Beyond AP: Advanced Spanish Language Students Study Culture Through Film

Hispanic Film and Culture, an advanced elective seminar led by Eleni Stefanopoulos, exposes our most fluent Spanish students to diverse Hispanic cultures through film and analysis. In its inaugural year, the class was created for Spanish language students ready to go beyond the AP level by studying culture through film.
Ms. Stefanopoulos plans to screen 15 films during the year. So far, the class has watched and discussed films from Spain, Bolivia, and Colombia, and other Hispanic cultures are coming attractions. “I find that by watching films, you can really open a window to a culture,” said Ms. Stefanopoulos. She carefully selects mostly contemporary works that present aspects of Hispanic culture that can best be experienced in an immersive medium like film.
Students have noted many differences between the films they have seen so far and the popular American movies with which they are more familiar. They suggest that the films they have watched have felt calmer and quieter, with less graphic violence and more civilized interactions between characters. In light of the subject matter, which has thus far included the Spanish Civil War, drug smuggling, and environmental crises, the measured storytelling style of the Hispanic filmmakers has been especially noteworthy.
The class, comprised of Vth and VIth formers, are all fluent enough to recognize Spanish phrases and word choices that don’t easily translate to English. Watching films in their original language eliminates the kind of disconnect that can happen through translation. Unique idioms and usage are brought to life on the big screen, strengthening understanding alongside an appreciation of the art of filmmaking. Their facility with the language also allows students to focus on stories, characters, and visuals particular to Hispanic film and culture. “We all know Spanish,” said Olivia Charles ’21, “It’s now important to focus on the culture, to know what’s behind it. In a way, we’re traveling to these places.”
In between screenings the class writes critiques and studies new words and phrases that they discover. Class discussions are all in Spanish, which sustains the immersion required by Millbrook's language program and inherent in watching a film in a secondary, learned language. Going beyond film appreciation, the class will attempt to make a film incorporating some of the distinctive style and vocabulary they have observed, perhaps with some assistance from Millbrook's Art Department.
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