Coffee and Cinema:
Interview with 2nd Year MA Film Studies student, Priyanka Das

With host Stephanie MacDonell

Stephanie: Hi Priyanka!

Priyanka: Oh so we are starting (laughs). Hello, how are you?

Stephanie: So what are you drinking?

Priyanka: I’m drinking espresso, because I want to go crazy (laughs). Coffee gives me too much energy, I get fidgety!

Stephanie: (laughs) So what are you working on? What’s your project right now?

Priyanka: I’m going for the comprehensive exam rather than a thesis as my final project. I have two different categories: theory and history.

For the history section, I’m looking at Iranian cinema and Egyptian cinema. I’m mainly focusing on post 1979 films, after the Islamic revolution in Iran. I want to compare how Islamism was structuring…kind of sculpting together the cinema cultures…and how they were affecting each other. I’m looking specifically at Middle Eastern and Islamic film that I find to have a queer subtext. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been explored as much and very little scholarship exists. I recently screened Atef Hetata’s Closed Doors and Youssef Chahine’s Al-Mohager. Both of these movies are dealing with politics and culture in the 1960s and 70s, before the Islamic revolution happened. So there’s this inner reflection. I find that these films are dealing with homosexuality but in a very…bashing way. Homosexuality always exists as a negation. I can be critical about it but that also gives it its visibility in these films, considering a country like Egypt where Islam has been so dominant. So within these circumstances these films are still being made and giving some kind of voice and, whether negative or positive, I feel that this is a good start to have people at least talk about it – like me.

Frankly speaking, I’ve always been interested in Islam, because coming from India where twenty or thirty percent of our population is Muslim, I grew up with a lot of people from Islamic backgrounds. That always fascinated me, how living in a diaspora like India, which is a secular country, and how they are practicing it and how Islam in India and Islam in the Middle East is very very different because of the state involvement and the governmental religious power. I’ve been thinking about this as I’ve been considering my films. It’s been difficult because some films I want to see are hard to find.

For the theory I’m looking at Queer Feminism, I’m looking at combining queer theory and feminist theory because I think they go hand in hand, they aren’t the same though, but they are like soul sisters (laughs). I’ve been reading Eve Sedgwick’s Tendencies; she says in the introduction that in the 20th and 21st century any kind of study, if we do not corporate queer studies, than the study is incomplete. It is kind of impossible to do now. Queerness, to me and many other people, is not just about sexuality. Combining queer with just sexuality is very reductive. Queer is anything outside of heteronormativity; it incorporates different identities within its structures.

As Sedgwick says, the way we are going in our postmodern culture, we no longer have a direct link to history or how to evaluate a situation based on the past. Like the other day, you and I were discussing, Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto” and how multi channeled that piece was and how it would be unfair to oneself if we do not incorporate queer theory and the multi layers of the situation, which is where queerness exists.

So going back to your question that is what I’m doing for my project. I’m not coming up with any type of question as I would with the thesis but I’m work towards a mastery of the field. So this is what I’m going to flaunt to people (laughs).

Stephanie: That’s interesting. It also seems like you are looking at a connection between queer films that have a religious and state context as well.

Priyanka: I’m also looking at cinema from countries where state and religion are not necessarily separated. Not all, of course, but many Islamic countries are like this. So in order to express yourself or find a space for different kinds of bodies – what I call queer bodies – bodies that aren’t governed by dominant ideals, who can find their own voice and their own understanding of the world and perform it in a certain way. Those kinds of spaces are, kind of, given by the state. So when religion and state are combined, you can’t talk about queerness without religion. So I’m thinking in order to find space for a queer body one needs to figure out where the state and religion stands, how they are combining, and in this where a queer body can navigate to. In order to create an alternative line of existence, you need to define the dominant line itself…so you can break it.

Stephanie: Whenever I work with Queer theory, my mind always goes to Lee Edelman, who we read in Film Theory II. I remember specifically because I did a presentation on him (laughs). But he did an aggressive reading of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, a film not traditional seen as queer cinema. But he was looking at how the heteronormative line was being broken through the bird attacks…the progress of the hetronormative storylines like the romance between the two main characters and their future. Do you find formal elements like that in the films you are working with? I guess my question you find these films doing something else in their text to discuss queerness?

