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Usona Esperantisto

Dumonata bulteno de Esperanto-USA

Esperanto at the Movies

D. Gary Grady

One way of adding a little variety to an Esperanto class or a local group meeting is to watch a bit of a film or television program in or about Esperanto. There are plenty of examples on YouTube and other video sites, ranging from music videos to short films to lessons of greatly varying quality. A YouTube search for the word “Esperanto” produces over 13,000 hits, and while not all are in or about the language as such, the great majority of them appear to be.

Lunaj Zombioj From the Esperanto trailer for Attack of the Moon Zombies (2011), a 1950s-style horror film by Christopher R. Mihm.

Here I’d like to suggest a few longer films containing significant amounts of Esperanto that might make for useful or at least entertaining viewing during a class.

A caution, however: Most of these films are covered by copyright, and while viewing a legally rented or purchased DVD with a small group of people is certainly OK, something that amounts to a public performance is more of a problem both legally and ethically. However, while I’m not an attorney, my understanding is that showing part of a film in the context of a bona fide class is generally considered acceptable. In fact, Section 110(1) of Title 17 of the United States Code specifically authorizes “performance or display of a work by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching activities of a nonprofit educational institution, in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction, unless, in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, the performance, or the display of individual images, is given by means of a copy that was not lawfully made under this title … .”

Notice that this is a more restrictive than it might at first appear. Showing a film during a kongreso, for example, probably doesn’t come under this exception even if you claim that the purpose is educational. On the other hand, if you show only a relatively small part out of a longer film to an audience of limited size, the sources I’ve checked indicate that this it generally legal. There’s unfortunately no hard-and-fast rule, but you can read more on the subject by searching the Internet for “fair use film” or “fair use classroom film.”

In any case, there are only a handful of feature-length movies produced entirely in Esperanto, as opposed to containing some bits of Esperanto or dubbed or subtitled in the language. In fact, the list may be as small as these four: Angoroj (1964), Incubus (1965), Gerda Malaperis! (2006), and La Patro (2007).

Angoroj is an oddly moody crime film that may not be very suited to teaching purposes because students are apt to find both the dialog and the story hard to follow. This may be a moot question in any case, because the film is difficult to find, though you can see parts of it on the Internet. Incubus is both much more readily available and more interesting, especially for the sheer novelty value of seeing a pre-Star-Trek William Shatner speaking Esperanto, or something like it. The pronunciation is, to be charitable, less than perfect, so it’s not ideally suited to class use except as an interesting digression.

Gerda Malaperis! and La Patro, both produced by the same team in Brazil, are in quite decent Esperanto, and Gerda in particular is pretty watchable. It’s of course based on the famous introductory course of the same name created by the late Claude Piron and is consequently very suited to classroom use. The whole film is now available on YouTube thanks to the generosity of the filmmakers, though if you’re making classroom use of it you’ll probably want to get the DVD (available in the Esperanto-USA libroservo). The novel and related materials are likewise accessible both online (at Lernu! and elsewhere) as well as from the Libroservo.

La Patro, a 40-minute film based on a work of Japanese literature, is something some students might find a bit heavy going because of the serious subject matter, but it’s certainly worth considering. You can find excerpts on YouTube.

There’s also an Esperanto course in the form of a television comedy series, Esperanto: Pasporto al la Tuta Mondo. As most of you reading this probably know, it was created by Esperanto-USA under the overall supervision of Lucy Harmon and stars a number of U.S. and foreign Esperanto speakers. It’s strange (in a good way) and funny and definitely holds student interest. See Lernu! and the Esperanto-USA libroservo for more information.

There is also at least one readily available feature film available that has been dubbed into Esperanto, an ultra-low-budget parody of 1950s monster movies titled Attack of the Moon Zombies (It was shown at last year’s Landa Kongreso.) The Esperanto soundtrack is one of the choices on the DVD. The appeal to many students is obvious. The dubbing was done by a number of very active U.S. Esperanto speakers and is quite good. Of course, it’s not specifically intended as a teaching tool, so for beginning students it’s best limited to short clips.

