Lecturer uses films to inspire and enlighten

Published on
March 15, 2012

Studying films can be both an enlightening and spiritual experience, according to Union College guest lecturer Michael Benton, who will be on campus later this month for the annual Willson-Gross lecture series.

Benton, a humanities faculty member at Bluegrass Community and Technical College, will lecture on Thursday, March 29 at 9:30 a.m., as a follow-up to two campus film screenings from the night before.

Benton's lecture is labeled a "Dialogic Performance Study." Benton said that this is a term he came up with to explain his resistance to fundamentalist systems. He added that he prefers the term "performance studies" to "film studies," because film incorporates all art forms and ranges across most of the world's cultures, so it should be viewed as a performance. 

"I believe that film should not be isolated from the concerns of the world and that the lessons of film studies provide us with skills to assess the 'performative' nature of our everyday lives," Benton said. 

According to Benton, lecture attendees should get a "conception of collective spirituality" that is developed through discussion and participation. He added that he wants his time with students and community to inspire them to accept a challenge.

"I want to think about this moment with students as a generational moment in which they might answer the great South African Nelson Mandela's challenge, 'Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation,'" Benton said. 

Two films will be shown and then discussed on Wednesday, March 28. The first film is "Even the Rain," a fictional piece about a crew in Bolivia who is attempting to make a film about the Spanish conquest of the new world. While shooting the movie, locals begin to protest against water privatization. Viewing begins at 5 p.m., and refreshments will follow.

The second film is "The Universal Clock: The Resistance of Peter Watkins." Like the first one, this movie follows a director as he is filming. This, however, is based on actual events. Director Peter Watkins is seen filming a six-hour movie about the Paris Commune of 1871. The film will begin at 7:30 p.m. 

The two films, while based on different events, are very similar, Benton said. They both depict the lower class struggling against the government. This struggle is intertwined with the two directors in the films as they try to make their movies. Benton said that besides the struggles, the films also show how history still affects us today.

"In both films, we see how history is not a static, linear, 'written' process, but instead it is always present, in flux, and constantly becoming real," Benton said. It is present in "Even the Rain," when the struggles of the local people over water begin to mirror the struggles from the conquest by the Spaniards, and it also exists in "The Universal Clock," when the characters in Watkins's movie face struggles of contemporary relevance.

It should be noted that the semester of the lecture has been switched from fall to spring. The Staley Lecture will now be in the fall.