If this year’s International Film Festival at USCA can be said to have a theme, it might be that all people, at some point or at multiple points in their lives, undergo a rite of passage. These events, either formal or informal, mark a transition from one status to another, such as the moment when one takes on adult responsibilities for the first time.


The film that launches this year’s festival, for example, was released with the original German title “Die Fetten Jahre sind Vorbei” or “The Fat Years are Over.” This is the message that Peter and Jan, two of the young protagonists in this German-Austrian film released in 2004, leave in the homes of wealthy capitalists, individuals that both activists feel have too much money.


When one of their “victims” returns home unexpectedly, the two, along with Peter’s girlfriend Jule, decide to engage in an impromptu kidnapping. As one might imagine, both the kidnappers and their hostage named Hardenberg undergo a change of heart as a result of their time spent together. The capitalist Hardenberg reveals to the three young idealists that he once was like them, that he had formerly had dreams about reforming society to promote greater economic equality.


Eventually Peter, Jan and Jule decide to return their captive to his house unharmed, and Hardenberg promises not to inform the police of their act. Does this mean that both sides learn to appreciate the position of the other? You will have to stay for the ending of the film to find out.


“The Edukators” (the English title of the film) will be screened on Tuesday and Feb. 7, at 6:30 p.m. in the 106 auditorium in the Penland Administration Building on the USCA campus.


Another rite of passage is the focus of the Canadian, French-language film “Monsieur Lazhar,” whose title character is an Algerian political refugee who flees his homeland and now works as a substitute teacher in his adopted country. Replacing a popular instructor who had recently committed suicide, Bashir Lazhar must help his students cope with their feelings of loss while he himself grapples with his own personal sorrow – his family had been killed in an act of terrorism in Algeria.


Released in 2011, the film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2012. “Monsieur Lazhar” will be screened on Feb. 12 and 14. I personally recommend attending the second screening on Feb. 14 since National Book Award-winning poet Nikky Finney will be reading from and talking about her latest work at 8 p.m. on Feb. 12 on the main stage of USCAís Etherredge Center. This free event – part of the Oswald Distinguished Writers Series – will be the focus of next week’s column.


The final film of the festival is the best known of the three, largely because it launched the international career of Mexican film actor Gael Garcia Bernal. “The Motorcycle Diaries” (2004) recounts a real-life rite of passage undergone by 23-year-old Ernesto Guevara, who sets out to explore the Latin American continent with his good friend Alberto Granado. Initially in search of a good time, Guevara develops a social conscience during the course of his journey – so overcome is he by the plight of the poor. Eventually, of course, the protagonist was to transform himself into the Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara, but this film focuses solely on some of the sources of his radicalization.


“The Motorcycle Diaries” will be screened on Feb. 19 and 21. Each motion picture will be presented in its original language with subtitles; there will also be a brief, faculty-led discussion before and after each screening. Admission is $1 for students and $2 for the general public. For more information, contact the IFF Director Dr. Timothy Ashton at timothya@usca.edu or 641-3204.


A Carolina Trustee Professor, Dr. Tom Mack holds the G.L. Toole Chair at USC Aiken. His latest book “Hidden History of Aiken County” (Charleston, SC and London, UK: The History Press) is available at most bookstores in the area and online.