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Cinema of Substance Series

Co-sponsored by the USC School of Cinematic Arts

A film series showcasing meaningful films from around the world that explore who we are and how we might be. The themes of the films are often further examined in audience discussions with award-winning writers and directors.

2010-2011 Films and Speakers

2009-2010 Films and Speakers

Cinema of Substance 2014-2015

Film Screening: 'Norte, the End of History'

Sunday, January 25, 2015, 1pm
The Ray Stark Family Theatre, SCA 108

Directed by Lav Diaz

Official Selection: 2014 Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard)
Nominated for Best International Film by the 2015 Independent Spirit Awards

An embittered law student commits a brutal double murder; a family man takes the fall and is forced into a harsh prison sentence; a mother and her two children wander the countryside looking for some kind of redemption. Lav Diaz’s epic reimagining of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment is both an intimate human drama and a cosmic treatise on the origin of evil. Unfolding across the sun drenched fields and dark city streets of the Filipino island of Luzon, Norte, the End of History is a tale of murder, hate and hope from one of the world’s most uncompromising cinematic visionaries. More

"There is also, above all, an almost inexhaustible humanism at the heart of this remarkable film. It is the work of a director as fascinated by decency as by ugliness, and able to present the chaos of life in a series of pictures that are at once luminously clear and endlessly mysterious." —A.O. Scott, The New York Times

Film Screening: 'Northern Light'

Tuesday, November 11, 2014, 7pm 
The Ray Stark Family Theatre, SCA 108

Directed by Nick Bentgen

Winner, Most Innovative Feature, 2013 Visions Du Réel, Switzerland
Winner, Best Cinematography, 2013 New Orleans Film Festival, Louisiana

Set against the backdrop of a town’s annual snowmobile race, Northern Light interweaves captivating stories of recession-era America. The lives of three families change profoundly in the north woods of Michigan, where winters are unforgiving, jobs are hard to come by, and the line between living life and merely surviving is razor-thin. More

"Cool in tone and temperature, Nick Bentgen’s “Northern Light” turns white vistas and blue language into a sneakily compelling, endlessly patient observation of three working-class families in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan." —Jeannette Catsoulis, The New York Times

Film Screening: 'Two Days, One Night'

Thursday, November 6, 2014, 7pm 
The Ray Stark Family Theatre, SCA 108

Followed by a Q&A with Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

Written and Directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

Official Selection: 2014 Cannes Film Festival; 2014 Toronto International Film Festival; 2014 New York Film Festival.

Sandra (Cotillard) has just returned to work after recovering from an illness. Realizing that the company can operate with one less employee, management tells Sandra she is to be let go while the remaining employees will each receive a bonus. Over the course of a weekend, Sandra, often with the help of her loving husband (Fabio Rongione), races against time to convince each of her fellow co-workers to sacrifice their much-needed bonuses in order for her to keep her job. With each encounter, Sandra is brought into a different world with unexpected results while her fate hangs in the balance.  The Dardennes have brought an extremely relevant social inquiry and turned it into a powerful statement on community solidarity. More

Cinema of Substance 2013-2014

Film Screening: 'These Birds Walk'

Tuesday, April 8, 2014, 7pm
The Ray Stark Family Theatre, SCA 108

Co-sponsored by the USC School of Cinematic Arts and the Pakistani Students Association

Directed by Omar Mullik and Bassam Tariq

In Karachi, Pak­istan, a run­away boy’s life hangs on one crit­i­cal ques­tion: where is home? The streets, an orphan­age, or with the fam­ily he fled in the first place? More

"This material is so rich, that they could have developed a whole reality series from the hundred thousand human stories that have passed through his walls...they produce a profound, interwoven work of literary non-fiction, vérité, in the tradition of Truman Capote and Dave Eggers. This is the film that Edhi would have given us: for a few days, we calmly live among his people. Two in particular." —Omer M. Mosaffar,


Film Screening: 'Who is Dayani Cristal?'

