Film festival broadens horizons with European cinema


Screenshot of Miguel A. Sarduy's Innocence

Screenshot of Miguel A. Sarduy’s Innocence

By Patrick Swain, Staff Writer

A film festival this week is giving Pittsburghers a glimpse of cinema across the pond, bringing a selection of European films to the Harris Theater.

The Downtown theater is hosting the EU Film Festival from Jan. 28 to Feb. 3. In-person screenings are available at a price of $11 per ticket, with discounts available for students and seniors. Moviegoers can also choose to skip the big screen — a selection of feature films are available to stream online throughout the festival’s duration.

Allyson Delnore, the interim director for Pitt’s European Studies Center, said exposing students to these films helps achieve the center’s higher purpose.

“Part of our center’s mission is to increase understanding of and awareness about Europe and the world, more generally, and cinema provides a great and easy lens through which to learn about another part of the world,” Delnore said. “It’s a little easier than reading a dry academic text.”

Among the films screened at the festival are “Borderland (Grenzland)” from director Andreas Voigt, which traverses the unique region encompassing the outer limits of Germany, Poland and Czechia. Another is “Perfumes (Les Parfums),” a French comedy-drama directed by Grégory Magne. The festival will also include Q&As with Voigt, Magne and “emerging filmmaker” Simon Elvås. 

Regis Curtis, a junior German, French and gender, sexuality and women’s studies major, said he is excited to attend the festival. 

“I’m excited to see what happens when people invested in something, in this case, Europe, design and curate a collection of films to watch, which is very different from regular theaters which are first and foremost profit-driven,” Curtis said. “I’m most excited for “Borderland (Grenzland).”’

Delnore said she was ready to see some of the films’ debut before American eyes.

“We have a couple of movies that have never been screened in Pittsburgh before and, in fact, this will be their U.S. debut,” she said. “I’m looking forward to the conversations with the filmmakers.” 

A collection of six shorts are also available online for free, each of them finalists in the “MEET EU Short Film Competition.” The contest, which accepted submissions from young adults in Pennsylvania, Florida and North Carolina, encouraged budding filmmakers to explore the theme of “transatlantic connections.” Viewers can vote for their favorite short film out of the selection.

Randall Halle, the director of Pitt’s film and media studies program, said the concept of transatlantic connections was abstract, yet focal to the competition.

“There’s a number of things that we could say about the word ‘trans.’ From my perspective, it shouldn’t imply a movement across to settle in on anything, so I wouldn’t be interested in a film from a filmmaker who is aspiring to pretend to be a European,” Halle said. “But rather, ‘trans’ in the sense of ‘transitive,’ as in bringing two parts of the world together.”

Pitt’s European Studies Center, with help from its counterparts at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Florida International University in Miami, organized the festival as part of the MEET EU initiative. 

According to its website, MEET EU is a program developed by the European Union to foster “a diverse network of future transatlanticists” among United States youth, co-funded by a Getting To Know Europe grant from the EU delegation to the U.S.

Delnore said collaboration with other universities took the festival beyond state borders.

“It’s mostly Pitt that has organized it, but because of our partnerships with other EU centers across the country, we’re able to make it so the virtual festival has more of a national profile, or at least on the East Coast,” she said. “[Halle] wanted to put together a festival that showcases these collaborative film projects and how European cinema explores themes that cross borders but also highlights local and national diversity.”

Halle said American audiences benefit from branching out toward movies made elsewhere in the world.

“They look different than Hollywood. They look different than what you see on Netflix. To watch European film gives you a chance to expand your horizons,” Halle said. “The United States tends to be very insular and isolationist. The majority of Americans don’t have passports.”

To remedy this, Halle said, exposure to European media can be the answer. 

“Europe remains one of the places where most of our students actually have real interest in the history, the culture, the economics, the politics,” Halle said. “This opens up the possibility for them to have a momentary window into a different world — 90 minutes to 120, typically.” 

There is no shortage of linguistic diversity among the films — moviegoers can hear Czech, Romanian, German, Slovak, Polish, French, Portuguese, Swedish and Italian throughout the festival. Halle said the variety of languages was deliberate.

“In making selections, I tried to match up with the programs we have at Pitt. For instance, Pitt is blessed with one of the few Slovak programs in the United States,” Halle said. “Pittsburgh is also home to Duolingo, and many of our students have gone on to work [there.]”

Halle, who has taught German, said Americans tend to have a monolingual perspective of the United States that isn’t necessarily reflective of reality.

“We have a presumption of English-first and even English-only in the United States, which is absolutely not true. There is no single official language — we use English as the common language, but every language in the world is spoken in the United States,” Halle said. “To understand the people that we live with, we might want to figure out how to attend to other languages.”

Delnore said it was important that American audiences hear these languages represented in media.

“That’s kind of my life’s mission here at Pitt,” Delnore said. “We spend a lot of time trying to foster the teaching and learning of less commonly taught languages … it kind of broadens your perspective — it makes people seem a little less foreign and a little more close.”