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Looking Through Time: A French Film Narrative

December 16, 2015

Portrait: Professor Wall-Romana

Portrait: Professor Wall-Romana
Photo by Jack Swift, CLAgency student

Professor Christophe Wall-Romana has an wide range of research interests, but he has focused his recent studies on French media, literature, film, and philosophy within the last century. He is captivated with the study of how French poets became fascinated with silent cinema as a new art form in the early 20th century.

Wall-Romana was especially interested in the lesser known works of the French writer and filmmaker, Jean Epstein. He has just translated one of his works from French to English, The Intelligence of a Machine (Univocal Publishing, 2014). When Cinémathèque Française, the national French film archive located in Paris, contacted the Walker Art Center about setting up an event to screen Epstein films, they reached out to Professor Wall-Romana first.

The event, titled The Intelligence of Cinema: Masterpieces of Jean Epstein, consisted of screenings of ten of Epstein’s films over six evenings with three scholarly lectures, including one by Tom Gunning, one of the world’s experts on silent film. These screenings took place this past October and November and drew crowds from all backgrounds. "After the event, a father who had attended several of the events with his 12-year-old emailed me.” Wall-Romana said. “The father had originally planned on only taking his daughter to one screening, but she fell in love with silent movies and insisted that they come back for more events.” Professor Wall-Romana tells this story with particular enthusiasm because it shows how these films have a way of connecting with people even a hundred years after their debut.

Multiple organizations helped in the year-long planning. Wall-Romana collaborated closely with Dean Otto and Sheryl Mosley, the heads of the moving image program at the Walker Art Center. Together, they worked with both the French consulate in Chicago and the French government to safely gain and transfer these films from the national archives to Minnesota. Beyond his department of French and Italian, the event was supported by the Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature, the graduate major in moving image studies led by Graeme Stout, and the Institute for Advanced Study.

In the future, Wall-Romana hopes to continue publishing more translations of works by Epstein for the greater public to read and enjoy. "This event was a once in a lifetime opportunity to present these historic films,” Wall-Romana says. “But I hope to do something similar in the coming years to further connect lesser-known French and francophone cultural treasures with the Twin Cities communities.” In 2017, the films of Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers will be shown at the Walker Art Center and he will collaborate with that event, too.

This story was written by an undergraduate student account executive in CLAgency. Meet the team.