Tuesday, April 15, 2014, 7pm
The Ray Stark Family Theatre, SCA 108

Directed by Marc Silver

Following a team of dedicated staff from the Pima County Morgue in Arizona, director Marc Silver seeks to give an anonymous man an identity. As the forensic investigation unfolds, Mexican actor and activist Gael Garcia Bernal retraces this man’s steps along the migrant trail in Central America. In an effort to understand what it must have felt like to make this final journey, he embeds himself among migrant travelers on their own mission to cross the border. More

Winner: World Cinema Cinematography Award, Sundance Film Festival 2013
Official Selection: Sundance Film Festival 2013, New York Film Festival 2013

"Measured, meditative and scrupulously constructed, alternately sobering and enlightening, Who Is Dayani Cristal? describes a possible, terrible fate experienced by scores of people every year." —The 51st New York Film Festival


Film Screening: 'Lili's Journey'

Wednesday, January 29, 7 PM | Ray Stark Family Theatre, SCA 108

Co-sponsored by Outside the Box [Office] and USC Women’s Student Assembly

Screening followed by Q&A with director Laetitia Belmadani moderated by Lyn Boyd-Judson, director of the Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics

Lili's Journey started with two sisters' simple quest to find candid answers about what it means to be a woman today, and evolved into a serendipitous voyage throughout the most diverse cultures, traditions and religions. What will it take to get on the road of this gender-equal society everybody seems to be talking about? More

Film Screening: 'A River Changes Course'

Tuesday, September 17, 2013, 7 PM | Ray Stark Family Theatre, SCA 108

Winner, World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary, Sundance Film Festival  

A River Changes Course tells the story of three families living in contemporary Cambodia who face hard choices forced by rapid development, and struggle to maintain their traditional ways of life as the modern world closes in around them. More

Cinema of Substance 2012-2013

Film Screening: 'Blood Brother'

Wednesday, October 23, 2012, 7pm
The Ray Stark Family Theatre, SCA 108

Directed by Steve Hoover

Rocky went to India as a disillusioned tourist. When he met a group of children with HIV, he decided to stay and devote his life to them. More

WINNER - Grand Jury Prize, Documentary, Sundance 2013
WINNER - Audience Award, U.S. Documentary, Sundance 2013
WINNER - Audience Award, Hot Docs 2013

“Documentaries don’t come any bigger-hearted than Blood Brother, a highly worked yet non-manipulative first feature for Steve Hoover that requires no string-pulling to achieve its inspirational impact.” —Dennis Harvey, Variety

Blood Brother opens in L.A. on Friday, October 25, 2012.

Film Screening: 'Nostalgia for the Light'

Tuesday, October 25, 2012, 7pm
The Ray Stark Family Theatre, SCA 108

Prix Chalais Winner, 2010 Cannes Film Festival
Best Documentary Grand Prix, 2010 European Film Awards  
Centerpiece, 2011 Documentary Fortnight, The Museum of Modern Art
Top 10 Best Movies of 2010,
Sight & Sound
Critic’s Pick,
The New York Times

Director Patricio Guzman travels 10,000 feet above sea level to the driest place on earth. Atop the mountains of the Atacama Desert, astronomers from all over the world gather to observe the stars. The sky is so translucent that it allows them to see right to the boundaries of the universe.

The Atacama Desert is also a place where the harsh heat of the sun keeps human remains intact: those of Pre-Columbian mummies; 19th century explorers and miners; and the remains of political prisoners, “disappeared” by the Chilean army after the military coup of September 11, 1973.

So while astronomers examine the most distant and oldest galaxies, at the foot of the mountains, women, surviving relatives of the disappeared whose bodies were dumped here, search, even after twenty-five years, for the remains of their loved ones, to reclaim their families’ histories.

Melding the celestial quest of the astronomers and the earthly one of the Chilean women, Nostalgia for the Light is a gorgeous, moving, and deeply personal odyssey.

