Apr 12, 2017

'Casablanca' in the Age of Trump

Last week, I attended an event hosted by Eugene Lang College and The New School; specifically, the Department of Culture and Media at Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts and the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility, as well as the Department of Liberal Studies at The New School for Social Research. The event included a screening of the classic 1942 film Casablanca, and was titled "Casablanca at 75: A Refugee Story."

I was incredibly excited about the event for two main reasons: Casablanca is one of my favorite films, and one of my primary passions concerning cinema is the ability to recontextualize stories across time, culture, etc. in order to invoke new meanings from them. In the age of Trump and the divisive rhetoric surrounding immigration, this screening event appeared to be the perfect antidote and opportunity for discussion around "new" meanings of a classic film.

The event was also to include a conversation with Noah Isenberg, a Eugene Lang College professor of Culture and Media and the author of We'll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood's Most Beloved Movie, and Alexander Aleinikoff, director of the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility at The New School. The conversation was to be moderated by A.O. Scott of The New York Times. Honestly, I cannot think of a set-up for an event that could possibly excite me more than this one; when I discovered it on Facebook, I immediately registered (it was also free).

Unfortunately, the event fell incredibly short of my expectations. The venue at The New School was nice and there were about 40 people in attendance (fewer than I had anticipated). The screening was fine - the film seemed to be played via DVD - but there was no real introduction beforehand. When the three men took to the stage after the film ended, no introductions were made. There was also no program or pamphlet, and so I had no idea who was who and had forgotten exactly which each person's expertise was supposed to be. They launched into a too-casual conversation that talked some about the film's renewed relevance in the current political climate, but it felt more like a chat between friends and we all just happened to be there, too. While I think a casual discussion at at event like this is often fine, introductions were definitely necessary and it would have been nice to have felt more addressed as audience members. The conversation lasted 25 minutes or so, with nothing all that substantial to contribute to the relevance of the film.

I had high hopes for this sort of recontextualization of such an iconic film - it felt like it would be the perfect event - but it seemed to fall short based on poor planning and execution. It might have been a really impactful conversation, but I left feeling like I had watched a film I had seen a hundred times before with no new insight. It's unfortunate, because obviously these men have remarkable expertise on the topic. With more proper planning, it might have been a really special experience.

- Sarah Dawson

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