“Free food, free movies, free ideas,”—that's how Ethics professor Jonathan Moreno aptly describes the upcoming Penn Bioethics Film Festival. 

The festival began four years ago as an effort to discuss bioethical issues reflected in films. It responded, in part, to the two Hollywood films about social psychological experiments that were released during 2015: Experimenter, a film about the Milgram Experiment, which tested the willingness of individuals to obey authority, and The Stanford Prison Experiment, a movie that examined Philip Zimbardo’s infamous division of students into prisoner or prison guard roles.

“The department thought that it was a great idea to start a film festival with several films each year about these issues,” Moreno said. 

Courtesy of Jonathan D. Moreno

As of last year, the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy has officially partnered with the Department of Cinema and Media Studies to prepare the festival. In earlier years, the latter department was represented by a film scholar who would speak on each film’s panel. Now, not only will film scholars continue to make up one of the speakers for each film, but the Cinema and Media Studies department will additionally help decide which movies to show. 

“This year, we also wanted to introduce films that were more poignant in terms of cinematography,” Cinema and Media Studies professor Nicola Gentili said.

The overarching theme of the three films selected for this year’s showing—M*A*S*H, The Hospital, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, all released during the early 1970s—is civil rights issues in the medical field, including sexual harassment, negligence, and malpractice. M*A*S*H depicts military hospitals during the Korean War. The film, which spawned the popular television series of the same name, is angrier than its television counterpart, using black comedy to boldly portray the stereotypical racism and sexism that were so prevalent at the time. The Hospital is a darkly comedic murder mystery that shows a hospital chief’s struggle to run a typical American hospital. Finally, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest takes place in what Gentili terms the most “controversial of any kind of hospital”—a mental hospital. The movie won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress at the Oscars. 

The films will be preceded by a short welcome, followed by discussions, and concluded with an audience Q&A. Speakers will include Chief Executive Officer of the University of Pennsylvania Health System Ralph W. Muller and Wharton alumnus Paul Zaentz, whose uncle produced the featured One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Zaentz has acted as executive producer of Goya's Ghosts and as associate producer on such films as The English Patient and The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The festival's receptions will integrate themes seen throughout the different films. For example, In M*A*S*H, the characters constantly drink martinis, with one medic even pulling a jar of olives out of his coat sleeve. As such, during the reception following M*A*S*H, snacks will be served in martini glasses. To represent The Hospital, the food will be served on hospital trays. For One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the reception's food will be served in cups, mimicking those that the nurses used to distribute medicine to the patients. 

The festival is open to all, and will take place from March 26 to March 28, with one film a day being shown at 6 p.m at the Lightbox Film Center.  


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