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Language House program director Dr. Phoenix Liu greets students, parents and faculty.

Short films from 10 language clusters rely largely on humor to tackle cultural issues.

On October 21, the St. Mary’s Language House presented the second annual Around-the-World Film Festival in the Hoff Theater of the Stamp Student Union. Language House Program Director Dr. Phoenix Liu greeted the audience of students, parents and faculty members, and announced that a panel of 12 UMD faculty and alumni would judge each film on production quality and cultural relevance.

The Language House consists of ten foreign-language undergraduate majors at UMD: Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Persian, Russian, and Spanish. Students can apply to live in a group, or “cluster,” in which only the target language is spoken. In addition to living and speaking the language at all times, residents attend mandatory club meetings and House-wide events that foster a compact community of globally conscious learners. For the 2013 Around-the-World Film Festival, students were instructed to write, direct and produce a short film of about 7 minutes that dealt with some aspect of the culture associated with their target language.

The first festival entry, Going to America by the Arabic cluster, used comedy to address the serious issue of racial profiling in America. The film starred an Egyptian immigrant whose homemade snack is mistaken for a hand grenade. Between chuckles, student actors voiced lines that resonated with the audience: “Since I arrived until now, everyone thinks I did something bad,” the immigrant complains to an Arabic-speaking friend. The friend responds, “We live here too, but this racism is a part of Arab life here.”

As students were given complete freedom on their assignments, the content of each film varied substantially. Some language clusters focused on national identities. The Russian cluster’s The Irony of Fate presented a typical New Year’s celebration in Russia; the Persian cluster’s Bon Appétit used a fictitious cooking program to illustrate the effects of the massive social upheaval in Iran after the Islamic Revolution in 1979; and the German cluster’s The Wizard of the East took viewers through West and East Germany before the destruction of the Berlin wall in 1989. Other films explored gender relations: the Chinese cluster’s Finding True Love parodied a dating show; the Hebrew Cluster’s The Search centered around a failed law that would have equalized the sexes in Hebrew grammar; and the French cluster’s The Cannes Film Festival used an iconic French tradition to reveal how some men and women may have different expectations at the movies. The Japanese cluster’s The Symbol displayed the disastrous effects of bullying, and the Spanish cluster’s Life: Today encouraged students to forget troubles in the past and enjoy life in the present. Only the Italian cluster chose a darker path with My Dear Mary, the story of an innocent Italian girl who immigrates to America and finds herself in the middle of a murderous plot.

Following the film screenings, students, parents and faculty relocated across the street for a reception in the basement of St. Mary’s Hall. Each language cluster had prepared a dish, including pizza from the Italian cluster and guacamole from the Spanish cluster, as well as unconventional fares like Rugelach pastries from Israel and basbousa cakes from the Maghreb. Dr. Liu then announced the winners: Italian (first place), Arabic (second place) and Spanish (third place). Each winning cluster received a monetary prize of $100.

Samantha Suplee ('14, Spanish Language & Literature and History)
SLLC Public Relations and Media Intern


The Diamondback, October 22, 2013