2017-08-10 / Arts & Entertainment News

Foreign Film Series at FGCU is a hit

It may be Charlotte County’s best deal for hardcore cinephiles. For a fast five bucks, you not only get snacks, you also get to watch an acclaimed movie and — this might be the best part — discuss it afterward.

That’s the weekly agenda for the Foreign Film Series at Florida Gulf Coast University’s Herald Court Centre. A year round program held every Tuesday, the series attracts between 18 people over the summer to about 40-ish during the height of season.

And those $5 admissions apparently add up.

“It’s probably our biggest moneymaker,” said Nancy Staub, FGCU Herald Court’s program assistant and the most frequent moderator for the series. “In the course of a month during season, we can make $400 or $500. If we don’t have to pay a moderator, which sometimes happens, it’s all profit.”

Ms. Staub started the Foreign Film Series earlier in the decade, when she realized a host of Charlotte County residents were trekking to the Burns Court Cinema in Sarasota — an “art house” theater — to see foreign and indie films that weren’t popular enough to make it to multiplex screens.


Charlotte County audiences have embraced the Foreign Film Series’ international movies. 
COURTESY PHOTO Charlotte County audiences have embraced the Foreign Film Series’ international movies. COURTESY PHOTO “I thought, ‘I can open a Netflix account and get foreign films, and we can show them here,’” Ms. Staub said.

The experiment paid off. Local folks started showing an appreciation for seeing a good film without having to add the drive time.

The first moderator was a gentleman named Lee Stein, who grew up in the exhibition end of the business and had a passion for movies. The series was his baby for several years.

“If he would go away during the summer, I would have what’s called Student Pick for about two months, where the students would pick the movies they wanted to show and they would moderate it,” Ms. Staub said.


STAUB STAUB It’s a good thing she started giving others a chance to flex their moderating muscles. Mr. Stein ended up moving to Colorado and leaving a vacancy for the moderator position. That’s how Ms. Staub inherited the position herself.

“He generally would pick the foreign films, which was great,” she explained. “When he left, I tried several other folks (as moderator) and nothing was happening, so I started picking the foreign films and moderating them. That took a lot of darned work. I had to look up stuff about the movie and the director.

Sometimes I couldn’t always watch the movie.”

Nowadays, it’s still work, but she has a routine down pat — starting with a Netflix queue of more than 115 films, and counting. She reads movie reviews online from services such as Rotten Tomatoes and the International Movie Database and researches information that the audience will find intriguing about the director, the film’s reception and subject matter. And she’s found a way to ease the workload.

“I’ve got several moderators now — Rick Ramos, Marilyn Thorndycraft, Sharon Whitehill,” Ms. Straub said. “We also have a special week. Dr. Ben Crosby loves old Hollywood, so once a month we do ‘Hooray for Hollywood!’ and we show a movie from between the 1930s and the ’70s. He prefers westerns and musicals — ‘On the Town,’ ‘42nd Street,’ ‘High Noon,’ ‘All That Jazz.’

“Some folks really like it, and some come only for the foreign language films. But it spices it up a little and gives it a different dimension. I have folks who will email me and say, ‘I really

>> What: FGCU Foreign Film Series
>> When: 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesdays
>> Where: FGCU’s Herald Court Centre, 117
Herald Court, Suite 211, Punta Gorda
>> Cost: $5
>> Info: Aug. 15 is the Hooray for Hollywood!
week, showing “42nd Street”

enjoyed that. I didn’t like looking at the girls who have 22-inch waists.’ That would be the women who email me.”

“Sometimes I’ll do a themed month, depending on what it might be,” Ms. Straub said. “In February, I try to pick romantic-type movies. In July, it was celebrating freedom. Sometimes I’ll pick certain directors, and I try to pick films out of a lot of different countries.”

A few past foreign films that Ms. Straub found most affecting to the audience include “The 100-Year-Old Man who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared” (Norway), “House of Sand” (Portugal), “Difret” (Ethiopia), “Omar” (Palestine) and “The Wind that Shakes the Barley” (Ireland). That last, a period film about the Irish Civil War, was “brutally violent,” Ms. Straub said. The films are chosen for their merit, even though they may include scenes that some find objectionable.

“As we have talked before in the group, we’re all adults,” she said. “Sometimes there’s something that’s sexy/steamy or language that can be offensive, or you might see a rape scene or someone getting killed. But you’re also going to see a lot of sweet, charming character studies. Some are cinematically beautiful or the musical score is fabulous. Folks enjoy it. We’ll play some indie films, some Bollywood from time to time. We try to keep it fresh and interesting.”

At the conclusion of the film, audience members mingle for a bit and are given the option to stay for a (usually) lively discussion, if they wish. According to Ms. Straub, there’s a core group that stays through the summer that can always be depended on to participate.

“We know everybody’s name, and everybody in the class knows each other’s names, so it’s a good socializing opportunity as well,” she said. “There’s even a group of women that formed a widows’ club, where they go out for lunch or drinks after the movie. I’ve seen these wonderful relationships form. I love this demographic — they’re smart, they’re not sitting in front of their TVs or at the casino. They’re out doing something and staying engaged. Foreign films are just a great vehicle for that.

“I don’t think people really go to see a movie as a product, necessarily, but as an art form.” ¦

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