A&E at CWA

Josh Gross | Boulder Weekly

World affairs to be conferenced includes no shortage of arts topics
After this many years covering it, there’s not a lot of new things BW can say about the University of Colorado Boulder’s annual Conference on World Affairs in a global sense. Since it was founded in 1948, it’s kept on keeping on with its half-spontaneous intellectual mashup format. The changes it has seen have come primarily in expanding to topics less worldly in their affairyness.

And while its not new for the CWA to delve into topics of art and entertainment, this year’s conference delivers in a big way with an array of panels assembled to dissect compelling A&E topics in a whirlwind of academia.

Here are BW’s picks for the top panels covering entertainment topics.

Ebert’s Cinema Interruptus 

Though the long-running CWA staple no longer has its founding namesake in charge, as with all things showbusiness, the show must go on. This year it will be doing so with David Bender moderating.

The interruptus that Bender will be overseeing is a multi-day event focused on discussing a film. On day one, the film will be shown straight through. On subsequent days, it will be shown again, but audience members are invited to shout out for the film to stop so they can raise a point for discussion. Once sufficiently discussed, the film is restarted and continues until stopped again. That process continues throughout the week.

This year’s film is the Mike Nichols’ classic, The Graduate, starring Dustin Hoffman. So get your cougar references and plastics jokes ready now.

Why The Graduate?

“When Roger Ebert launched Cinema Interruptus in 1975, he began with what is still considered to be the greatest American film, Citizen Kane,” Bender said on the CWA website. “There’s a line from Kane — ‘It’s not hard to make a lot of money, if all you want to do is make a lot of money’ — that could well have been in The Graduate. Instead, screenwriter Buck Henry simplified it into one word, ‘plastics.’” 

The Graduate will be screened uninterrupted at 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 6 in Muenzinger Auditorium. Interruptus sessions will be held Monday, April 7 through Thursday, April 10, in Macky Auditorium at 4 p.m. each day.

The New, New Golden Age of Television: How and What We’re Watching 

It used to be that TV writing was for hacks and talent tried to stay above the fray by sticking to films. Not so much anymore.

“What’s happened in Hollywood is that the very best writers have abandoned screenwriting and they’ve all gone over to TV,” screenwriting guru Robert McKee told CNN in 2004.

That migration is palpable, as the serial format has never been stronger. Shows like Lost, Breaking Bad or True Detective broke records and boundaries. But why are all the writers moving to TV, and what else is contributing to its renaissance?

Trying to get to the bottom of it will be producer and agent Steve Sauer, the founding partner of MediaFour; producer Howard Schultz, who graduated from CU before creating shows like Extreme Makeover; actor, writer and producer Terrence McNally; and conservative commentator Guy Benson, who writes for Fox News, National Review and the late Andrew Breitbart’s trifecta of nutjob blogs, Big Government and Big Journalism, and the only thing that slightly relates to the big topic, Big Hollywood.

Tuesday, April 8, 3:30-4:50 p.m., Muenzinger Auditorium

Vampires and Zombies Everywhere 

Between mashups, reboots, megapopular YA series and more, it seems like you can’t turn on your TV or visit a bookshop without getting a faceful of the undead. Why are vampires and zombies so popular in modern culture?

Panelists Margot Adler, Christopher Douglas, Howard Schultz and Dovie Thomason will try to get to the bottom of it. And if you aren’t familiar with their work, it should be a unique conversation.

A CU graduate and a storied TV producer, Schultz is the most obvious choice. But some of the more interesting points are likely to come from Douglas, an Oxford math professor specializing in quantum theories, and Thomason, a Lakota and Kiowa Apache folklorist. The panel will be rounded out with a journalist’s eye thanks to the participation of longtime NPR correspondent Margot Adler, who recently published Vampires Are Us, a book examining the popularity of vampires in culture. The panel will be moderated by Pablo Kjolseth, executive director of the International Film Series at CU.

