Why Young Filmmakers Should Get Out of the Country More

A global political awareness results in more enlightened moviemaking, while thinking critically is vital to creating powerful art

I had a rude awakening when I left the U.S. for the first time, in 1965, to go to graduate film school in Paris. I discovered that the world was not at all as I thought.

Once on foreign soil I discovered that global figures such as Cuba’s Fidel Castro or African liberation leader Patrice Lumumba, who had been portrayed as clowns or dupes by the American media, were in fact viewed as anti-colonialist heroes by the rest of the world.

I felt quite foolish to have been so uninformed about the politics of liberation.

That was when I realized that the U.S. lives in a bubble.

While here, I had no opportunity to learn anything other than the American point of view. Despite a sophisticated communications industry, then and now, the U.S. view is strangely reminiscent of Soviet-era Russia — there’s little diversity of opinion.

The best way for artists to combat that United-State-of-Mind is to visit or live in other countries.

It’s crucial for young filmmakers to gain a clearer understanding of the world around them, and even to take a more critical look at their own country. A global political awareness results in more enlightened moviemaking, while thinking critically is vital to creating powerful art. 

As dean of a film school, I try to maximize opportunities for students to develop a broad view of the world.

Loyola Marymount University (LMU) School of Film and Television students and a professor just returned from Ouarzazate, Morocco, where they attended the second Rencontres Internationales Des Ecoles De Cinema  (International Meeting of Film Schools).

LMU was the only U.S. school invited to this prestigious global gathering of film professionals, scholars and journalists. 

Festival organizers hosted more than 300 attendees, including invited guests from Canada, Lebanon, Burkina Faso, France, Spain, Belgium, Mauritania and Morocco.

Representing LMU were students Christina “Kiki” Manrique (animation), Scott Oller (documentary film production), David Zaleski (fiction film production) and Associate Professor Jose Garcia-Moreno, chair of the Animation Department.

Oller screened his film, “Steps,” which he made last fall in Bonn, Germany, as part of an annual LMU School of Film and Television travel abroad program. The film is about a journey through the abandoned buildings of Europe.

Student exchange programs provide an expanded worldview. U.S. students who go abroad are immersed in a different culture and, when they return to our campus they get to know some of the international scholars whom we’ve invited to be visiting artists.

Either way, the result is an awakening.

Travel also enables students to grow and even reinvent themselves if they like while exploring the world. And, fortunately, having a camera in your hand is a great way to meet people and start to familiarize yourself with a culture.

Some might feel that the internet is one way to go beyond our intellectual borders. But visiting another country online from the comfort of your dorm room can never equal experiencing a different culture first-hand. 

The internet is a major game changer and has given us an amazing window on the world, but that’s all. It’s like seeing Europe through the rearview mirror of a motor coach.

I’m reminded of the famous fallacy of human consciousness; you don’t know what you don’t know.

Stephen Ujlaki, producer of 30 feature films made-for-television movies and documentaries, is dean of the Loyola Marymount University School of Film and Television.