Priyanka: The few movies that I’ve watched, I think, they are very explicit. There are characters that do identify as queer, however, the narrative can become very mocking. You gave a very nice example with The Birds but I haven’t found anything metaphorical within the form…yet…mostly it is very explicit. For example, one scene shows two men looking at one another and then the next scene one is naked in bed and the other is walking around the room with his shirt off and they gaze at one another. Mostly it’s the interstices between shots where you can perceive that something happened just by the looks between the characters, we as an audience can wonder.

Stephanie: Yeah that reminds me of a conversation I was having with my students in my Cult Cinema class. We were incorporating the ideas of figural poetics to the screen. We were looking at how the image, no matter what the narrative or sound is doing, creates a consciousness outside the film. For instance, we can see two men onscreen together and that image can create a queer reading in itself.

Priyanka: And with the films I’m looking at, many things are involved in the image. For instance, the lack of budget within the pre Arab Spring era of Egyptian cinema. The images aren’t clear and clean, they are something raw and grainy. Those kinds of things are actually very affective; it has a sensual element to it. Like you say, two men together and the gaze asks for a queer reading. The graininess gives a sensual reading rather than an intellectual reading of the image. And I think that is very interesting how these third world countries are dealing with this kind of thing, especially with government operations.

Stephanie: So you are looking at the economy around the film’s production and how this creates a form that subverts in a way censorship, government, and heteronormative filmmaking.

Priyanka: Yeah, the form creates a different kind of national cinema. It isn’t like a national cinema where the filmmaker is saying, “this is what Egyptian films look like,” or advocating for state interest. They are coming up with a new form of making movies and that can be identified as a national cinema. You know I just started and I don’t think I have in-depth knowledge yet but I’m very interested in how filmmakers are transforming and playing with cinema.

I’m also critical as well…because formally, text wise, it is breaking the Western normative way of making cinema but not content. In a way these films are doing it but I cannot concretely say they are. I think we are on our way there but it is more of a journey than a destination right now. So for me both the sub textual and contextual reading of the image is very important. I was talking to my advisor the other day about Santosh Sivan’s The Terrorist, a movie about radical Islam, and the anti-hero is coming from this ghetto without an education or bourgeoisie taste. So this alienation is why he joins the Islamic group because that was where he felt home, where people accept him, it doesn’t come from a political stand point it comes from the sense of belonging and that group gave that space to him. So the film looks at the association with radical Islamism with terrorism. But in the end it was a bourgeoisie family that gave him an “understanding” of love. To me, it is a western take on radical Islamism. Something that is outside of society, never with privilege, always coming from circumstance. So the message is if you know how to live your life, get a good education, and a good job then you will be saved. So they are trying to navigate their viewers to a certain way of living, which I think is a very Western way of looking at certain political problems. So it’s interesting to me about how this filmmaker – who is from Egypt, whose film released in Egypt – has a very Western way of looking at the crisis. It feels like its geared towards a Western audience. After the 1980s, especially in Egypt and Turkey, what they call national cinema was swept under the rug, and navigated towards an Independent Art House cinema. That means that their cinema’s circulation was with the international film festival circuit. So most of their audiences became Western. In order to get the funding from different countries, the content needed to be more approachable to an audience who don’t live the same experiences or experience the same crisis. That’s why a lot of the movies are like that because of the economic and monetary circulation. I’m very skeptical about this approach.

Stephanie: I’m going to transition us a little bit to talk about you as a filmmaker. So you started off as an MFA but are now doing both the MFA and MA track. How’s that transition from being a filmmaker to scholarship?

Priyanka: I really don’t see much of a difference. Previously I’ve done more application based education and not really academic based. Then when I came here I started taking a lot of film studies class and I really got into it. This idea that one comes from criticism and one comes from the heart, I really don’t buy into that! I don’t know what that means…coming from the heart. So I decided to explore film studies.

When I make movies it’s less of a story and more of an image or sound formation. I don’t think in terms of narrative continuity and I think in a relational way. When I make a project, an inspiration can come from anywhere, but when I think about it…I create films in a critical manner.

