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Culture » Arts & Entertainment

Foreign Concepts

The home of the world’s longest-running international film festival is in Provo.



After doing his undergraduate work at Brigham Young University, Scott Miller went on to Princeton and then to Cambridge to pursue graduate studies. While he loved those places of higher learning, he found they were missing something he had become used to in Provo'and it wasn’t Cougar football. While Miller was at the Y, he’d been able to choose from a selection of foreign films any week he wanted without ever having to leave campus. He just assumed that when he went away to world-class educational institutions in other cities, he’d find the same thing there.


“I remember being wildly disappointed that they didn’t have anything like it,” Miller said. “When I would tell people about the scope of foreign films available to see at BYU, they were amazed.nn

Ask anybody where the world’s longest running international film festival is still being held, and the list of guesses will probably get pretty long before arriving at the BYU campus in Provo. Happy Valley is where the BYU International Cinema program has been screening about 40 foreign films every semester on a continuous basis since 1968. In addition to showing the films, the program also offers discussions about the movies’ themes.


The program is run by the humanities college rather than the film school because the primary reason for showing international movies is to help foreign-language students learn more about the cultures they are studying, or to allow students in literature or the honors program to have access to the film versions of the classic texts they are studying. Some of the films are American or English adaptations of classic works or movies focusing on important historical events. For example, a film about the Montgomery bus boycott'which introduced the world to a young minister named Martin Luther King, Jr.'was shown in January during the week of the King holiday.


The screenings are open to the public at no charge, and people from the community outside of BYU typically make up about half the audiences of more than 200 people for weekend showings at the Spencer W. Kimball Tower on campus. Nevertheless, as the International Cinema Website states, that BYU’s film festival is probably “the best-kept secret in Utah.” Humanities professors Miller and Dennis Packard, co-directors of the program, say they hope that will change, but they also won’t be compromising the program’s goal to “educate, not entertain.nn

“We aren’t just going to show films that are just entertaining, action films,” Miller said. “There are plenty of films like that everywhere. We want films that show another philosophy or take on the human experience.nn

The program is limited in the films it can screen due to BYU’s Honor Code, but Packard said he still looks for films that will get people thinking about important issues. “We don’t want to show all Disney all the time,” Packard said. “A lot of the films we show deal with very striking issues. Culturally, they take some work to understand.


“We give students a chance to see films where they will need to grapple with ideas. We want a film that will lend itself to an animated discussion.nn

In March alone, the program showed films from China, Brazil, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Germany and France. The screening list included works by master filmmakers including Jean Renoir and based on texts by classic writers such as Henrik Ibsen. The film topics ranged from a meeting between U.S. Army General Douglas MacArthur and Japanese Emperor Hirohito to the myth of Orpheus set in Rio de Janeiro during Carnival. Characters included a refugee girl who disguises herself as a boy and a Brazilian farmer who wants to try to make his children into country-music sensations.


Sometimes the films are shown for their relevance to current events. This weekend, one of the three films being screened is about the life of Leni Riefenstahl. The screening comes just as a major biography of Riefenstahl is being released.


Packard and Miller said BYU is in a unique position to offer international films because a high percentage of the student body has lived abroad while serving LDS Church missions. “There’s definitely a consciousness of the outside world here,” Miller said. “I remember when I came back here being surprised that I’d hear conversations going on in three or four different languages just walking across campus.nn

That consciousness can lead to a different way of looking at the film options available at the local multiplex. Or as the International Cinema Web site guarantees, “We promise that once you break free of tepid and formulaic Hollywood productions and learn what world cinema has to offer, you will never see films the same way again.nn

And you may also never see BYU the same way again.


Current films at the BYU International Cinema program include The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl (1993, Germany); Il Postino (1994, Italian/Spanish); and The Butterfly (2002, France). All screenings are free and open to the public. Phone 422-5751 or check the Website,, for show times.


BYU International Cinema
nSpencer W. Kimball Tower
nBrigham Young UniversityProvo