Saturday, March 14, 2009

Lumumba downtown

At the end of this month, I am traveling to Germany for a week to attend an conference in Bremen, so I need to make up for my missed classes so the students don’t miss out on learning. For my small American literature class, I will give them some reading to do and an essay to write. Xallas. For my first year students, I am going to try to channel some of their sociability into the theater. I am putting them into groups of five students and they will write a short play which they will perform when I return on March 31. For my African literature class, I decided to schedule a Saturday film screening downtown. (Weekends are Friday-Saturday here; so a Saturday night is similar to a Sunday night in the US.)

I decided this for beaucoup reasons. It is partly an experiment and partly a protest. Mostly it is practical. My class meets for 50 minutes three times per weeks, so in order to show a film that is longer than 1h40, you need to spread it out over three classes, which is a crappy way to see a film. (I did this with Ousmane Sembène’s Faat Kiné earlier in the semester.) At the start of the semester, I decided I wanted to show Raoul Peck’s film Lumumba on a Saturday downtown at the old campus. I scheduled it late in the afternoon so students could, should they choose, spend time downtown at other activities either before or after the screening. I really would like to see programming like this as a regular part of the curriculum, so that the university maintains its presence downtown. And if I put it on the syllabus from the start of the semester, there should not be any problems with attendance.

Still I was concerned. I reserved the room far in advance, but would it be open and unoccupied? Next, would there be appropriate technology? Then, would the food that our departmental assistant ordered be there? (Any glitches would be hard, if not impossible, to fix on a Saturday evening on a half-deserted campus.) And what about the students? Would they show up, and if they did would they be in good enough spirits to appreciate the film or would they resent spending a Saturday in class?

I am pleased to report that it was a success on all counts. The room and projector and food were all there. The only technical glitches involved pulling down the movie screen (which students solved by hooking it to a desk) and a pitcher of lemonade lost under a table with a tablecloth. There were only two absentees, both of whom notified me in advance. They really liked the film (and they are not shy about sharing their true opinions—last week one student said something so harsh about a play we read that the class was silent until another student playfully asked, “Why don’t you tell us what you really think?”) They were appreciative of the food—lemonade with two trays of pastries (one savory and one sweet). After the film, we stayed for a 20-minute discussion about the film and Lumumba and then I got the train home. The students found time to be sociable; as I was leaving, I walked past a majority of the class talking among themselves.

I am glad this went as smoothly as it did and may try to arrange some other programs downtown in the future. It was a Saturday well spent.

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