Stephanie: I think filmmakers and scholars are really doing similar things. We are taking something we see in the world, exploring it, and then applying it within our work. And your work can be a dissertation or a film.

Priyanka: Yeah! We need the same thing: we need an idea. So what do you do, you find an inspiration. You go out in the world and find a relational, a spatial, a temporal image and that can strike your imagination so you begin brainstorming and researching. I think they are the same because I don’t think about filmmaking as storytelling, I think of it as an idea. Sometimes before I make a film I will read critical theory and get ideas from it. But I will also watch plays, look at paintings; I even do stupid stuff like dance by myself in my room and talk to myself….

Stephanie: Yeah, I do that too when I’m writing! (laughs)

Priyanka: (laughs)…and I can be my best listener because I talk bullshit. I can be the best listener of my bullshit (laughs). And by doing all this different kind of stimuli I can figure out how I can craft my film and the same with writing papers.

One difference I find…because I’m at the beginning of my academic career… is when I’m screenwriting…I feel like I have more freedom. That’s the only difference I feel but with the MFA/ MA track…but I want to bridge that gap. Because with film I can go as experimental as I want but when it comes to academia I always have a problem with structure. I feel like you have to follow a certain kind of structure.

Stephanie: Especially during the beginning.

Priyanka: These beginning stages, yeah! I love scholars like Sedgwick and Marguerite Duras. They have these temporal and emotional vectors. They can play around because they have so much experience with scholarship. When they experiment they can write it so simply but with power. But I need to follow this certain structure, which feels very confined, but I have to do it.

Stephanie: It’s like that old saying, you have to learn the rules before you can break them?

Priyanka: You know, like filmmaking came very naturally to me and I’ve been doing some form of art – like painting or photographic stills – since I was nine years old. So over this period of time I have created that comfortability…that friendship. But with academia…it’s so new to me, I’m like, “Priyanka! You have to learn structure!” But then I think my brain doesn’t work structurally. It’s very hard for me but in a way it is also very good for me. So I’m learning it. That the biggest difference but I’m kicking my ass to break it! To smash the gap! (laughs).

Stephanie: For one of my seminar papers, I was writing for Erin’s Transnational Queer Theory, I was looking at the way camp style creates this temporal and spatial queerness to film and that’s the reason why camp style and queer films work so well together. I was arguing that camp does similar things that queer theory does within cinema but through space and temporality.

Priyanka: Camp also does this with excess, no? So much excess breaks a fundamental foundation.

Stephanie: Yeah, absolutely. I was working with Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp.” And I loved it because it was so experimental the way she wrote it as just a list. And I was thinking about how she was experimenting within a Postmodernist style of scholarship while discussing a postmodern style. I want to write something like that, to change form to fit with content.

Priyanka: Seriously! I feel like I need to really push it, this is my time to really break the rules, but in order to break the rules I have to learn them. The other day in class we read Helen Cixous’, “The Laugh of the Medusa”…I love that name, any type of vices, I’m attracted to vices. Her virtue, no, it doesn’t work for me . (laughs)…that article is so powerful. I really like that…where I feel so much passion. Sometimes scholarship is too cold for me, I can’t work with it.

Stephanie: Yeah, I’m working with Critical Race Theory for my thesis. A lot of the writers I’m working with, like Fred Moten and Houston Baker, Jr, were originally or still are poets. So they take a lot of their poetic language and put that passion into their theoretical work, which is so powerful.

Priyanka: I really like it when you can read something so deeply. For me, I can sense a connection – like a virtually…I am hearing them and they are hearing me. It’s a relationship that I can build. That’s why I like reading; it makes me feel like I’m not a lonely scholar (laughs). That kind of relationship with an author comes from that kind of passion, if it is too cold and just being factual or trying to pursue THEIR idea…that doesn’t invite me, I’m just reading their words, but I’m not in a conversation with them. That what I mean by passion, like what you said, this poetic element is a conversation.

Stephanie: We are running out of time. I’m going to end with a question I ask everyone: have you seen anything recently you want to discuss?

