Movies. Ah, how I love them. For some reason, going to the movies is one of my favorite activities. In college, I can remember going home for the weekend–or begging my parents to drive to Providence to pick me up–so we could do movie marathons at the theater before the Academy Awards. I think the most we ever did was three in a row.
In the grad. school years, Little Bro and I became the movie-goers–to the tune of one or two a weekend (thanks, cheaper-than-usual Cinema World!) whenever I came back to Massachusetts. And in NH, if I couldn’t find someone to go with me, off I went anyways. But mostly I could find someone to go with me… ahem, New Moon premiere, and all subsequent movies that featured actors/actresses from the franchise… you know who you are, you two whom I shall not name ;)
So, yes, I have a thing for pop culture and the movies. But it extends beyond that: in college, I became obsessed with screwball comedies form the 1930s and ’40s, and with any films my professors deemed classics. And I always find a place in my heart for independent films and documentaries, too. (Just wish NH had made seeing those a little bit easier). Realy, I just like the movies.
So it’s no surprise, really, that this week, I saw two of them here in Ljubljana.
The first was a documentary being shown by a Brown professor who was visiting the local art house theather, Kino Dvor, just a few streets away. Called ‘Human Terrain,’ it questioned the military’s strategy of identifying human terrain in Iraq and Afghanistan–and trying to use ’empathy as a weapon.’ Actually, it was less about that–though that was the back-drop–and more about the role of academics (specifially anthropologists) in the military and in war. A recent Brown PhD graduate in anthropology had joined the military and was killed overseas, prompting the film, which featued a number of his e-mails to his colleagues back at Brown about the experience.
What was most interesting was that I found the film to be incredibly balanced–it both questioned the military’s strategies while also defending them, in a sense, by going into great detail and showing considerable research about the difficulties of developing and implementing strategies, and interviewing countless military officials and experts. In fact, the director said that sometimes his audiences find the film to be too pro-military. In a show of hands in our packed Kino Dvor room, it was revealed that most people found the film to be balanced (a.k.a. sort of objective), while a few thought it was too pro-military.
But the focus was really academics’ role in war and the military, which was fascinating. I’d really recommend going to see it. Better yet–I’d recommend going to see it in a place where you and your roommate are the only Americans in the audience. Here’s why:
There were very few moments when I laughed or chuckled during the film, aside from one or two, maybe, sort of little jokes in the commentaries of the people being interivewed. But the rest of the audience was chuckling throughout, at different parts, obviously revealing what non-Americans think about certain strategies of the military, and the war. While I found some of what I saw to be interesting, I didn’t find it laughable… but, then, again, I’m from a country which has a large standing army, while no European country’s army can rival the size of America’s. And, having lived in the U.S. all my life until now, and having been very aware of what was going on when the U.S. entered Iraq and Afghanistan, and having friends in the military, I found certain pieces of informating to be thought-provoking and/or troubling, but certainly not laugh-worthy. Again, a different of persective.
The most fascinating part of the presentation was the Q&A, where people grilled the director about the film and the war.
One woman’s questions, paraphrased: I have read that Americans think that God gave them the mission to spread democracy. Why do they think this?
I think my roommate and I looked at each other at that point, like: Huh? I mean, OK, maybe some people think that, probably even write about it, but I don’t think that most people (maybe I’m wrong?) that I know in America think that God is calling the political shots, much less that the primary goal is to please God by going to war. I can come up with a number of different reasons why we’re in Iraq or Afghanistan, so it kind of surprised me that this was the reason this woman, and seemingly the audience, focused on.
The director’s response? A reminder about the ideas of manifest destiny in American history as an expansionist strategy within the the U.S., and a quick explanation that what she might have read would be a minority opinion, at best, and a reminder that there are a lot of opinions circling around in the U.S., which is known for diversity of thought. This question came at the end of the Q&A, after a few very thoughtful and intelligent questions, and after a few non-so polite and accusatory questions. He remarked, then, that he often raises the same objections that many people were making back home… but that when he’s in Europe, he somehow becomes more pro-American.
My roommate and I then laughed, as the rest of the theater was silent. It wasn’t a guffaw kind of laugh, just the same kind of light, polite chuckle of approval that many of the others in the theater had given to the film at various points. We laughed because we could relate.
There are so many people who are kind in Slovenia, and in Europe. But sometimes, when you run into someone and they’ve never met an American before (many Slovenians haven’t), and they decide, halfway into a conversation, to say: “I just have to tell you, I hate America,” then you sort of don’t know what to say. That’s actaully only happened to me a handful of times, and that certainly didn’t happen at the movie premiere at all. But sometimes it can be difficult to get someone to understand: well, just because I’m here right now doesn’t mean I’m disowning my country. It takes a bit of citizen-to-citizen diplomancy… I don’t get too upset, really, because it never helps the situation, and I know that people often have well-founded reasons for not liking things (and, the U.S. is far from perfect). But I try to tell them, in a polite way, that although I frequently criticize my own government, that for me, it comes from a place of wanting the country to be better because I actaully like it… not because I hate it.
When confronted like that, I never feel more American, for some reason. Sometimes I think that living outside the U.S. will do one of two things: make you stay outside the U.S. becuase you agree with what people are saying against it, or make you feel more pro-American than ever. Two extremes. But I’ve clearly found the one that I fall under.
One humorous side note: my roommate and I also saw the Social Network on Thursday, its opening night in Kolesaj, the biggest movie theater in Slovenia. First of all, it was hilarious that it started almost 30 mintues late due to a comedian who was entertaining the crowd, asking people what their Facebook statuses were, giving prizes to certain people for reasons I couldn’t truly understand.
Then: the movie itself. I’m now convinced that jokes or turns of phrase are impossible to translate, or at least were not well translated for this movie… because my roommate and I were literally the only ones laughing throughout the movie. Granted, it wasn’t a comedy, but there were more than a few laugh-worthy moments. Or maybe we just had the context for the jokes, being American?
Also: the films are shown in English, with white Slovenian subtitles imposed over the screen… sort of in the middle of the screen. Definitnely in the lower half, but not quite at the bottom. That really confused me. Why not move them a foot or so lower? Maybe it was so people in the back could see them better… but either way, that was interesting, as was the assigned seating… we definitely don’t have that in our theaters, and that was kind of convenient, actaully–no more looking for a pair of open seats, just to find that everyone in the row has a buffer seat between them and the next group, officially rendering a set of four seats that could be next to each other useless.