1968 was “The Year that Rocked the World”, as historian Mark Kurlansky described it. The year was unforgettable for its radical politics, its social changes and — taking center stage this weekend — its cinema.
This Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the Whitney Humanities Center held a film festival and conference called “Sixty-Eight! Europe, Cinema, Revolution?” aimed at exploring the year’s events worldwide through film. A collaborative effort of the European Studies Council at the MacMillan Center, the Film Studies Program and the History of Art Department, the festival concentrated on New Wave cinemas of Eastern and Western Europe.
The films screened ranged “from little-known gems and avant-garde shorts to recognized cinematic classics,” according to the festival’s program, and each screening was situated around a question or theme such as “The Cultural Revolution?” or “Art Documentary and the State.” The panel discussions preceding each film sought to enrich the viewing experience, often highlighting the significance of a film’s specific socio-political and historical contexts.
Film Studies professor Dudley Andrew, an organizer of the festival, said he wanted student filmgoers to gain exposure to less-familiar cinema, as many of the films shown at the festival were hard-to-find movies tracked down in archives.
“I really hope that the undergrads who sampled some of these films come away with a sense of how vast and rich cinema is beyond what is conveniently available,” he said. “Films are both witnesses to and makers of history, and to see the passion of young people in 1968 ought to be chastening or inspiring to undergrads, I should think.”
Yale scholars spoke along with academics from New York University, Columbia University, Southern Illinois University and two universities in Italy. Andrew said he thought this brought new levels of depth to the films.
“We wanted to bring film scholars into close contact with others in the university, such as historians, sociologists, literature scholars and political scientists both to open their eyes to some important films and to open our eyes to the cultural resonance of the films,” he said.
After 12 hours of screenings, the audience in the packed theater at the Whitney Humanities Center did not seem tired but rather invigorated by the numerous revolutionary images presented by the films. The vivid reds of Godard’s “La Chinoise” (1967), a film about Communist China and the Cultural Revolution, brought back memories for some audience members who lived through the era.
During the discussions following the films, audience members shared their first experiences of some of the movies, and one speaker recalled seeing Godard’s film at the University of Kansas in 1968.
Alice Lovejoy, a graduate student in comparative literature and Film Studies and a member of the committee that planned the event, said she was very impressed with the turnout for the festival.
“This year was absolutely a success, both in terms of the program we showed, which featured a number of rare films, and in terms of attendance,” she said. “The conference attracted guests from all over the region, and their voices were an invaluable addition to the discussions.”
Muratcan Bilgincan ’08 said he thought the festival organizers did a good job of matching speakers with films. For instance, a showing of Agnes Varda’s “Black Panthers” (1968) was followed by a speech by Yale Law School professor Kathleen Cleaver ’84 LAW ’89, a former New Haven Black Panthers member who appeared in the movie.