Priyanka: I watched Damien Chazelle’s La La Land! I don’t know (laughs). I’ve seen the movies that inspired it like Jacque Demy’s The Young Girls of Rochefort and Gene Kelly’s Singin' in the Rain. I’m going to be honest…I think it’s a very white washed movie. I don’t like saying something with such conviction because I’m a very doubtful person. I always doubt my own thinking, but for me the movie was very convenient for its audience, like they made the movie just for audience appeal. It is nice to go with friends and laugh around. And I like Emma Stone…oh she’s nice.

Stephanie: Thank you Priyanka!

Priyanka: Thank you!

On Set With Film Student Megan Fitzgerald

For five days in early March, the Athens arts community came together to help realize the cinematic vision of OU MFA film student Megan Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald’s film, described as a “sci-fi, horror, action, drama,” made use of resources from not only the Film Division, but also involved a number of participants from the Theater Division, Media Arts, and non-students as well.

For filmmaker Fitzgerald, the film offered an opportunity to “bring people together both in front of and behind the camera,” an experience that she and co-creator Brian Epperson focused on since beginning work on the story last May.


With host Stephanie MacDonell

Stephanie: Hi Qian!

Qian: Hi Stephanie!

Stephanie: Let’s dive right in, what’s your research? Where are you interests at right now? I know you are still in your first year of the program.

Qian: Right now I’m doing a continuation of projects from last semester. One is on Chantel Akerman’s films. Louis was just discussing Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels in Film Aesthetics, which was really awesome! It inspires me a lot and I will think more about the film and my argument. Another is on Robert Egger’s The Witch (2016). I always want to work on horror films. What I learned in my first year makes me think a lot. So, I’m trying to incorporate what I’m learning into these papers.

Stephanie: What horror films are you interested in?

Qian: I like a lot of horror films. I like Claire Denis’s Trouble Every Day (2001), Ana Lily Amirpour A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014), The Babadook (2014), of course, The Witch, it could be a horror for me. I also like those more “popular” horror movies, which I watched when I was young, such as The Shining (1980), Ringu (1998), Alien (1979), Rosemary’s Baby(1968), etc.

If the question is what’s my favorite horror film (laughs) it will be really hard to answer! Each film has its shining elements that I like and it can’t really be compared to one another. So for me it’s hard to find a single film that is my favorite. I like Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, you wrote on that one, that could be one of my favorites; I like tone and the rhythm. I’m really interested in the way in which the female protagonist has been represented as well as the relation of her to the others. I also like the generic horror films, both the slow paced haunted story in Asian films or Western ones with explicit monsters. I audited a horror class before and that class opened my eyes. It broads me the way to analyze horror films. That horror could reveal our fear for the outsider of the dominant ideology. There was one article written by Robin Wood that theorized figures as monsters/the Other: like other people, woman, the proletariat, children, and the like. Anyway, those readings assigned in the class really made me rethink the images in horror films.

Stephanie: From what I’ve seen in your work you seem very interested in the way the female body is portrayed onscreen and of course feminist film theory.

Qian: Actually, I hadn’t really worked on feminist theory before I got here. I had written essays about horror, about French cinema, which is another huge interest, but never really focus primarily on feminist film theories. However, this has always been a territory that I wanted to touch on. I feel like my relationship to film comes from a personal experience. My slightly shifting interest actually mirrors my current thinking, which is about the relationship between myself and the world. When I am pursuing graduate education, I got tons of negative comments. I can feel many people judge me and my decision based on my gender, based on their understanding of female role. At a moment, I felt a lot of pressure. The pressure is not from that people can stop you doing something, but from that the repeated questioning make I repeatedly question myself. So, I started thinking more theoretically about the female position in the society and in the daily life. Another interesting example I want to add here. The other day, when I watch a popular Chinese television show, I found it is really interesting for me that many young women would have a “reproduction” plan even they have not gotten a boyfriend. This also will make me think about many things, such as reproduction, feminine, female subjectivity, etc.

For me, it’s not just because I’m a woman so I want to study feminist film theory. I feel like the pressure to be the woman as other people expected is really what makes me want to think about female subjectivity and to what extent I can have my own space to speak and behave the way I want to behave. I also think that part of reason for me to think about feminist film theory comes from experimental films I’ve seen by female directors. Chantal Akerman, Carolee Schneemann, Yoko Ono, Maya Deren, Gunvor Nelson, and many others.

