ASU helps birth Western film festival in Tempe

Genre has been re-energized, films create opportunity for discussion about culture, values and communication

Clap board and whip


ASU and Tempe are offering up a taste of the Old West by hosting the Western POP Film Festival, which runs Wednesday through Friday at the Tempe Center for the Arts.

“The timing for this festival is perfect due to the growing interest in the history of Westerns and the current revival of the genre in television and film,” said Peter Lehman, director of the Center for Film, Media and Popular Culture, which explores the role film and media play in shaping popular culture, human values and global communications.

Lehman said films and TV shows such as “The Magnificent Seven,” “Deadwood,” “Django Unchained,” “True Grit,” and “Longmire” have re-energized the Western genre because of the constant revision of the past in relation to important social and cultural events at the time the films are made.

“All the films in this series revised important aspects of representing the classic white male hero, including confronting racism in the mythic American past,” Lehman said. He said that’s why they chose major Westerns that “marked important developments and new directions in the genre, such as representations of race, including American Indians and blacks.”

The film festival runs in conjunction with the Tempe Center for the Art’s new exhibition, “Western POP: Facts and Fiction of the American West,” which opened on Jan. 13 and will run through May 6. The exhibition features hundreds of pieces of artwork, memorabilia, music and historical displays.

"The Tempe Center for the Arts is presenting the film festival because this is the beginning of synergizing all of our multidisciplinary efforts," said Tempe Arts and Culture Deputy Director Ralph Remington. "Perfect blend with the Western Pop exhibition."

Three strategically chosen Western films will be featured in historical order, giving the audience an alternative cultural perspective of the Old West. A discussion will follow each film.

  • 7 p.m. Feb 1 – “The Searchers,” 1956; post discussion by Peter Lehman, ASU
  • 7 p.m. Feb 2 – “The Unforgiven,” 1960; post discussion by Jason Scott, ASU
  • 7 p.m. Feb. 3 – “Django Unchained,” 2012; post discussion by Ralph Remington, Tempe Arts and Culture Center

Lehman said he specifically selected “The Searchers,” starring John Wayne and directed by John Ford, for its unusual emphasis on visual imagery in telling its story. He said the movie also made a major contribution to the development of a new form of psychologically dark 1950s Westerns, which brought racism to the foreground.

Remington will conclude the film festival with a screening and discussion of Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained," which he says links the "brutality of slavery with the Western experience."

"Tarantino addresses and deconstructs the African-American experience in the Old West," Remington said. "He does so by flipping the dynamic and makes Django a black superhero."

Tickets for the general public are available at the Tempe Center for the Arts box office or by calling 480-350-2822.

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