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This year, UNLV’s Barrick Lecture Series embraces diversity and the spirit of the unconventional

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Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro speaks at UNLV on October 17.
Photo: Refugio Ruiz / AP Photo

A line of students and locals wrapped through UNLV’s campus winding up to the Performing Arts Center box office. This swath of Las Vegans camped out in the hopes of getting tickets to see acclaimed Mexican filmmaker and Academy Award-winner Guillermo Del Toro speak about his life and work on October 17.

The event, part of the Barrick Lecture Series, is now sold out. Admission was free, but attendees had to wait in line to get tickets, all of which were distributed in just one day. But whether or not you’ll get to see Del Toro next week, his appearance at the university signifies a new direction for the Barrick Lecture Series and a heightened focus on bringing in prolific pop-culture icons who have shaped the arts—and our worldview—in imaginative, discourse-shifting ways. Del Toro, who has directed both popcorn movies (Pacific Rim, Hellboy) and fanciful, atmospheric films that border on high art (Pan’s Labyrinth, the Oscar-winning The Shape of Water), is certainly that.

Why the change? The Barrick Lecture Series is curated by the president of the university, and then voted on by a committee. In years past, the speaker series has brought in figures like U.S. astronaut Captain Scott Kelly and presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, but during its 30 years, it has never drawn such interest as with this month’s Del Toro event. That change can be attributed to UNLV’s current acting president, Marta Meana, who was appointed by the Board of Regents back in June.

“I was very interested in having strong contemporary cultural voices onstage,” Meana tells the Weekly. “Guillermo Del Toro, as you know, is last year’s [Best Director] Academy Award winner. Aside from [The Shape of Water] being a beautiful and incredibly expertly produced film, I thought it was a film that worked on many dimensions and layers, [including] issues of conformity and diversity.”

That word—diversity—is a loose theme for the series. But Meana says her main focus in booking guest speakers was to choose people who “make us look at things in unconventional ways.”

Del Toro’s appearance marks the first speaker series event curated by Meana, followed by comedian and producer W. Kamau Bell on February 5 and award-winning photojournalist Annie Leibovitz on April 3. “Bell is a national leader in the conversation about race, and he manages to help us all look at these issues in such an honest way, with such grace and humor and humanity,” Meana says, while Leibovitz’ photographs have “reflected our culture” and “pushed its boundaries”—things from which students and Las Vegans can learn.

“It’s both for students and faculty, but importantly it’s to bring the Vegas community to UNLV to share in the life of the university, and a part of that is culture and thought,” Meana says. “I hope it does all of the above.”

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