Translating with Film
The movie: It’s night. Two students are at a party, playing a game. Punctuating the game is a series of chronological flashbacks showing the students’ individual experiences throughout the day leading up to the party. One student had a terrible day; the other did not. But by the end of the game, both are equally jazzed. The viewer is led to ponder the idea that, regardless of what has happened in the past, one can enjoy the current moment. The past does not dictate the future.
Or that’s what the viewer might ponder if he or she understood Italian, since the actors deliver their lines in Italian. But the movie isn’t a product of Italian cinema. Frankly, it isn’t even a movie—yet. This is a synopsis of a film script co-written by UNH senior Kyle Rober, a Spanish major who also happens to study Italian. As a student in Darby Leicht’s Advanced Italian Conversation and Composition, Rober—as well as every other student in the course—is required to produce a 5-7 minute film, script to storyboard to final cut.
The entire course, in fact, is structured around film study and creation. In addition to working their way through every aspect of film-making, students watch and discuss Italian films, read camera manuals written in Italian, learn editing software with Italian-language instructions, and follow a textbook called Ciak! Cinema for Italian Conversation, co-written by UNH Italian professor and chair of the languages, literatures, and cultures department (LLC), Piero Garofalo.
Leicht was inspired to focus on film both by the Ciak! textbook and a faculty instructional technology workshop that trains faculty in technologies for the classroom. In high-level instruction, she notes, “We’re always looking for new and interesting ways to encourage conversation and composition.” The language resources were available, and, with help from both the Parker Media Lab and the Language Resource Center, so were the basic cameras, computers, and software.
Garofalo explains how the process of creating videos is a prime example of “Transformed Practice,” a component of literacy-based language instruction that emphasizes creating texts based on other texts students have previously studied.
“Transformed Practice consists of translating in the broadest sense—between languages and cultural contexts, between written and oral speech, between texts and performances, and between sign systems such as language and film. Filmmaking encapsulates the goals of Transformed Practice because it requires the writing of a screenplay, drawing the storyboard, acting, shooting the film, editing it, creating an audiotrack, and inserting subtitles,” says Garofalo. In other words, filmmaking requires multiple acts of translation between multiple media.
Moreover, the permanent nature of film means that results can be viewed and reviewed for instructional purposes, raising the stakes for students, who might be more likely to make a concerted effort at creating a good final product.
In Leicht’s course, the students are asked to create their “texts”—in this case scripts and eventually movies—based on their study of the classic “texts” of Italian cinema. Rober’s heavy use of flashback is inspired by Cinema paradiso, the 1988 film by Giuseppe Tornatore. Other students have drawn inspiration from Roberto Benigni’s La vita è bella (Life is Beautiful) and Lina Wertmüller’s Io speriamo che me la cavo (Ciao, Professore!). Students study and discuss the techniques used in the movies, and then try to use similar techniques in their own movies.
An increased emphasis on film technology in LLC recently has led to a Parents Association grant to create a video production lab in the Language Resource Center in Murkland Hall. Once complete, students and faculty will have access to professional-grade video and editing equipment. A new camera, several camcorders, editing software, and a green screen are all in the plans. Video projects in the future will likely include student-created promotional videos for prospective students, language club promo videos, and expanded use of video technology in classroom instruction.
Back to the movie: Rober and his partner, Courtney Wright, are working on a final script revision (working title: A Slice of Life at UNH) and hammering out their ideas for scene transitions. Then the shooting will begin. Some classmates and friends will be featured extras, but Rober and Wright will do most of the acting.
Rober admits that when he first started studying Italian, he never imagined he’d eventually be making a movie. He reports that the task requires a great deal of self-directed study; much of the work takes place outside the classroom as he and his partner work on various aspects of the film. But, he says, “since we already have a basis of the language firmly understood, it allows for the creative energy to flourish.” The process has strengthened particularly Rober’s speaking abilities, he says, since all discussion takes place in Italian and the student movies are based on dialogue. “It has been nice to be able to produce spoken content that replicates real-life situations,” Rober adds. “The dialogue is applicable to everyday life, especially since it is our own lives we are portraying.”
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