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International Cinema Creates Spontaneous Connections

Marc Yamada describes how a group of theatergoers become a community.

A couple in a movie theater holding popcorn.

Sitting next to a stranger can be uncomfortable. You worry about how they perceive you, if your elbow is touching theirs, if you remembered to put on deodorant. You try not to make eye contact and stay quiet and appear uninterested in everything around you. But when you enter a movie theatre and the lights dim as the movie starts, that all melts away.

When we are sitting in the dark of a movie theatre, what someone looks like or talks like matters differently; instead of bubbles of isolation, our differences build community because we are all there for the same reason, all with the same focus. The audience takes a journey together in which shared laughter or gasps or even tears become acceptable. After a great movie, the audience may even give a standing ovation to the screen. Formed for the brief duration of the movie, a group of moviegoers becomes a community. It is this shared community that Marc Yamada loves about cinema.

Yamada (associate professor of Comparative Arts and Letters) has been the head of International Cinema since 2018, and will be stepping down this spring. In his Humanities Colloquium on April 7th, Yamada talked about how International Cinema is not just about the movie being screened but the act of watching movies together. He said, “It’s fun to know the film; see the experience, and how impactful it is for students even if they hated the movie.”

To Yamada, movies are like memories; they contain moments that we can return to in our minds. Films can help us realize who we are and generate empathy for others by allowing us to see into their experiences. A favorite director of his who captures these memories especially well is the Japanese auteur Kore-eda Hirokazu. In the film industry, Kore-eda Hirokazu is seen as an anomaly; Kore-eda’s films differ in genre from each other, but they have still gained an international fan base. Yamada explained that Kore-eda's films have such appeal because of how they bring the audience together.

Yamada explained how Kore-eda's use of physicality in film resonates with viewers. Kore-eda's subjects connect with the audience through the movement of bodies. Physical bodies are grounded in visceral and tactile senses, such as taste, touch, sight, smell, and sound. The spaces around the character shape their movement, or vice versa. This physicality connects the characters to the audience by enhancing its shared tactile experience. So, despite the differing styles of film genre, each of his movies generates a strong audience-based community.

Yamada reminisced on one of International Cinema’s most successful screenings—the movie Parasite. So many students were excited to see the film, IC had to relocate from the Kimball Tower to the Joseph Smith Building to accommodate them. Even then, every single night that the film showed, more students came than they had seats for, so inevitably people were turned away. Additional screenings were added, but even these filled past capacity. The success of the viewing wasn’t just measured by the number of viewers. It was successful because after each viewing, the audience stayed and lively conversations broke out among a group of people who had, in the course of an hour or two, become a community.

Viewing a movie with others is a powerful experience. The movie provides a memory that the entire audience now shares, and these shared memories create common ground for conversations to blossom. These memories turn strangers into friends. Somewhere between the trailers and the credits, connections are made which defy social obstacles. This unlikely community is what makes people fall in love with International Cinema.