Films from around the world break through into Hollywood industry made accessible by streaming services
As the world faced a global quarantine lockdown last year in late March, many students and faculty settled onto their couches and broadened their film selection to the world of foreign films.
At the debut of the Academy Awards last year, many new foreign films came to the spotlight and were brought to a wider audience as they were shown in many American theatres. With the arrival of stay-at-home orders and the pandemic, Netflix began to include many foreign films and TV series in their collection, adding a variety of thrillers, actions and dramas. Now, foreign films like South Korea’s “Parasite” and Mexico’s “Roma” have received nominations for Oscars and Golden Globes, even going as far to win Best Picture and Best Directing at the Oscars.
“The Internet has democratized films and TV shows, so I think there is more access to it,” film teacher Bobby Weiss said. “Although I wish there were more, there are so many great foreign films out there. You could never watch them all. I think as the Internet grows larger, the world becomes smaller, and there’s access to these [foreign films].”
Many filmmakers see “Parasite’s” Best Picture win as a huge opening for foreign films to take a more prominent role in the American film industry and no longer place in the Foreign Film category. In the past, foreign films have gotten limited attention from the American film industry, largely due to the prominent influence that filmmakers from New York and Los Angeles have on Hollywood.
“We omitted a lot of great filmmakers from film history simply because American film seemed to have overshadowed great filmmakers in other countries,” Weiss said. “I don’t know why people didn’t in the first place pay attention to foreign films. Other countries have been making great films for a long time. My film appreciation class is about tapping into the great foreign filmmakers that the students would otherwise never see.”
Film student and senior Ava Thompson has gotten into the habit of watching foreign films, particularly after the breakthrough that “Parasite” made. Although she believes that most foreign films have not been “widely accepted” into America’s mainstream film industry, she still believes it is important to learn about other cultures through art.
“I think there is an issue of Americans looking at the American film industry and thinking ‘Oh, yes, this is the film industry… where the only amazing films are,’ which is completely untrue,” Thompson said. “There are thriving film industries across the world and just because something is not popular in America, doesn’t mean it isn’t popular anywhere.”
After his time living in South Korea from 2011-2012, physics teacher Matthew Varvir has grown to love watching Korean films and continues to expand his viewing of foreign films and TV shows. Americans are now more inclined to watch foreign films because they can easily stream them off of streaming services and are able to choose what they want to watch based on Netflix’ recommendations.
“The rise of streaming services, like Netflix, has made [foreign films] more accessible,” Varvir said. “Netflix has a humongous catalog. Netflix does their top 10 everyday, and if you ever see anything foreign pop up in that, that means it’s probably something that has international appeal.”
But some Americans struggle to watch foreign films as they see the language barrier and subtitles as too much of hassle or distraction to have while watching the film. Having to read quickly while watching a movie in a language one doesn’t understand might seem stressful, yet it actually allows the viewer to better understand the undertones and hidden messages in the script.
“The average American is unwilling to watch things with subtitles,” Varvir said. “Even if things are dubbed, they are very rarely dubbed well. Part of it is that a lot of times, you are not going to notice the cultural undertones. [Foreign films] refer to cultural practices that Americans don’t understand.”
However, having to read subtitles should not hinder one from watching foreign films and TV shows. By watching a foreign film, one is able to immerse themselves directly into the culture and ultimately broaden their horizons when it comes to viewing global perspectives.
“[People who don’t watch foreign films] are missing out on a humongous piece of film culture and TV culture,” Varvir said. “There’s no question that if a film is good enough and is getting [talked about] internationally, it must be good. The average foreign film is going to be much higher quality than an American film would be because it has to overcome that language barrier to reach people.”