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Emory Cinematheque film series explores 'Resisting Fascism'

Emory Report

Emory Cinematheque, a weekly series of free films screenings, examines the ways fascism has been opposed in the movies since the 1930s with “Resisting Fascism." The series includes "Hangmen Also Die, " a 1943 film set in Nazi-occupied Prague, showing Sept. 27.

The Emory Cinematheque, a weekly series of free film screenings, explores the ways in which fascism has been opposed in the movies since the 1930s with “Resisting Fascism.” The series commences Aug. 23 with Charlie Chaplin’s hilarious 1940 spoof of Adolf Hitler, “The Great Dictator.” 

Fascism emerged in Europe in the early 20th century, during the same decades that saw the rise of cinema as a medium of artistic expression and popular entertainment.

While fascist governments were eager to harness the power of cinema to rally audiences, anti-fascists around the world quickly turned to film as a means of opposing fascism’s authoritarianism and extreme nationalism. Some of the century’s most beloved films participated in the ideological struggle against fascism and Nazism, such as “The Great Dictator” and Michael Curtiz’s “Casablanca” (1942, screening Sep. 13). 

In today’s political and cultural climate, the concept of fascism has gained renewed attention, spiking as a search term in Google and sparking a renewed interest in stories of fascist societies, both real and imagined. This resurgence prompted Paul Buchholz, assistant professor of German Studies at Emory, to create a film series about resistance to fascism this fall, with a focus on films about European fascism at its peak before and during the Second World War. 

“Some of the most enduring images of what fascism is, and how fascist societies operate, have been transmitted to us through film,” Buchholz says.

The core of many anti-fascist films is moral, Buchholz explains. “Movies about resisting fascism tend to picture an unfree society, showing us something that we should not allow ourselves to become, while also holding up particular heroic individuals whose resistance embodies the values that we should preserve," he says.

There is, Buchholz adds, no one single set of anti-fascist values reflected in films about resistance: “When you look at a film like ‘Casablanca,’ there’s a particular mix of values that motivate the characters to resist the Nazis: basic human decency, patriotism and individualism. Other anti-fascist films, like the East German film ‘Naked Among Wolves,’ reflect socialist values like solidarity and fundamental human equality.

"Anti-fascism is very politically and ideologically diverse, and that’s something I hope comes across through the film series, and will generate discussion in the audience," he says.

The films selected for the series are also diverse in terms of the time and place of their production, with works made between the 1930s and the 2000s in the United States, France, the Netherlands, West and East Germany of the Cold War-era, Austria and Italy.

As such, the series will include films made during the moment of European fascism, such as the propagandistic anti-fascist documentary “The Spanish Earth” (1937, screening Aug. 30), as well as films that look back at fascism from the 21st century to pose complex questions about complicity and resistance, such as the 2007 Austrian Oscar-winning film “The Counterfeiters,” directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky (screening Nov. 15). 

All screenings take place Wednesday evenings at 7:30 p.m. in White Hall 208 on the Emory campus. Admission is free, no tickets required. Most films are shown in DCP or 35mm.

Each film in the series will be introduced by Buchholz, with contributions from other faculty in Emory’s Department of German Studies. For more information, visit the Film and Media Studies website or call 404-727-6761. 

Emory Cinematheque: "Resisting Fascism"

Aug. 23: "The Great Dictator" (1940)
Few films of Hollywood’s classical era are simultaneously courageous and hilarious, but the internationally minded humanist Charlie Chaplin had the American film industry biting its nails when he bravely and independently produced and released this provocative, devastating satire (the first) of Adolph Hitler and moving plea for world peace.

Aug. 30: "The Spanish Earth" (1937) and "The 400 Million" (1938)
This double feature will revisit two films by groundbreaking Dutch documentary filmmaker Joris Ivens. The first, his 1937 documentary "The Spanish Earth," was among the first anti-fascist propaganda films, and was produced in support of Spain’s democratically elected alliance of the Republicans during the Spanish Civil war. "The 400 Million" performs a similar task with regard to Chinese resistance to the Japanese Invasion during the Second Sino-Japanese War, depicting an alliance of Republican, Communist and guerilla fighters.

Sep. 6: "The Mortal Storm" (1940)
Veteran Hollywood director Frank Borzage’s moving adaptation of Phyllis Bottome’s popular domestic melodrama dramatizes the growth of Nazism in Germany through the lives of ordinary people. The film specifically focuses on the Roth family, which is torn apart when siblings take sides and their non-Aryan step-father suffers progressively greater injustices under the Third Reich’s policies.

