With any course, Dr. Mary Husain is never entirely sure how it’s going to unfold.
But with CineCulture — the unpredictability is expected. The course is open to the public, after all.
Now an official Fresno State class, CineCulture got its start as a campus club. The mission: to raise intercultural awareness through film and post-screening discussions.
And since Husain took over as instructor and class adviser in 2008, the course’s goal remains the same — offering Fresno State students and the surrounding community a unique, academic opportunity that isn’t available anywhere else in the country.
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The best part? It’s free.
“I think when you bring in the community, it becomes a richer experience. Everyone is welcome to contribute to the conversation and it’s a place of constructive dialogue,” Husain explained. “People bring their own experiences, and it goes beyond the walls of regular classroom experiences. How often do you get to meet the director and actors?”
Inviting guest speakers — whether they be a director, producer or scholar on the issue — is an integral component to CineCulture, and Husain takes it upon herself to find the very best films and lecturers for the 15 showings, four of which are screened through Fresno Filmworks, scheduled each semester.
There aren’t true requirements or limitations to the type of work she’s looking to feature in the lineup. In fact, the instructor chooses to use the term “culture” pretty liberally, providing insight into various issues that include everything from race and environmental concerns to food and crime.
And the way she comes across each project is an interesting story in itself — allowing Husain to collaborate with various groups and individuals on and off campus to bring each motion picture to CineCulture audiences.
“I read The New York Times’ Friday movie reviews religiously, club officers and the community are invited to recommend films and every time I have a director that visits, I ask them what they suggest,” she said. “I have met so many people that my path normally wouldn’t have crossed. Every week, I never know what’s going to happen or who’s going to be there, and I don’t show two cultural groups in the same semester.”
This spring, audiences will experience features filmed in locales such as Afghanistan, Mexico, China and South Africa, as well as places a little closer to home.
First up: Iraqi-born French filmmaker Abbas Fahdel’s “Dawn of the World” (L’aube du monde) on Friday, Jan. 29.
The 2008 film is set in southwestern Iraq’s Mesopotamian Marshes — known as the land of the mythical Garden of Eden — and follows the lives of couple Mastur and Zahra, and Riad, a young Baghdadi soldier, who Mastur befriends while fighting in the first Gulf War.
With support from the event’s co-sponsors in the department of modern and classical languages and literatures and the French and Middle East studies programs, Dr. Rose Marie Kuhn will lead the discussion following the motion picture, allowing audiences to gain a deeper understanding of its simple, yet compelling plot.
“Film is a very powerful medium and provides a way to discuss issues that affect our community,” Husain said. “Some people in our community don’t have the opportunity to travel, so this provides a way to broaden horizons.”
But word of caution — only respectful commentary is acceptable. Husain has no qualms about asking guests to re-frame a question or leave if they fail to adhere to this rule. If you’re on the fence about attending a CineCulture screening, she offers one last selling point:
“This is a cheap date. All are free, and you get to meet amazing directors, producers and social activists. Where else can you do that on a Friday night?” she explained. “It’s a great chance to see films that you won’t see anywhere else, and for those who like the idea of having conversations about film.”
Film screenings are held at 5:30 p.m. on Fridays in the Peters Education Center Auditorium in the Student Recreation Center Building, except screenings scheduled through Fresno Filmworks at Tower Theater. Parking at Fresno State is free after 4 p.m. on Fridays.