Professor Sophia McClennen / Dept. of Comparative Literature , Penn State University, Mailbox: 311 Burrowes, Office:  435N Burrowes Office Phone: 865-0032 E-mail:, Office Hours:  T 1:30-2:30 and by appointment.


Global Counter-Cinema

Fall 2006; T 2:30-5:30, 306 Burrowes, 3 Credit Hours

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Course Objectives


General Information

Course Requirements

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Plan of Study




Lumumba, Dir. Raoul Peck


Course Description

Beginning with the work of Luis Buñuel, Sergei Eisenstein, and the Italian Neo-Realists and moving on to counter-cinema from the United States, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, this course considers the various ways that filmmakers have used cinema as a form of political and artistic engagement.  The term "counter-cinema" typically refers to films that challenge the predominant influence and conventions of mainstream Hollywood cinema and instead offer contrastive ideological and aesthetic positions.  This course will take an even broader view of the concept of “counter-cinema” in order to teach films and film theories from a wide comparative context and to explore the early film movements that influenced the later development of “Third Cinema” and global counter-cinema.  The course examines the social, historical, ideological, and aesthetic aspects of these films and will provide students with an introduction to the core concepts of film theory and film analysis.  It will cultivate comparative appreciation of local frameworks of knowledge and also of theoretical developments in film and media studies, such as those associated with third cinema, modernism, postmodernism, postcolonialism, revolutionary cinema, feminism, and globalization.  The seminar will benefit from a series of guest speakers, including the Academy Award winning documentary director, Barbara Trent.


Course Objectives

Students enrolled in this course should expect to develop the following skills:

  • Acquire a deep-rooted understanding of oppositional filmmaking.
  • Become familiar with a wide range of ideas and a vocabulary to talk and write about these modes of filmmaking with confidence.
  • Appreciate how the films' wide variety of styles were intended to determine and produce meaning through an emphasis on in-depth formal and thematic analysis.
  • Gain an understanding of these films' integral relationship to their social, economic, and political context.
  • Develop and refine critical thinking, oral and written expression, and techniques of film analysis.  
  • Develop communication skills in essays, response papers, class discussions, presentations, web discussions and research papers.
  • Acquire a sound basis for further work in Comparative Literature.
  • Actively participate in the creation of a vibrant and rewarding learning community.



A note on on-line readings: Many of our readings are available on-line.  This saves us money!  You need to access the texts well in advance in case there are problems with the website. 


  1. NAGUIB Mahfouz, Midaq Alley
    • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (December 1, 1991)
    • ISBN: 0385264763
  1. Michael Martin, ed. New Latin American Cinema: Vol one, Theory, Practices, and Transcontinental Articulations
    • Publisher: University of California Press (July 29, 1987)
    • ISBN: 0520056906

James Monaco, How To Read a Film: multimedia edition (DVD-ROM)

  • Publisher: Harbor Electronic Publishing; DVD-Rom edition (October 20, 2000)
  • ISBN: 0966974433

Robert Stam, Film Theory: An Introduction

    • Publisher: Blackwell Publishers (January 2000)
    • ISBN: 063120654X


  1. David Bordwell and Kristen Thompson: Film Art w/ Film Viewer's Guide and Tutorial CD-ROM (Paperback)+
    • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages; 7 edition (December 12, 2003)
    • ISBN: 0072975687
  1. Roy Armes: Third World Film Making and the West

·         Publisher: University of California Press (July 29, 1987)

·         ISBN: 0520056906

  1. Toby Miller, Global Hollywood 2
    • Publisher: British Film Institute (April 26, 2005)
    • ISBN: 1844570398

Robert Stam and Toby Miller Film and Theory: An Introduction

    • Publisher: Blackwell Publishers (December 1999)
    • ISBN: 0631206264
Mike Wayne Political Film: The Dialectics of Third Cinema
    • Publisher: Pluto Press (July 2001)
    • ISBN: 0745316697

Test your knowledge of counter-cinema: Can you name the sources for these stills? 

General Information:

Academic dishonesty: Students are expected to uphold the University's standards of academic integrity. Academic dishonesty will be dealt with according to University policies.

Registration Policy: During the drop/add period at the beginning of the semester, the department of Comparative Literature encourages students to visit this and other courses in order to make informed decisions about which courses to take. After the first week, however, only students registered in the course may remain; no student may late-add (or restore a dropped registration) after the third week of the semester without petitioning the department on a form available in the office, 311 Burrowes.

University Access Statement: The Pennsylvania State University encourages qualified students with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities.  If you anticipate needing any kind of accommodations in this course or have any questions about physical access, please tell the instructor as soon as possible. 

Course Requirements

Grade Breakdown:

Participation and Homework




Still Analysis


Mid-term Paper


Final Paper



Grading Scale:

  • 100-93= A
  • 92-90= A-
  • 89-88= B+
  • 87-83= B
  • 82-80= B-
  • 79-78= C+
  • 77-70= C
  • 69-60= D
  • 59-0= F

Course components

1. Participation

This grade will be determined by how actively you engage and initiate in class discussion.  Viewing the films and doing the reading before class is essential.


Participation is not limited to in-class discussion -- we will also be discussing issues on our MESSAGE BOARDS available on ANGEL. The MESSAGE BOARDS are set up to encourage discussion and debate of topics covered in class as well as other issues that you think are relevant. Each student is expected to log in and write a message at least 7 times over the course of the semester. You do NOT need to write something every week, but you should read the postings before class. You DO need to post to the Forum on 7 different topics. 

NOTE: For students who are less comfortable speaking in class, sustained participation on the MESSAGE BOARDS can help balance hesitancy in classroom participation. 

The MESSAGE BOARDS have topics listed that are in synch with our course. Please check the message boards before each class for discussion questions, topics to consider, and to respond to issues. You can also use the message boards to post questions or information. If you have questions about how to use ANGEL ask me for help. 

Ø     You must post to the message boards at least 7 times. 

Ø     You must post to the message boards on a regular basis.  Posting seven times at the end of the semester will not receive full credit.

Ø     Try to answer the questions posted by your classmates.  

Ø     You should try to post questions so that I can answer them for the benefit of all students.  It is generally better to post a question to the message boards than to me on e-mail, since if you have a question chances are your class mates are curious about the same thing.  Then, when I answer, all will see my response.  

Ø     Post useful web resources and explain why they helped you.  You can also post any tips on using websites.

Ø     You need to check ANGEL before each class, because I will often post important class info there.


3. Still Analysis

The still is one single frame of film.  It is the shortest piece of film you can analyze.  The still is akin to a single word in a text.  If you are going to analyze entire films, you must start with the smallest segment.  We will do two still analyses in this class so that you can sharpen your skills at analyzing one frame. The still is sometimes referred to as the shot, or the image.  What makes still analysis different from a scene or a full movie is that 1) there is no discussion of editing or camera movement and 2) there is only one shot to work with.  A still analysis should include an assessment of: Lighting, mise-en-scene, shot composition, symbols, color, the relation of the still to the film as a whole, perspective and camera angle.  It can also include other commentary on the message of the still, the film stock used, the focus, etc...

You will be given more detail about this assignment in class.  We will do two still analyses during the semester.

4. Mid-term Paper

Short 7-8  page paper.

5. Final Research paper

Research paper of 20-25  pages that compares one of the films seen in class with another film of the student's choosing.  In special circumstances (when it will greatly benefit the professional development of the student) exceptions can be made.

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Created and Maintained by Sophia A. McClennen

Copyright Sophia A. McClennen 2005-2006


Created on 7/5/2005

Last updated on 08/24/2006