Sep. 13: "Casablanca" (1942)
Classical Hollywood’s most highly cherished product, "Casablanca" perfectly exemplified the industry’s wartime fondness for conversion narratives. Rick Blaine is a fiercely independent, melancholy, cynical “saloon keeper” who finally realizes he can’t sit out the anti-Fascist fight during World War II.  Warner Bros.’ best-remembered film embodies American ambivalence of the period about entering into “foreign entanglements” since these threatened the fundamental ideology of the exceptional American individualist’s freedom of action.

Sep. 20:  "To Be or Not to Be" (1942)
A troupe of Warsaw actors makes a mockery of the Nazis’ expansionist regime in this 1942 comedy of disguise by the brilliant German-Jewish émigré filmmaker Ernst Lubitsch, which was adapted from a story by a fellow émigré, the Hungarian writer Melchior Lengyel.

Sep. 27: "Hangmen Also Die" (1943)
This nail-biting wartime noir is the work of two notable émigrés from Nazi Germany, with Austrian expressionist master Fritz Lang directing a script based on a story by the major German political playwright and notable communist Bertolt Brecht. Set in Nazi-occupied Prague, the film offers a fictionalized account of the assassination of the high-ranking Nazi official Reinhard Heydrich, “The Hangman of Prague” (a historical figure responsible for mass executions, and one of the main architects of the Holocaust).

Oct. 4: "The Stranger" (1946)
Orson Welles wrote, directed and starred in this unsettling postwar noir from 1946, in which unrepentant Nazi Franz Kindler attempts to escape prosecution for his war crimes by adopting a new identity in a sleepy Connecticut town, teaching at local school as “Professor Charles Rankin” and planning to marry his Mary, the daughter of a Supreme Court Justice, who knows nothing of his sinister past. 

Oct. 11: "Naked Among Wolves" (1963)
Frank Beyer’s moving 1963 drama recounts a humane story of survival in the face of inhuman atrocities. The “illegal camp committee,” a group of prisoners in the Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar who have formed a secret resistance movement, work together to rescue a Polish-Jewish boy from the SS guards.

Oct. 18: "Army of Shadows" (1969)
While some films about resistance to Nazism and the Vichy regime valorize and romanticize their heroes, Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1969 feature offers a gritty, sobering picture of those struggles, particularly in depicting the difficult and dangerous decisions made by the groups.

Oct. 25: "The Conformist" (1970)
Marcello (Jean-Louis Trintgnant), the troubled protagonist of this visually and sonically striking political drama written and directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, is an agent of the “Organization for Vigilance and Repression of Anti-Fascism” in Mussolini’s Italy. He has been assigned to assassinate his own former college professor, an anti-fascist living in exile in Paris.

Nov. 1: "The Tin Drum" (1979)
In this magical-realist epic based on the classic picaresque novel by Nobel Prize-winning author Günter Grass, a three-year old boy named Oskar Mazarath decides to stop growing up — literally –– just a few years before the Nazis’ rise of power in Germany. Born with the mind of an adult, and the bizarre ability to shatter glass with his scream, Oskar embarks on a series of adventures that disrupt the everyday order of Nazi-controlled society. Along the way, Oskar’s story showcases the myriad ways in which Germans complied with and adapted to the Nazi regime.

Nov. 8: "Amen" (2002)
An adaptation of a controversial play by German political dramatist Rolf Hochhut, this provocative film examines the history of the Catholic Church during the Holocaust. Kurt Gerstein, a Waffen-SS officer played by Ulrich Tukur, is shocked to find that the chemical he has developed against typhus is being used by the Nazis to exterminate human beings. He finds an ally in a young Jesuit priest (Mathieu Kassovitz), who works with him to report Nazi atrocities to the Vatican.

Nov. 15: "The Counterfeiters" (2007)
This Austrian-German drama directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky won the 2007 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for its fictionalized story of Nazi Germany’s secret “Operation Bernhard,” which aimed to destabilize the economy of the United Kingdom by flooding it with forged British pound notes.

Nov. 29: "Black Book" (2006)
The Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, known for Hollywood blockbusters such as "Robocop" and "Total Recall," returned to the Netherlands to direct this thriller of espionage and resistance. Rachel Stein is a Dutch-Jewish singer now living in hiding in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands. After a failed attempt to escape the country, Stein makes contact with the Dutch underground resistance and works as a spy to infiltrate the Nazi command.

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