So for me, I can tell..maybe I’m being too confident in saying this…but I always play with myself by guessing whether the filmmaker is female. Most time I am right. I can feel something different and it’s not just about the topic…because the topic is something easy to capture…The overall expression is different so I want to theorize my feelings about my film viewing experience.

Stephanie: That’s really interesting; can you think of an example from a film you’ve recently seen?

Qian: I watched Bette Gordon’s Variety, but not recently, it’s long time ago. The female protagonist works in a ticket booth at a theater. And the theater only shows pornography. The story focuses on her relationship to her male customers and her boyfriend. In the film, the woman is no longer followed by man but following man. So you get a lot of reversal, its now the woman following the man and watching him. In the film, she always talks about her sexual desire and fantasy to her boyfriend, however, her boyfriend feels really annoyed. Perhaps because she always talks this in public space, but it is also perhaps because women cannot talk about their sexual desire. Many things you can argue here.

So with that film as an example: the color, the frame, the soundtrack and the slow and quiet pace of this whole film makes me feel a sense of feminine.

Stephanie: What did you do for your undergraduate?

Qian: I did Journalism and Mass Communications. I was looking at more Mass Media theory but I’ve moved on to film.

Stephanie: Are you are teaching any classes over the summer?

Qian: Yeah, I’m teaching two classes. One is about recent Chinese cinema, so I called it “China” in Recent Chinese Cinema. It will include Jia Zhangke, Jiang Wen, and other filmmakers. Some people think documentary is the only genre to deal with the reality but I want to emphasize the blurred boundaries between the nonfiction and the fiction.

The other class is about cross cultural film remakes. Not just Chinese film remakes but other countries. I’m looking at more cross-cultural remakes. I have my own list and most of them are horror or thrillers (laughs). I don’t know why but that seems to be one connection of the remake. It will include the film like Infernal Affairs and its American version, A tale of two sisters and the American remake The Uninvited, etc…

Stephanie: Yeah! I find all kinds of connects with courses I develop. Have you seen anything recently in the theaters? What have you been watching on your own?

Qian: I saw Park Chan-wook The Handmaiden, I saw it in New York at the Lincoln Center Film Society. It was different from Park’s early films! I just rewatched Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin (director). I need to rewatch all his films before I start to write or teach them. I’ve also been watching films about the witch. I was amazed by Egger’s The Witch. I found out that the earliest film about witches was Benjamin Christensen’s Haxan (1922), that shocked me, it was a whole long feature film.

Stephanie: What classes are you taking this semester?

Qian: I’m taking Film Aesthetics with Louis and Erin’s Film History I. Actually, Louis shocked me in our first class, Film Study I. He spent almost two hours just to analyze one single shot. I was fucking shocked by that! I was assuming I’m the kind of person who has a good eye for details, but compared to Louis, I am nothing…

Stephanie: You are also taking Video Game Image with me!

Qian: Yeah! I also want to think about my thesis, I hope I can at least find a topic and start to write at the beginning of the fall semester.

Stephanie: Do you have any ideas yet?

Qian: No but I have so many interests and I’m trying to figure out a way to combine them together. I still have trouble with that, combining them within a historic context. Watch and learn, ING.

From Film School to the Real World: Megan Griffiths Takes on Hollywood

By Ayesha Nizhoni

Megan Griffiths is a writer/director whose recent works The Night Stalker and Lucky Them have found her working with the likes of Toni Collette, Johnny Depp and Lou Diamond Phillips. Griffiths has worked steadily since graduating from the Film program at OU, as an Assistant Director, Producer and Writer and Director, among other film-related positions. Her latest film, Sadie, is in post-production.

Since her graduation from the Film program at OU, Megan Griffiths has been a woman on a mission. Over the years, she has taken what she learned here and built up an impressive resume and career in Hollywood. OU Film Underground recently talked with Megan to find out the secret of her success (hint: it's called hard work) and what advice she'd give to current film school students.

1. Since your time at OU, what would you say has been the biggest surprise, in terms of expectation vs reality in your career?

