Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH — The Governor's Schools of North Carolina are now in the second of their six-week sessions, and while the diversity in worldviews of instructors is largely unknown, the movies that students will be exposed to is documented and easy to research.
Governor's School is administered by the state Department of Public Instruction, and brings 400 high school students each to two separate college campuses in North Carolina. The academically- or artistically-gifted teenagers are nominated by their schools and are selected based on their special talents.
This year the movie list for Governor's School East, held at Meredith College in Raleigh, is much longer than that at Governor's School West, conducted at Salem College in Winston-Salem. GSE provided a list of 43 films to Carolina Journal that it planned to show in portions or in their entirety, with 13 of them mandatory for students to attend (unless their parents objected beforehand). The remainder was either to be excerpted for larger class discussions, or shown in full for optional student activities. Since opening day (June 17) GSE has added two more required pictures — including the controversial Al Gore film on global warming, "An Inconvenient Truth" — as well as four others to be used in social science classes.
Also to be shown is "End of the Spear," the true story of the martyrdom of Christian missionaries in the Amazon during the 1950s, and the subsequent religious conversion of the violent tribe that murdered them.
At GSW the list has been pared from previous years, down to seven. Included are the Alfred Hitchcock classics "Vertigo" and "Psycho," which are part of a presentation called "The Art of the Montage." Foreign films dominate the rest of the list, including Akira Kurosawa's "The Seven Samurai," Jean-Luc Godard's "Breathless," and Michelangelo Antonioni's "L'Avventura." All the pictures shown at GSW this year were made before 1960.
In prior years GSW showed more pictures, many of which were made more recently. One film, "American History X," had been shown until last year, when the Alliance Defense Fund threatened litigation because of its explicit subject matter.
This year both schools provided lists to parents, as well as forms to sign that enabled them to have their children opt out of certain films if they wished.
GSE's information to parents included several-sentence synopses for each choice, their Motion Picture Association of America ratings, and for the films categorized for mature audiences, the reasons for their "R" ratings (such as foul language, nudity, violence or sexual content). Five of the mandatory pictures are rated "R:" "The Constant Gardener," "Grizzly Man," "The Lives of Others," "Pollock," and "V for Vendetta." Overall, 19 of the films are "R"-rated, and eight are rated "PG-13." The remainder are either "PG" or not rated, with several older films and documentaries included.
Michael McElreath, in his first year as director at GSE and a professor of history at Meredith College, said faculty members who lead seminars and classes make the film choices. He said there is no formal review process for the selections beyond that, but that he personally looked over the decisions. He said none of the picks this year troubled him.
"But if there was something on the list that I was concerned about, I might go to that faculty member" and ask them if another choice could accomplish their purpose, he said.
McElreath also said the faculty compose the summaries provided to parents, but suspected that much of the information comes from Internet sources. One optional film shown at GSE last Saturday, "Pan's Labyrinth," had a brief description for parents which explained that it was "rated R for language and some violence," but one Web site provided a graphic account of the violence in the movie.
McElreath said "we're trying to meet everyone's needs the best we can" with the information they provide to parents. Asked at what point he thought parental responsibility should overtake the school's, McElreath responded, "I think parents would come down across a broad spectrum of opinion on that." He said some would want every single detail, while others might entrust those decisions to their children.
"I think we've given enough detail that if [parents] want to go get more information on it, they can in the age of the Internet," he said. "They can access it as easily as you did."
Paul Chesser (email@example.com) is associate editor of Carolina Journal.