Friday, April 11, 9-10:20 a.m. Math 100.

TV as Cultural Historian: Downton Abbey, Modern Family, Tremé 

Celebrated mythologist Joseph Campbell spoke of myths as part of a unified national identity. But America is a melting pot, and the biggest thing that unifies us is what’s on TV. Trying to figure out who shot J.R. on Dallas was a national affair, as was the end of Seinfeld. TV binds us together. But how and why? And what does it mean that it does?

Trying to answer that question will be TV producer Howard Schultz; writer, broadcaster and former Roseanne cohort David Bender; jazz pianist Henry Butler; and perhaps the most compelling choice for a panelist, scientific integrity official for the EPA Francesca Grifo.

Wednesday, April 9, 2:30-3:50 p.m. Chemistry 140.

Science Fiction or Science Fact 

Novelist Daniel Wilson said it best when asked about the popularity of his book Robopocalypse: “I know a lot about something that used to be science fiction and is rapidly becoming science fact.”

We live in strange times. The cell phone in your pocket is a vastly more powerful computer than NASA used to send an expedition to the moon. And with the rapid onset of virtual environments and wearable interfaces, the question of where the line exists, if it exists at all, is more relevant than ever.

Trying to answer it will be NPR’s Margot Adler, Londonbased storyteller and writer Clare Muireann Murphy, Assistant Director of Science at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center, Michelle Thaller, and Seth Shostak, the senior astronomer at the SETI (Search for Intelligent Life) Institute in California and author of hundreds of articles on the search for off-Earth life.

Monday, April 7, 9-10:20 a.m. UMC 235

Spotlight on a panelist 

Author and NPR reporter Margot Adler first came to the Conference on World Affairs in 1978. And with the exception of a few off-years around the birth of her son, she has been back every year since.

“I come every year and stay with the same family,” Adler says. “It’s wonderful.”

The thing that keeps bringing Adler back is the CWA’s generally unpredictable nature.

“There’s a lot of conferences around and a lot of events that people go to with panels of various experts, but the thing that makes the conference different is Howard Higman’s original idea to get people from different fields and put them on panels and they’re not always experts on,” Adler says. “Sometimes that wouldn’t work, but sometimes it’s magic.”

One particularly magical panel Adler remembers was on the topic of “View of the Earth From Space.” Most of the panelists worked in tech and aerospace, but what Adler brought to the panel was an expertise on vampires. Really.

“They’re desperately struggling and often failing to be moral and I think that in some ways that is what we are,” Adler says.

And according to Adler, one of the biggest ways humanity became aware of its own moral shortcomings was when it first saw a photograph of the Earth from space, putting all environmental issues into a heartstopping context.

This year, Adler will be able to put her background to more direct use through a panel specifically on vampires, an opportunity for her to discuss her just-published book, Vampires Are Us, in which Adler delves deep into the topic.

Her interest in the topic began when she needed something “trashy” to read on a plane trip. The first two Twilight books did the trick. But almost immediately after she returned home, Adler’s husband fell gravely ill, despite his generally healthy lifestyle. Adler spent much of the next seven months reading vampire books by his bedside.

“I think in the beginning it was a meditation on mortality, trying to understand how a healthy man could be struck down,” she says.

But the interest went deeper, and before Adler knew it, she’d logged nearly 300 vampire books and started emailing Anne Rice in a quest to understand the phenomena.

Most people Adler asked just said, “sex.” But Adler thought it was something deeper, and says that most of the truly great vampire stories center around one question: “Now that we’re top of the food chain, how do we treat humans? Like cattle?” 

Adler will also be serving on panels addressing the natural in literature along with the supernatural. One that she’s most interested to be on is “Science Fiction or Science Fact.”

“I was a big science fiction reader way before I read any vampire novels,” Adler says. “I think science fiction is the best source of original ideas in our culture. It takes risks that other forms of literature don’t.”

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com