A Taste of European Cinema
UCLA’s campus is like a beautifully-manicured botanical garden. There are so many different species of trees and plants that the university offers a virtual map of the various greenery on campus.
After my morning visit to LMU, I drove to UCLA and met up with my friend Dominic Thomas, who is the chair of the French and Francophone Studies department. I have known him for a few years, but I had not seen him in his natural setting.
I visited his European Cinema class, a three-hour afternoon session, and there were about 35 students packed in a small classroom. Unlike LMU, this class had individual, fixed desks in rows and featured a chalkboard – not a dry erase board. The room was packed and a bit outdated. It reminded me of being in high school.
Dominic opened by introducing the new student in the room and told the class I was his old boss at CNN. I had hired Dominic last year in the role of CNN’s European Affairs Commentator. In that capacity, he has covered a myriad of topics including Brexit, European elections, the European Union, and many stories related to France. He recently appeared on Chris Cuomo’s live breaking news coverage of the fire at Notre Dame in Paris.
After some introductory announcements, Dominic gave the students a primer on how to write their final papers. He noted that while they each have to write a persuasive essay, he has to read 35 of them, so he wanted to make sure they write them well. He compared an excellent paper to a French meal:
What's the restaurant called? – Just as you enter the restaurant, you need a good title for your paper.
Aperitif – This is your introduction. As an aperitif, you should keep it short, sweet, and yummy. Don’t give away the full meal. Tell the professor what you are going to do and how will it taste? Make him/her want to eat more.
Small entrees – Break the paper into digestible sections that support your overall narrative. Add commentary, analysis, and citations.
Dessert – Before paying the bill, get something that will make you want to come back again. This is your conclusion where you wrap things up neatly.
I liked how he used this analogy for writing a paper, and I could tell the students were following along. Dominic displayed a witty side during the class, and he mentioned that he hoped he hadn’t forever ruined French meals for the students with his comparison.
Dominic then screened the film, Dirty Pretty Things, a British thriller that focuses on two immigrants living in London who work at a hotel. The film examines the dirty jobs that immigrants perform in societies – the ones that most citizens would rather not do – and the risks these people face in the cat-and-mouse game with law enforcement. Some illegal shenanigans were going on that the protagonists got involved in unwittingly, and this is where the movie takes a suspenseful turn.
Afterward, Dominic opened the class up for a discussion. He called upon the students to talk about the key themes – assimilation, integration, adaptation. He also related the story to the issue of identity politics, which Britain has been mired in recently during the Brexit debacle.
He noted that the film gave names and faces to the immigration debate. The language of the state can be cold and impersonal, but the film humanizes the people involved.
I was very impressed with Dominic’s style in the classroom. I knew he had been teaching for more than 30 years, and he received his Ph.D. from Yale. He is a brilliant man, but not at all aloof. He is very relatable to the students, and he displays strong expertise in the subject. Dannels (2015) observed that instructors could show expertise “by illustrating command of the content with relative ease, by responding to questions with openness and clarity, and by being able to deal with unexpected classroom happenings capably” (p. 25). Indeed, Dominic was able to answer questions students posed to him without consulting any notes. He has a firm grasp of the material he is teaching.
Dominic did not offer a break during his three-hour class. He told me later that he wants his students to power through. They may find themselves in a long meeting at work, and if they need to step out for a moment or two, they can do that on their own.
Dominic is a very talented professor, and given my own experience living in Europe, I would have enjoyed taking one of his classes at UCLA.