For more information and to see the trailer click here

Film Screening: 'The Interrupters'

Friday, November 30, 2012, 7pm
USC Norris Cinema Theatre

A film by Steve James and Alex Kotlowitz

An evening with director Steve James and two Chicago members of Ceasefire, Eddie Bocanegra and Ameena Matthews 

Organizers: USC School of Cinematic Arts, USC Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics, and Visions and Voices: The USC Arts & Humanities Initiative 

Winner of over a dozen awards including Best Documentary, 2012 Independent Spirit Awards and voted top documentary of 2011 by National Critics Polls 

The Interrupters tells the moving and surprising stories of three "violence interrupters" who try to protect their Chicago communities from the violence they themselves once employed. The film, from acclaimed director Steve James and bestselling author Alex Kotlowitz, is an unusually intimate journey into the stubborn persistence of violence in our cities. The Interrupters follows Ameena, Cobe and Eddie as they go about their work, and while doing so reveals their own inspired journeys of hope and redemption. The film's titular subjects work for the innovative organization CeaseFire. It was founded by epidemiologist Gary Slutkin, who believes that the spread of violence mimics the spread of infectious diseases, and so the treatment should be similar: Go after the most infected and stop the infection at its source. One of the cornerstones of the organization is the Violence Interrupter program created by Tio Hardiman. The Interrupters- who have credibility on the streets because of their own personal histories- intervene in conflicts before they explode into violence. 


Film Screening: '5 Broken Cameras'

Monday, February 4, 2013, 7pm
Albert and Dana Broccoli Theatre, SCA 112

Directed by Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi

Written by Guy Davidi

An extraordinary work of both cinematic and political activism, Cameras  was shot almost entirely by Palestinian farmer Emad Burnat, who bought his first camera in 2005 to record the birth of his youngest son. The footage was later given to his Israeli co-director Guy Davidi to edit. The filmmakers’ collaboration, structured around the violent destruction of each one of Burnat’s cameras, follows one family’s evolution over five years of village turmoil. Burnat watches from behind the lens as olive trees are bulldozed, protests intensify and lives are lost. “I feel like the camera protects me,” he says, “but it’s an illusion.”

 “[A] rigorous and moving work of art.” — A. O. Scott, New York Times

2012 Sundance Film Festival Official Selection and winner, World Cinema Directing Award


Film Screening: 'Poetry'

Wednesday, March 7, 2013, 7pm
Albert and Dana Broccoli Theatre, SCA 112

On a whim, Mija enrolls in a poetry class at the local cultural center and begins a personal quest to find the perfect words to describe her feelings. When her world is turned upside down by the discovery of a monstrous crime, it is Mija’s unique and touching poetry that allows her to defy the weight of shame and distance herself from a painful proximity to violence.

“With an understated visual style and perfectly paced narrative, [writer-director Lee Chang-dong’s] Poetry has created a portrait of a woman who has, by the end, become an extraordinary vision of human empathy.” —Manohla Dargis, New York Times



'HAPPY': An evening with filmmaker Roko Belic

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011, 7pm
The Ray Stark Family Theatre, SCA 108

Does money make you HAPPY? Kids and family? Your work? Do you live in a world that values and promotes happiness and well-being? Are we in the midst of a happiness revolution?

Roko Belic, director of the Academy Award® nominated "Genghis Blues" now brings us HAPPY, a documentary that combines interviews with leading scientists who research happiness and real life stories from ordinary and extraordinary people across 14 countries. Taking us from the bayous of Louisiana to the deserts to Namibia, from the beaches of Brazil to the villages of Okinawa, HAPPY explores the secrets behind our most valued emotion.

Screening followed by Q&A with Roko Belic

Images (Clockwise from left) District 9; Adrien Belic, Director: Beyond the Call; Poster: Beyond the Call;

Joe Berlinger, Director: Crude; Michael Renov (Professor of Critical Studies) & Alex Gibney (Director, Taxi to the Dark Side);