Chiwetel Ejiofor

Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor portrays Solomon Northup in a scene from "12 Years A Slave," a film that will be evaluated for nuance and meaning during an upcoming class on finding more meaning in movies led by local filmmaker Charles Abourezk.

Associated Press

Movies are entertainment, but they're also works of art, and one Rapid City seminar is teaching viewers how to fully experience their richness.

"Movies: The Literature of Our Times" teaches moviegoers how to read movies for multiple meanings and explains how every choice made in a film affects viewers emotionally. It is hosted at the Dahl Arts Center by Community Education of the Black Hills and the Rapid City Arts Center. The $39 classes on May 11 and 18 are full this time around, but organizers plan to host more in the future.

The class is taught by Charles Abourezk, a Rapid City filmmaker, teacher and a lawyer. Abourezk pitched the class to the arts center in 2013 and has taught it for three years, with plans to teach it again in the future.

"It's been a wonderful experience," Abourezk said. "It's nice to see students reach their full intellectual potential, at the movies or otherwise."

Abourezk used the recent film "12 Years a Slave" as one example of how one shot can have an ocean of meaning.

"There's a moment where a man is left hanging in a tree and has to stand on his toes to survive," Abourezk said. "And you see in the frame other slaves going about their lives. It's a metaphorical way of exploring not only the cruelty of slavery, but the reaction of the oppressed, and how it reduces one's self to raw survival, how they suppress the truth to cope."

The class started small, with students of mostly older ages, but has expanded and grown more diverse since. Abourezk said that he was encouraged by the growing intellectual curiosity of students.

"Folks here are more intellectual than people think," Abourezk said. "By the time we finish they've developed a real ability to discover deeper literary meaning."

Films shown in the class this year have included an excerpt of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa's film "Dreams," the horror film "The Mist," and the romantic drama "Lost in Translation," which Abourezk praised for its subtlety and for how much emotion it packs into small gestures. Abourezk said that he picks films based on how well he thinks everyone in the class will respond.

"We try to find movies that appeal to both genders," Abourezk said, "because that's a better way to get everyone involved in looking for the subtext, exploring the unconscious."

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Abouezk stresses the importance of visual literacy, something director Martin Scorsese ("Goodfellas," "The Departed") has said should be taught in schools.

"I agree with that sentiment," Abourezk said. "You can communicate so much, so quickly with an image, so giving people the tools to read images is important."

Above all else, though, Abourezk wants his students to be able to enjoy a richer experience at the movies.

"Film is about ourselves," Abourezk said. "It's a class that covers film theory, but it's really about looking at layers of meaning within films and contrasting that meaning to our own lives."

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