The year was 1962 when Harrison Kash first shared his love for foreign films with the campus community at Joplin Junior College.
He presented a screening of the 1954 British comedy “The Belles of St. Trinian’s,” which featured unruly students, a school heavily in debt and a kidnapped racehorse.
“I had seen it in Chicago at the old World Playhouse theater,” says Kash. “I thought it was very funny and picked it on that basis.”
Fifty-two years and 455 movies later, the Missouri Southern Film Society’s International Film Festival is still going strong. The 52nd annual festival launched the spring semester portion of its series with the 1984 Argentinian film “Camila” on Feb. 25.
Kash – a retired chemistry instructor – says that he discovered his love for foreign films as a graduate student in Manhattan, Kan.
“Like any hobby, you discover a creative art form and want to do something with it,” he says. “Sharing … that’s the fun of it.”
Technology has changed how the films are presented. While the films were once rented from distributors and shown on 16 mm film, today they are purchased by the university on DVD. If the film is not in the public domain, Kash says that a public performance fee is paid to the rights holders.
For the last 10 years, the fall portion of the series has been tied in with the international-themed semesters.
Those films are programmed by Dr. Bill Kumbier, an English and philosophy professor at Missouri Southern.
“We started working together with the Cuba semester in 2003,” says Kumbier.
Like Kash, he’s had an interest in foreign cinema, and for more than 10 years led Southern’s Contemporary Film Series.
“I always try to stress two things,” says Kumbier. “You can’t let subtitles get in your way. If you’re worried about them, you’re going to cut yourself off from some wonderful experiences in watching films. And the second thing is to come and see them with other people. It’s a different experience, and it’s free.”
Dr. Chad Stebbins, director of the Institute of International Studies, says that the annual festival has become a vital part of the university’s international mission.
“The films are especially popular with local residents, often drawing as many as 40 or 45 for certain showings,” Stebbins says. “I applaud the work Harrison and Bill have done over the years to provide this element to the greater Joplin area.”
Kash says he credits the volunteers and dedicated audience members for keeping the series going for more than five decades.
The festival will continue with “Five from Barska Street” (Poland, 1954) on March 11; “The End of August at the Hotel Ozone” (Czechoslovakia, 1967) on March 25; and “Shadow” (Poland, 1956) on April 8.
All screenings take place at 7 p.m. in Cornell Auditorium. Admission is free and open to the public.