Three-day weekends always drive the masses to movie theaters, but for Fresno cinephiles, Labor Day weekend means more than just films at the multiplex: it’s the start of the Fresno State CineCulture series.
CineCulture’s mission is to promote cultural awareness through weekly film screenings and follow-up discussions, which are held on Friday evenings at 5:30 p.m. in the Peters Education Center Auditorium in the Student Union Center at 5010 N. Woodrow Ave. (A few select screenings are hosted by partner Fresno Filmworks and held at the Tower Theatre.)
Unlike with most blockbusters, there is no hefty admission cost to see these films. All screenings held at Fresno State are free, and parking is not enforced after 4 p.m. on screening nights, so you don’t even have to purchase a day pass. (Fresno Filmworks screenings are $10 general admission, with discounts for seniors and students.)
Films from the series span the globe and tell beautiful, raw, and heart-wrenching human stories. Something else CineCulture offers that you can’t get at your typical cineplex is the chance to discuss what you’ve watched with those who’ve work on the films directly.
If you enjoy watching documentaries, historical films, or learning about other cultures, this series is perfect for you.
Sept. 8: “Pop Aye” (2017) at the Tower Theatre, $10
Pop Aye by filmmaker Singapore-born Kirsten Tan is a road film about a disenchanted architect named Thana who bumps into his long-lost elephant, Pop Aye, on the streets of Bangkok, Thailand. After buying the elephant, Thana decides to travel back to the farm where the two grew up together, hoping to make sense of his career and marital troubles. Traveling across Thailand, Thana and Pop Aye deal with countless mishaps and meet colorful characters along their life-changing journey. In Thai with English subtitles, 102 minutes.
Sept. 15: “The Fencer” (2015)
Directed by Finnish filmmaker Klaus Härö (“Letters to Father Jacob,” “Mother of Mine”), “The Fencer” is a movie with a bit of everything: a thriller, love story and inspirational teacher tale based on a true Cold War episode, about an Estonian fencing champion on the run from the Soviet secret police. This film manages to find optimism, humanity and beauty in a tragic historical era. The narrative is inspired by the story of Estonia’s legendary fencing master, Endel Nelis, who founded a dynasty and nurtured several world-class swordsmen. Working under a pseudonym as a physical education teacher in a tiny Estonian village, Nelis instructs his pupils in the art and sport of fencing. When the kids push for their team to participate in the national competition in Leningrad, Nelis must choose between his safety and his true vocation. “Unfolding under a cloud of suspicion and paranoia fostered by the postwar Soviet occupation, this well-acted, smoothly crafted drama tells a story of cross-generational bonding in the face of historical oppression.” In Estonian, Russian and Armenian with English subtitles, 99 minutes.
Discussant: Dr. Michelle Denbeste
Sept. 22: “Paper Lanterns” (2016)
In the summer of 1945, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan: the first on Hiroshima on August 6, and the second on Nagasaki three days later. An estimated 140,000 civilians were killed in Hiroshima that day, including twelve American POWs whose family were never told of their death. A young Japanese boy, Shigeaki Mori, witnessed the explosion and survived but his life was changed forever. “Paper Lanterns” by director Barry Frechette is a film about the true story of these twelve American POWs and Mori’s struggle to account for their story in the years and decades that followed the end of World War II. Not as enemies, but as human beings who suffered in one of history’s most tragic events. This film is about them, the horrors they witnessed, their families’ struggle to find the truth, and one man’s effort to give them the gift of closure and have each of these twelve airmen recognized as victims of the atomic blast at the Hiroshima Peace Museum. The witnesses and survivors of these horrific events are dying. They do not want anyone to forget their loved ones and the sacrifices they made. They strive for peace, for compassion and for a world free of nuclear weapons. They want us to never forget their story. This film is being screened in honor of International Day of World Peace (September 22). 60 minutes.
Discussant: Chad Cannon, composer
Sept. 29 (5 p.m.): “The Promise” (2016)
In 1914, while the Great War looms, the mighty Ottoman Empire is crumbling. Constantinople, the once vibrant, multicultural capital on the shores of the Bosporus, is about to be consumed by chaos. Michael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac) arrives in the cosmopolitan hub as a medical student determined to bring modern medicine back to Siroun, his ancestral village in Southern Turkey where Turkish Muslims and Armenian Christians have lived side by side for centuries. Photojournalist Chris Myers (Christian Bale) has come here only partly to cover geo-politics. He is mesmerized by his love for Ana (Charlotte le Bon), an Armenian artist he has accompanied from Paris after the sudden death of her father. Then Michael meets Ana, their shared Armenian heritage sparks an attraction that explodes into a romantic rivalry between the two men. As the Turks form an alliance with Germany and the Empire turns violently against its own ethnic minorities, their conflicting passions must be deferred while they join forces to survive even as events threaten to overwhelm them. Promises are made and promises are broken. The one promise that must be kept is to live on and tell the story. Rated PG-13, 133 minutes.
Discussant: Carla Garapedian, associate producer