Josh Cabat, Instructor
Josh Cabat teaches film and literature at Roslyn High School, Roslyn, New York.
I can still tell you the exact date: June 15, 1989. I had just finished my first year of teaching at Brooklyn’s Lafayette High School, and amidst the building racial tension in the city that year I was eagerly anticipating the premiere of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. And what Spike gave us was nothing short of miraculous—a film that created a specific and complete world while at the same time touching on universal themes and ideas, all in a mere two hours. I still argue for it as the best American film of the last quarter century, and its 25th anniversary formed the thematic heart of this year’s Young Film Critics program.[more]
As Manohla Dargis pointed out in a recent Times article, the six major studios (not including their art-house divisions) will have released exactly three movies directed by women in 2014. She sees this as a call to action. I could not agree more, and so, inspired by this imbalance (as well as by the memory of Lee’s masterpiece), we focused on films that were created by those outside of the white male-dominated mainstream of film. We watched two extremely different movies crafted by female directors: Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar-winning story of the adrenaline junkies who defuse bombs in Iraq in The Hurt Locker, and Agnes Varda’s pioneering, intimate New Wave masterpiece, Cleo from 5 to 7. We also screened one of film’s greatest examples of magic realism in Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, a movie that many argue is the high-water mark of the Mexican New Wave. Then, the legendary Akira Kurosawa took us to ancient feudal Japan to raise fundamental questions about truth and perception in his groundbreaking Rashomon.
Of all the new and different perspectives we got to see, perhaps the most challenging and controversial came with Hany Abu-Assad’s 2005 film Paradise Now, a work that dared to show us the very human and even mundane side of two young Palestinian men who are asked to become suicide bombers. And surely the highlight of the year was the visit of Grantland.com’s young, brilliant Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Wesley Morris. Wesley talked with the group about the progress of the film industry and the role of the critic, and shared his insights on Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep, a film that in its own straightforward and realist way is one of the greatest attempts in American film to reveal a world overlooked by most of the movie-going public.
Each of these films is wonderful in its own way; what they share is the ability to give us an intimate, often unsettling but always revealing glimpse into lives we might otherwise never know.
Skip now to another date: December 11, 2014 when, for the first time ever, the YFC program participated in a distance learning event. Using a live streaming platform, YFC participants engaged in dialogue with the students I teach out in Roslyn, Long Island. Both groups were about to watch Do the Right Thing. For my introduction, I had planned to raise the issue of whether or not the racial politics of the film were still relevant. Sadly, recent events in this country had made the question moot. As we watched the film, still as powerful for me as it was in 1989, I got the sense that even for our young students, the lack of progress over the past quarter century was hard to conceive. For example, the fact that Ava DuVernay was not even nominated for a Best Director Oscar for her work in Selma means that the list of African-American women ever given that kind of recognition is still stuck at precisely zero. On the other hand, the fact that Mexican directors Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Inaurritu have won that award in consecutive years raises hope that “outside” voices will continue to be able to tell these untold stories. And as you will see from the pieces within, all of these voices, and the multiplicity of perspectives from which they arise, are worthy of our attention.[/more]