HFA Faculty Profile: Cathy Portuges
How long have you taught at UMass?
I’ve been teaching at UMass since 1974.
What brought you to the University?
My former husband had received a fellowship in the Psychology Department here; when we left Los Angeles, my hometown (where we had both been graduate students at UCLA), I accepted my first academic position as a lecturer in French at Smith College. From there I was invited to coordinate the newly established Women’s Studies Program at UMass (now Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies). At the same time, I began teaching in Comparative Literature, developing new film courses for the department.
What is your area of specialization?
I work in several interconnected fields: under the aegis of Comparative Film Studies, I teach and do research on French & Francophone cinemas; East-Central European visual culture; the representations of Jews and post-Holocaust cinema; cinema and cities; and film festival curatorial programming.
How did you become interested in film studies?
I was born and grew up in Hollywood; my parents had emigrated there from Central Europe--my father from Budapest, my mother from Vienna. My PhD from UCLA was in French Studies (my dissertation was on French New Wave cinema), which later enabled me to extend my interest in film to European and then global cinema. It’s a privilege to work across disciplines and to participate in film festivals around the world, which helps me in programming, with my colleagues, the Massachusetts Multicultural Film Festival on campus. Our 17th season, “Cinematic Cities,” will begin next February.
You recently received the Pro Cultura Hungarica Medal and Citation – how did this come about?
I had given a presentation and introduced a film for the 5th European Psychoanalytic Film Festival in London in early November. The closing reception was held at the Embassy of the Republic of Hungary, in Belgravia. The medal and citation were presented to me there by the Ambassador of Hungary in London under the auspices of the Hungarian Ministry of Culture and Education in recognition of my contributions on behalf of the country’s cinema and for enriching cultural relations between Hungary and other nations. I’ve been a delegate to the annual Hungarian Film Week in Budapest since before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and so have had the opportunity to observe at close hand the changes that have taken place in Eastern Europe during that period. My book, Cinemas in Transition: Central Europe since 1989, to be published in fall 2010 by Temple University Press, is one of the results of that research.
I’ve also published many articles and books on Hungarian cinema; programmed a number of film series and festivals, served on festival juries and presented the work of Hungarian filmmakers at international conferences and colloquia, including the Hungarian Film Festival “Check the Gate” in London last June. Last month, I gave a talk on how Hungarian and other East European cinemas are negotiating the challenge of being a part of the European Community and organized a round table on East European Cinema 1989-2009 for the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies in Boston. Later this month, I’ll be giving a talk on “Children and the Holocaust in East European Cinema” for the Association for Jewish Studies Annual Conference in Los Angeles; and, in March 2010, also in Los Angeles, I’ll be presenting a paper entitled “From Korda to Curtiz: Hungarian Émigré Directors in Hollywood” for the annual conference of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies.
As we observe the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I applaud the Hungarian Ministry of Culture and Education for acknowledging, in the form of the award, the importance of the arts and the humanities in contemporary cultural life. I’m especially grateful to the Hungarian Cultural Centre of London for inviting me to serve as guest curator for film series and festivals, and to the Hungarian consulates, embassies and cultural centers of Budapest, Los Angeles, New York, Washington D.C. and Paris for their enthusiastic collaboration in screening the work of so many talented Hungarian filmmakers. Coming from a family of Hungarian origin, the award has special meaning to me. I look forward to marking this exceptional moment by continuing and sharing my cultural activities, through research, publication, screenings and collaborations with international artists and colleagues, and to presenting their work in film courses, publications and for the public at a time when international cultural and artistic exchange is more vital than ever.
What is your favorite thing about teaching?
It’s such a pleasure and a privilege to teach at UMass—both undergraduates and graduate students. We have an enviable range of students with diverse interests, hopes and objectives. As a film professor, I especially love the challenge of finding films for my syllabi that will challenge, engage and surprise students, opening up new and at times unsuspected worlds. The atmosphere of intense involvement, in a large auditorium where students are riveted to the screen by international films that are often difficult and at times uncomfortable, reaffirms my belief in the power of the moving image to engender serious debate, open minds and bring people together.