Aquí y Ahora: International Spanish film and television scholars come to campus

Last Friday and Saturday, “Aquí y Ahora,” an international conference on contemporary TV and film production in Spain took place in the Science Center. The conference was hosted by the the Spanish Section of the college’s Department of Modern Languages along with the Spanish Departments of Haverford and Bryn Mawr. The event featured a variety of panels over a day and a half, including a keynote speech on “History, Hauntology, Representation: Spanish Cinema Against Itself” by Professor at University of Illinois at Chicago Steven Marsh.

Professor of Spanish Adrián Gras-Velázquez was largely responsible for bringing this conference to Swarthmore, along with Bryn Mawr Professor of Film Studies Dr. Rosi Song. Gras-Velázquez explained how the event came about.

“We applied to the Mellon TriCo Faculty Forum grant and through them were able to organize this conference on contemporary Spanish film,” he said.“I wanted to bring Spanish film to the fore here. We do use film and media in our classes, when teaching, and we thought it would a cool idea for students to have access to the academic study of Spanish film.”

For Spanish students at Swarthmore who are taking Gras-Velázquez’ “Contemporary Spanish Film” class this semester, this conference served as a unique opportunity to extend their studies beyond the limits of the classroom. One of those students, Katherine Hannah ‘17 enjoyed the experience, although she did note the high level of academic discourse could be confusing.

“It was a really cool experience. There were a few panels that talked about films we’d seen in class and talked about which was nice because I think myself and other students felt that we had some background and were able to actually connect with what they’re saying. It was cool to see professors interact with other people in their area of expertise,” said Hannah.

She also mentioned that the conference offered her an opportunity to get a broader view of Spanish cinema and to encounter different points of view and ideas surround Spanish film and television.

“It definitely helped me understand larger themes in Spanish film that maybe we hadn’t touched on… That was interesting, to learn what Spanish cinema is all about,”  Hannah said. “There were people who talked about things that we hadn’t really talked about and films that we hadn’t talked about or tied films in that we’d seen but in different ways that we hadn’t discussed.”

The current of success of Spanish film and television, despite the state of the Spanish economy was a topic touched upon by the keynote speech and a motivator for Gras-Velázquez to host this event.

“Our idea was that Spain is going through a crisis, and has been going through a crisis for quite a long time, and this crisis is also happening in the culture and the arts of Spain,” said Gras-Velázquez. “ We have seen that, even though there are less funding opportunities in Spain to direct movies and there’s less money from different production companies, they’re still coming out with a lot of movies and the movies they’re coming out with now in Spain are getting more worldwide recognition than they were before.”

The conference also discussed other themes important to contemporary Spanish film and television, such as stereotyping and memory. The event attracted a wide variety of visitors to campus to present on and discuss these topics.

“The conference was attended by almost 50 people, including Swarthmore students and professors, as well as professors from the Trico colleges, and colleges and universities around the US, the UK, and Spain, throughout the day and a half that it took place,” said Gras-Velázquez.

Every one of the faculty who visited campus this past weekend which were contacted for this article reported being very impressed not only with the conference, but with the college as a whole.

“I had a fantastic opportunity to heard my colleagues’ work and to share my ideas and work, as well as to receive input from them. The conference was very well organized and provided us with the opportunity to interact intellectually as well as socially in a small and intimate environment,” said Dr. Mónica Cantero-Exojo, from Drew University.

“The conference was one of the best ones I have attended. I learned a lot from all the presentations, and everybody was very nice. All the papers I heard had an outstanding quality, which made the conference even more interesting. Swarthmore College is located in a beautiful campus, and all the professors at Swarthmore made us feel at home,” said Dr. Ana Corbálan, from the University of Alabama.

“All of the presentations were high quality and thought-provoking, and the question-and-answer sessions that ended each panel were lively, as were the continuation of the conversations during the breaks,” said Dr. Thomas Deveny, from McDaniel College. “I had not visited your campus before, and holding the conference at such a lovely site also helped make the conference a tremendous success.”

Gras-Velázquez attributed this overwhelming success to all the help he had received. The Film and Media Studies department at the college and the Film Studies Program at Bryn Mawr co-sponsored the event, as well as the Provost’s office. Gras-Velázquez identified María Luisa Guardiola and Luciano Martínez from within the Spanish Section and acknowledged that the help from the Scott Arboretum, where the conference attendees ate lunch on Saturday, was undoubtedly valuable in convincing the visiting faculty of the campus’ beauty.

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