At least two other feature films have been professionally dubbed into Esperanto. One is En Eŭropo Ie, a black and white 1947 Hungarian film about refugees in the aftermath of World War II. While both the film and the dubbing are quite good, the somber subject matter might limit its appeal to students. It’s also hard to come by. UEA’s libroservo has it on PAL (European format) VHS tape but not DVD. (The dubbed version was released in 1987, before the advent of DVDs.) A few minutes of the Esperanto version can be seen on YouTube.

Even harder to obtain is Mephisto, a 1981 German film (which won the Best Foreign Language Oscar). Again the film and the dubbing are both quite good, but note that the film does contain some nudity and is probably not suited to younger audiences. I believe the dubbing was done by the same group responsible for releasing En Eŭropo Ie in Esperanto.

I’ve seen pieces of a few Russian films dubbed into Esperanto, but the technical quality of the dubbing was disappointing and I found them hard to watch.

There have been some stage plays performed in Esperanto and made available on video, but once again these seem hard to come by. The one notable exception I’m aware of is a videotaped 1987 amateur performance of an Esperanto translation of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, which is available from the Esperanto-USA libroservo on DVD. Also available from the Libroservo is a production of a short one-actor play, La Duonokulvitro (“The Monocle”), possibly the first original theatrical work in Esperanto. It’s not bad, but it’s more of historical than dramatic interest. (Then again, that’s just my opinion.) It’s technically quite competent.

There have been a number of mainstream feature films that make use of Esperanto, for example on street signs or background dialog, usually as a generic foreign language. Two of the best examples in terms of availability and the amount of Esperanto they contain date from just before World War II.

The first is Idiot’s Delight starring Clark Gable and Norma Shearer. (The title, I’m glad to say, refers to war rather than Esperanto!) Gable and his troupe of female singers and dancers become stranded in a nameless European country by the approach of war. Esperanto (never identified as such) serves as the language of this fictitious country. There’s enough dialog – in excellent Esperanto – to make this definitely worth the effort. (You can also watch Clark Gable perform Puttin’ on the Ritz, albeit in English.)

The other is The Road to Singapore, which launched the long-running “Road” series of Bob Hope / Bing Crosby / Dorothy Lamour musical comedies. When the hungry protagonists crash a South Pacific island feast, they witness a major production number sung in Esperanto that begins Jen la luno nova. I have no idea who wrote it, but whoever it was obviously knew the language. The pronunciation is a bit American-accented but otherwise good.

The Great Dictator In The Great Dictator (1940), his comedy film mocking Adolf Hitler, Charlie Chaplin used Esperanto as the language of shop signs in the Jewish ghetto.

Jumping ahead half a century, early seasons of the British science fiction sitcom Red Dwarf made some use of Esperanto, and at one point one of the characters, Arnold Rimmer, is shown taking Esperanto lessons on video. (Rather amusingly, his pronunciation is better than that of the teacher, though it’s apparent that wasn’t intentional.) There’s probably not enough Esperanto to make it worth the trouble of showing it, but it might be worth at least a passing mention.

Finally, there are also a few films in which characters are teachers or students of Esperanto. Unfortunately I haven’t seen these myself, but they might be worth looking up: La ciutat cremada (Spain, 1976), Vec Vidjeno (Yugoslavia, 1987), El coche de pedales (Spain, 2004), Populärmusik från Vittula (Finland and Sweden, 2004).

I’ve concentrated here on feature films and television comedies, but there are also some documentaries in Esperanto, such as Flying an Octopus, available from the Libroservo, which has narration in Esperanto.

For more video clips suitable for teaching, Lernu.net and Edukado.net are probably the best places to start. Otherwise the quality of clips on line varies drastically (and some are not appropriate for younger students), so it’s best to review them carefully before actually using them in a lesson.

Let me add one additional suggestion: You don’t have to limit the use of video to passive viewing. Making a video in Esperanto can be a good class project, or one for a local group, for that matter. For example, why not do one or more short videos about aspects of your local area and then upload them to YouTube? Computers make editing video very easy, and odds are there’s someone in your group or class who’s already done it. Just keep in mind that it’s important for your audience to be able to understand what’s said. The most common mistake is relying on the camera’s microphone. (Even an inexpensive one close to the speaker is usually better than one on the camera.) This would be good not only as an exercise but as a way of creating a growing number of interesting video clips in Esperanto.