Spanish Cinema/Great Films Elective Returns to Stuyvesant

The Spanish Cinema/Great Films elective, which is taught by Spanish teacher Anna Montserrat, will be returning for the 2021-2022 school year.

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After being cut from the 2020-21 school year due to budget cuts, the Spanish Cinema/Great Films elective will be returning for the 2021-22 school year. The elective, taught by Spanish teacher Anna Montserrat, offers students the opportunity to watch Spanish films and immerse themselves in the Spanish language and culture.

The course mainly features films from Spain and Latin America from various time periods. “The course is an overview of some of the most important films from the Spanish-speaking cinema, representing both Spain and Latin America. I’m going to be covering from the very beginning of cinematic history to the present day,” Montserrat said.

This elective was originally created five years ago for students who finished the AP Spanish course but wanted to continue studying the language in their next year. “We thought that Stuyvesant needed a fourth year of elective because a lot of students finish the Spanish AP and they want to continue taking and studying Spanish,” Montserrat said. This year, those who have taken Spanish III will be eligible to take the elective.

Montserrat decided to make the elective on Spanish films due to her passion for movies. “I love movies, and I watch a lot of them because it makes me understand better my culture, my country, and the world, along with people and relationships,” she said. “What’s a family and its definition in the United States? Maybe the definition of family in Mexico, in Spain and other countries are different. Maybe through a movie, we can compare different families and stereotypes.”

Spanish teacher Pasqua Roccio noted the importance of an elective that featured films. “We need to do a variety of different approaches to teaching, and I think that film and anything in the arts [is] very important, not only to [teach] but to [learn] too. For me, the film doesn’t serve only as an elective, but something more serious,” she said.

The films shown in this elective cover many subjects regarding historical events of Spanish-speaking countries. “I divide the class into different topics. For example, one of the topics is an introduction of the history of the Spaniards. Another topic is about social-political parties and conflicts in Spain and Latin America,” Montserrat said. “We have other topics including immigration, personal problems, or personal conflicts for people who decide to immigrate into any country.”

Montserrat emphasized that ideas discussed in the class can apply to current events. “This is going to benefit them because they watch movies that touch on topics including immigration, social justice, politics, and social relations,” she said. “Through a movie [...] understanding a language and how a country works makes you a better student, person, and scholar.”

The class includes projects and discussions that align with the films watched. Some notable films watched are “La Nana,” “Chico y Rita,” “Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios,” and “Los Que Se Quedan.” “In class, we watch the films, have group discussions, and read literature related to the topics and films. We also have different projects. The class is mostly projects, presentations, group discussions, and some tests about the movie topic, nothing out of the ordinary,” Montserrat said.

Barnett Zhao (’18) enjoyed these projects, especially one where students had the opportunity to create their own films. “Throughout the year, the students worked on making their own original films. I particularly enjoyed working with my classmates, from writing the script to recording to editing,” he said in an e-mail interview. “Though it was a challenging process, collaborating with other students in the class to put together this year-long project was incredibly rewarding.”

For Zhao, taking Spanish Cinema/Great Films helped him appreciate films more and understand their significance. “Because of this elective, I can now talk and write about films in a more nuanced way. I also developed an appreciation for film as an artistic medium, and now I often look to film when I'd like to learn more about the culture or history of a region,” he said.

Similarly, Tasfia Bashar (’18) noted that the class challenged her to think differently about films and the process of making them. “For one thing, it made me reflect a lot on the ways in which history impacts the media and the depiction of culture on screen. It develops your analytical skills by allowing you to see how different parts of filmmaking are crucial to the creation of the final piece,” she said in an e-mail interview.

She also noted the relevance of Spanish Cinema/Great Films beyond high school. “Two of the movies I watched during the class—“Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” and “Pan's Labyrinth”—have come up either in conversation or in my classes at college,” Bashar said. “Also, even if the workload doesn't seem that intense, the type of discussions you'll be having in the class are actually college level.”

Though Spanish Cinema/Great Films was not offered this year, Stuyvesant graduates who took the elective recommend that current students take it. “I highly recommend this elective to students who are interested. It's a great way to deepen your appreciation of film, practice your Spanish, and learn about Latin American history and politics,” Zhao said.