
I was thoroughly unfamiliar with Coriolanus before this seeing Friday's NT LIVE screening and totally impressed with it afterwards. I detected strands of Julius Caesar and Othello and Macbeth here that I'd enjoy exploring further, and after seeing the Donmar House Proudction of one of Shakespeare lesser known tragedies, I'm inclined to say that Coriolanus has been unfairly deprived of a spot on the short list of Shakespeare's Greatest Hits. That's an endorsement of the play, but it's also an endorsement of this production.

The character of Coriolanus reminds me of Colonel Jessup in A Few Good Men, which is one of my favorites ("You want me on that wall! You need me on that wall!). But while Nicholson's Jessup is little more than a bully (though an unforgettable one), what fascinated me most about Coriolanus was the way my feelings about this drama's military leader shuttled back and forth between admiration and disgust. If someone like Nicholson had been cast as Coriolanus, I suspect the monstrous brutishness of the warrior might stand out more, but casting Tom Hiddleston in the role makes it easier to see his more attractive qualities. Throughout the plan, I found myself wondering if Coriolanus which was dominant:  his appealing modesty or his appalling arrogance? Should I feel sympathy with his impatience with the sheepish masses or disgust for his disdain for democracy and the voice of the people? Was he a thin skinned hothead, quick to disparage the rabble, and incapable of finding value in any viewpoint but his own? Or was he an clear-eyed man of action, justifiably repulsed by the cowardice and self-serving deceit of almost everyone around him?

Deborah Findlay as Volumina
And every bit as fascinating as Coriolanus is his mother, Volumina (Deborah Findlay), who, at one point in the drama, challenges Coriolanus to explain why he saw deception on the battlefield as strategically useful, but considered deception on the Senator floor or the campaign trail to be utterly contemptuous. The text provides ample opportunities to contrast Volumina's scruple-free love of victory-at-all-costs against the more sympathetic concerns of Coriolanus's wife, Virgilia (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen), who is consumed with fear that Coriolanus's next wound will be his last. But the production often affirms the bond between the two most important women in Coriolanus's life and avoids opportunities to depict Virgilia as jealous of the control her mother-in-law exerts over her husband. Consequently, they do not slide as easily into the roles of virtuous innocent and wicked old witch as I imagine they might in other productions.

During the intermission, ECU student Jacob Hix told me he had read that the play was suppressed in France in the 1930s because of how easily it could be read as an endorsement of fascism (intermissions have become one of my favorite aspects of our NT Live screenings because they allow this kind of "half-time" note sharing). When Coriolanus's fate reveals itself in the drama's shocking final scene, I could see how the ambiguities of the earlier scenes could be subsumed by perceptions of the narrative's overall arc (I'm trying not to give away the ending for someone who might see it later). Ultimately, the whirling ball of the narrative seems to drop into the ideological roulette wheel and one reading of the play's political sympathies seems to come out the winner (don't give in to sentimentality!).

However, a day later, I find myself re-reading the play's last image and, particularly, Volumina's part in it. While on first viewing, I read the scene as a fascist condemnation of Coriolanus's compassion, I now suspect that it could also be read as a Machiavellian affirmation of Volumina's cunning. We know how Coriolanus's decisions turned out; but what about Volumina? Did she "win" Coriolanus?

I'm no fan of Hiddleston's turn as Loki in Thor and subsequent Avengers fare, but I was impressed by the artful way he managed this performance and can see why some might see him challenging Benedict Cumberbatch as the preeminent British star of the stage. Mark Gaines was delightful as Menenius--I especially appreciated his illustration of the undervalued importance of the stomach, which he likened to the Roman Senate. I found myself wishing for a more imposing Aufidius (Hadley Fraser) to play the role of Coriolanus's principal rival, though. At times, Hiddleston's mike seemed to be slightly muffled, but the production values were generally outstanding.

I've seen all 14 NT Live productions presented by ECU SCREENS. This was one of the best (it's got lots of competition in that top tier, though).