Gift Supports Spain Study Abroad Documentaries

Originally posted August 22, 2014

By Laura L. Acosta

UTEP News Service

An original documentary about the influence of three religions on Spanish culture and history has revolutionized the study abroad experience for UTEP students.

In 2012, 29 students traveled to Spain for three weeks during the spring semester as part of the University’s study abroad program. The trip included excursions to Madrid, Toledo, and Ronda and the Andalusia communities of Seville, Córdoba and Granada, where students researched and documented the history of the Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities in Southern Spain. Miners also visited Morocco in North Africa, which borders Spain.

The result was a documentary called Andalusia: Fusion of Three Cultures, an original interdisciplinary project among the departments of communication, history, and languages and linguistics at UTEP. The film evaluates the importance of religious tolerance in the construction of a society leading Europe in the fields of art and science during the Middle Ages.

“It was something that hadn’t been done before because no one had the idea to bring together different departments to do an activity of this kind,” said Héctor M. Enríquez, Spanish language coordinator for the Department of Languages and Linguistics, who spearheaded the project.

A photographic exhibition and the 56-minute documentary premiered in April 2013 at the Consulate General of Mexico in El Paso, where it caught the attention of Club de España, Paso del Norte members. Formed in 1986, the club consisted of members from Spain who promoted Spanish culture in the region.

When the club disbanded in 2013, its members gifted $10,000 to the Department of Languages and Linguistics in the College of Liberal Arts for the study abroad program to Spain.

The gift provided program and student support, including tuition, fees, equipment and materials. Funds also are being used to finish two other documentaries.

“Hector showed us some of the documentary and what the students were doing and we liked it a lot,” said Sara Calvo Hernández, the club’s former president, in Spanish. The club also donated books about Spain to the University Library. “The $10,000 is to continue students’ education about the culture of Spain. The purpose of our club was to spread Spanish culture, and that’s what the film does.”

According to Patricia Witherspoon, Ph.D., dean of the College of Liberal Arts, opportunities for students to study abroad have increased in the last few years, thanks in great part to faculty who are working to offer study abroad courses themselves.

“The documentary Andalusia: Fusion of Three Cultures was a great depiction of the academic enrichment provided by study abroad courses, and certainly increased interest in traveling abroad to study Spanish and Spanish/Latin American cultures,” Witherspoon said.

Students who have participated in the study abroad program to Spain and Morocco in 2013 and 2014 have also shot footage for two new documentaries.

Enríquez said the second documentary will focus on the Gypsies, also known as Roma.

“People don’t know that Charlie Chaplain, Bill Clinton or Elvis Presley have Gypsy ancestry,” Enríquez said. “People do not know much about this type of culture. Half-a-million Gypsies were killed during the Holocaust. Yet, people don’t feel sympathy for them. This type of project that we are doing educates people about themes that they don’t know about.”

Enríquez expects to debut the documentary Oct. 15 at the Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center for the Visual Arts.

Grace Ysela Torres, a digital media major, was one of 27 students who traveled to Spain last year to shoot the second documentary.

Torres, whose dream is to make documentaries and music and fashion videos, said the trip was a crash course in filmmaking. Ramón Villa, film director, showed students lighting, camera and microphone techniques as they went along interviewing people.

“I thought I knew how to use my camera, but I was wrong,” Torres said. “By the end of the first week, Mr. Villa told us to set up for an interview but he didn’t tell us what to do. We set up everything. We knew how to do the lighting, how to set up the microphones and right then and there, I thought ‘Within a few days, I learned all of this!’”

Torres also learned about the challenges facing Roma people, which she hopes the documentary will convey to others.

“What I thought was really exciting was when we interviewed this lady who is part of a society for the Roma culture and she was telling us about the struggles that Roma women go through; how they don’t go to school and how it’s tough for them,” Torres said. “I thought that was very interesting because I didn’t know about that. Throughout all of the interviews we would do, I would end up finding out things that I had no clue were going on.”

The editing process on each of the documentaries begins when students return to UTEP in the fall. This September, the students who traveled to Spain and Morocco in May will begin editing footage for a third documentary on the confluence of African culture on Spain, which will be ready in 2015.

Enríquez said this was the last year that students will develop a documentary based on their study abroad experience. He hopes the two new documentaries will be as well received as Andalusia: Fusion of Three Cultures, which has been screened in Seville, Mexico, Chile and Argentina.

The project also has provided students with valuable work experience that they can put on their resumes. Above all, Enríquez said the unique study abroad experience to Spain at UTEP should serve as a model for other universities to follow.

To watch Andalusia: Fusion of Three Cultures, click here.