Conference on World Affairs
|University of Colorado Boulder|
The Conference on World Affairs (CWA) is an annual conference, open to the public, featuring panel discussions among experts in international affairs and other areas, hosted since 1948 by the University of Colorado Boulder in Boulder, Colorado, USA.
The Conference was founded in 1948 by Howard Higman, a professor of Sociology at the University. He ran the conference until he retired, shortly before his death in 1995. The Conference resumed in 1996, and was directed for 16 years by Professor James Palmer, currently by John Griffin.
Content and panelists
The conference started out as a forum on international affairs, but, under Higman, morphed into a discussion on a multitude of topics. The core of the conference consists of panel discussions, usually with 3-6 panelists, on topics such as music, art, literature, environmental activism, business, science, journalism, diplomacy, technology, spirituality, the film industry, pop culture, visual arts, politics, medicine, and human rights. Half of a panel typically consists of experts on that panel's subject, and half with people having no professional connection to the topic, who offer fresh perspectives and insight. Only a one-line topic for the panel is announced two or three weeks before the conference. The panelists are given no other direction or guidance about what they should say.
Each year the conference hosts over 100 panelists, and conducts over 200 sessions. All sessions are free and open to the public and are held in rooms varying in capacity according to anticipated popularity, from 50 seats to 2000. The total annual attendance of all the events at the 62nd Conference on World Affairs (in April, 2010) was estimated to be over 92,000. Numerous distinguished people have served as panelists over the years, including Patch Adams, Betty Dodson, Buckminster Fuller, Adam Hochschild, Arianna Huffington, Andy Ihnatko, Molly Ivins, Henry Kissinger, Paul Krugman, George McGovern, Ralph Nader, Yitzhak Rabin, Eleanor Roosevelt, Studs Terkel, and Ted Turner.
Panelists travel to the conference at their own expense, and are paid no fees for coming. They are housed as guests in the homes of Boulder residents who volunteer to take them in. In addition to the panels, there is a keynote plenary address kicking off the conference on Monday at 11:30 a.m. and a Tuesday evening jazz concert.
One of the most popular events of the conference is the Cinema Interruptus, hosted for many years by film critic Roger Ebert. Ebert selected one movie and showed it late afternoon at the beginning of the week, in a normal, uninterrupted way. Then, for a total of 8 hours spread over the following four afternoons, the movie was dissected almost on a frame-by-frame basis. Ebert, or anybody else in the audience, could pause the movie at any point, and comment about any aspect: plot points, acting or directing techniques, camera movement, frame composition, etc.
Roger Ebert moderated Cinema Interruptus from 1969 to 2006. In 2008, he shared an explanation on the program's beginnings:
"This all began for me in about 1969, when I started teaching a film class in the University of Chicago's Fine Arts program. I knew a Chicago film critic, teacher and booker named John West, who lived in a wondrous apartment filled with film prints, projectors, books, posters and stills. "You know how football coaches use a stop-action 16mm projector to study game films?" he asked me. "You can use that approach to study films. Just pause the film and think about what you see. You ought to try it with your film class."
I did. The results were beyond my imagination. I wasn't the teacher and my students weren't the audience, we were all in this together. The ground rules: Anybody could call out "stop!" and discuss what we were looking at, or whatever had just occurred to them. A couple of years later, when I started doing shot-by-shots at the Conference on World Affairs at the University of Colorado Boulder, the conference founder, Howard Higman, described this process as "democracy in the dark." Later he gave it a name: Cinema Interruptus. Perhaps it sounds grueling, but in fact it can be exciting and almost hypnotic. At Boulder for more than 30 years, I made my way through a film for two hours every afternoon for a week, and the sessions had to be moved to an auditorium to accommodate attendance that approached a thousand."
While Ebert was recovering from cancer surgeries in 2007 and 2008, RogerEbert.com founding editor and CWA participant, Jim Emerson, stepped in to moderate during his absence. Ebert returned for 2009 and 2010, but mainly as a contributor, using his computer as his voice in order to participate. In 2011, Ebert announced that he would not be returning, and Emerson would carry on as moderator.
- Higman, Howard. "Higman: A Collection", edited by Tom Adams and Betty Brandenburg. Foreword by Roger Ebert. Copr. 1998 Thomas Berryhill Press. ISBN 0-9648638-5-5.
- Annual Conference on World Affairs - Information For lists and biographies of the panelists, see e.g. http://www.colorado.edu/cwa/archives/prosopographies/cwa1967.pdf, and similarly for other years.
- Official website
- Roger Ebert on CWA 2009
- Conference on World Affairs Audio Archive University Archives, University of Colorado Boulder
- The Atlantic - How People in Boulder Build Community out of a Conference