Strange Truth 2020 Broaches Contemporary Issues Through International Film

With two screenings and an exhibition planned for this semester, the ninth year of the Strange Truth series will examine themes of gender, justice, and historical memory across modern media.

Since its inception in 2012, the annual Strange Truth series has invited campus-wide discussion on contemporary issues as seen through the mediums of documentary film and media through a variety of screenings, exhibitions, and conversations with filmmakers. Though the reins have been handed from longtime organizers Visiting Assistant Professor John Muse and Visiting Senior Lecturer Vicky Funari to Assistant Professor of East Asian Languages and Culture and Visual Studies, and Director of Visual Studies Erin Schoneveld and Senior Lecturer of French and Francophone Studies and VCAM Faculty Fellow for 2019-2020 Kathryne Corbin, this year’s series promises to engage similar questions of film’s role in contributing to discussions of present-day concerns. 

Unlike previous years, however, Strange Truth 2020 features the work of three international filmmakers and artists, with a screening of Delphine and Carole by French director Callisto Mc Nulty kicking off the series February 18. Assembled from 1970s archival footage taken by French actress Delphine Seyrig and the Swiss director Carole Roussopoulos, the film introduces the issues of gender, history, and cinema that the series hopes to encapsulate this year. 

“They started to make these videos to draw attention to women’s rights in the ’70s, when that was a really important time to look at some of those questions,” said Corbin. “Callisto’s documentary takes interviews with each of these women and their footage and weaves it together to tell their story.” 

The screening will be followed by a discussion with Mc Nulty and Nicole Fernández Ferrer, the executive director of the Simone de Beauvoir Audiovisual Centre in Paris, where the archives of film, video, photographs, and documents used to create Delphine and Carole are housed. 

The topics of women’s rights and gender issues as seen through the cinematic lens of historical memory promise to be developed throughout the course of the series. Strange Truth 2020’s second film, Shusenjo: The Main Battleground of The Comfort Women Issue, will screen at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute on March 4 Followed by a conversation with the director Miki Dezaki, the film explores the history and memory of the “comfort women” in Imperial Japan, a topic whose contours are still fiercely debated today. 

These are works that we believe have incredibly important content and the questions that they’re engaging with are extremely relevant to the contemporary moment,” said Schoneveld. “The theme this year is really focusing on issues surrounding gender, equity, social justice, inclusivity within the context of historical memory and time and how that plays out within the space of a film.” 

Closing out the series is a multimedia exhibit from Japanese multi-disciplinary artist Shuzo Azuchi Gulliver, a renowned figure within Japanese expanded cinema who will simultaneously be opening an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, while also opening his exhibition De-Time here at Haverford in the VCAM create space. 

“We thought his [Gulliver’s] work would be an exciting opportunity to move beyond your standard film screening and develop an exhibition that is more of an interactive event,” said Schoneveld. 

The films and exhibit are deeply relevant to Schoneveld’s courses, “Post-War Japanese Cinema” and “Japanese Modernism Across Media” as well as Corbin’s class on the “Directions of Contemporary France,” but the two hope that Strange Truth 2020 will offer, as it always has, the chance for the greater community to engage with highly valuable, though not always readily available, media. 

“The series, from what John and Vicky did, was often for highlighting films that are new and exciting, and this year we’ve continued the spirit of that,” said Corbin. 

With the on-campus events open to the public and one of the screenings taking place at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute, Schoneveld and Corbin hope to draw cinephiles from across the local area to think through issues that are deeply relevant to our current moment. 

“We really want to open up the series, themes, and content we’re engaging with to the larger community,” said Schoneveld. “We believe it’s not only important and relevant but certainly of interest to many people beyond the immediate Haverford campus.”

Film still from Delphine and Carole by Callisto McNulty.