By Katlyn Moncada, A&E Editor
Whether in the form of a documentary, biography or fictional account, political films have portrayed historical events and social situations for nearly a century.
A political film class taught by Dr. Gregory Ryan, visiting assistant professor of political science, meets on Tuesday evenings to view and discuss films on topics from espionage to the Vietnam War to how immigration is portrayed in foreign films.
“Our life is based on stories,” Ryan said. “All people live by myths, all countries live by myths. Some of the myths are true and some are not — especially going through time.”
Ryan said that most viewing and discussion leans toward topics related to international relations.
Seth Brake, sophomore political science major, said political principles are complicated because the issues involved are “a part of everyday life, yet few people end up reading books of political theory, and especially few voluntarily.
“Films that engage political issues have the ability to relate to people because these are issues everyone thinks about and, thus, can convey important messages in a way that everyone can grapple with them.”
The class also watched documentaries such as “Two Days in October,” about the Vietnam War and the first significant student protest held at the University of Wisconsin in 1967.
“It’s important for students to understand why wars we have now are different,” Ryan said. “Media is different. In Vietnam, everyone watched the same news. Now, we get our news in different ways.”
After watching these films, students are starting to pick up that the media outlets and governmental entities do not always tell what is going on, Ryan said.
“(The media and/or government) frame the story in a way that usually looks like Americans are making a positive contribution,” Ryan said. “Sometimes we are, sometimes we are not.”
While political films are not new to cinema, politics continues to be a popular subject in film.
Ryan said it is interesting because America has become a youth culture. He said he thinks society, perhaps, is becoming too transactional.
“People are mattering less in a lot of ways, and it is about entertainment — it’s about a game,” Ryan said. “That is hanging in our culture. We can’t escape it and that inspires (films).”
Brake also said cultures often operate on assumptions about the world that go deeper than the politics of the time. Not only is considering the culture of other nations important, Brake said, but it also is equally important to examine the those from our own backgrounds.
Overall, Ryan said his goal for teaching with political films is that students learn, understand and be aware of the possibilities the situations can lead to and that in everything, risk is involved.
“(Political films) get to cutting through myths that may mislead us to believe there are no moral dilemmas,” Ryan said. “The most important theme is to help students understand realistic outcomes or the potential for certain outcomes and to wipe away some of the misunderstanding that is there.”