I’m a pragmatist, so I don’t think I expected success to come easily or quickly, but I don’t know that I ever considered that I’d still be struggling to gain traction and security in it in my forties. Even so, however, I’m grateful for the challenges that have come along with the dogged pursuit of this career. When I advance, it feels earned. I value each milestone and never take anything for granted. Gaining things without struggle can be devastating to growth.

2. What was the best part of your film school experience, and how has that impacted your life afterward?

During my time at OU I was surrounded by smart, funny, creative people who were really excited and passionate about what they were doing. That kind of energy and enthusiasm can be rare, and experiencing it during that time made me expect nothing less from the “real world.” It has made me seek it out ever since and not settle for anything less. Because of making this a priority with my collaborators, I’ve been able to stay inspired, humbled and entertained by those around me all these years, which I truly feel has made my work better.

3. Now that you’re in the world of filmmaking, do you tend to look for work, or does work tend to find you?

The majority of my work is still self-generated. I work primarily in independent film, and it is a very challenging environment. Getting each project is like pushing a boulder up a tall, steep mountain. You spend years pushing the boulder up the mountain, and you can never let up for fear of losing hard-won ground. And when you reach the top, and the bounder goes over, you are racing to keep up with it and not let it get away from you. Both are exhausting in different ways, and it’s a special kind of sadism that keeps me coming back with a new boulder each time. But I love the work, and I find it rewarding enough to offset the discouraging times. Occasionally, I have been able to join a project already in motion—a boulder already up near the peak, so to speak. Those opportunities tend to result from relationships built over the course of the twenty years I’ve been at this, via film festivals or my work on other people’s films.

4. How did OU prepare you in terms of the working world of filmmaking?

I think the most important skill I gained in film school was inviting feedback at every stage of the process. I started at OU with a different mindset. I’d edit with the door closed and get very worried about inviting anyone in. I believe it was when Lew Hunter came to host his weeklong screenwriting workshop at OU in 1998 that I first began to really understand the value of feedback, and the proper ways to seek it out. He had rules: The writer presenting his/her work was not allowed to defend anything or ask any questions. Every note was to be taken gracefully, and questions were thrown back out to the group, because if the script itself didn’t answer the question, no explanation from the writer would make a difference. We were encouraged to use the group to find consensus—was that note specific to one person, or does the majority of the room agree? I’ve used these guidelines with every film I’ve made, hosting 4-5 screenings per film to root out the solvable problems and learn what works and what doesn’t. It isn’t an enjoyable process, but I’ve come to realize that it’s preferable to invite these criticisms privately, while I can still work to fix them, rather than protecting my ego in the short term and then having to read the criticisms in a review down the road when it’s too late to do anything about it.

5. How has your point of view or creative vision evolved since film school?

I don’t know that it has evolved in any major way aside from the general deepening from life experience, but I think I’ve grown more attuned to who I am as a filmmaker, and what I bring to the table. There is technical skill in filmmaking, and there is natural aptitude, but the single most important element is that you understand your own point of view. It is what will guide the many choices you make, and it is what will get you the jobs that you are right for. Without it, your work will lack richness, character, and specificity.

6. Now that you’ve had some time to reflect on your time at OU, what’s one piece of advice you’d give someone currently in film school?

Learn the technical, but also make sure to spend time learning about human nature—through yourself and other people. You have to like being with others to enjoy this work, and you have to understand people in order to build characters and performances that feel authentic. Forge connections with others, and pay attention to why people do the things they do. Directing is finding out what people need, be it actors, crew members, investors, etc, and then giving it to them so that ultimately you can get what you need. It’s creating a win-win from every scenario, so that everyone leaves feeling ready to come back and collaborate again.

Brian Wiebe to screen A Good Person

By Carrie Love

Brian Wieve, an OU HTC Film graduate, returns to Athens to screen his first feature in the Athens Film Festival this spring. We reached out to Brian and asked him to share a little about his journey.

Congratulations on your first feature film being accepted into the Athens Film Festival. You are an HTC graduate of the Ohio University Film Program. Can you tell us a little about what you’ve been up to since graduating in 2007?

Wow - a lot has happened since 2007. Let’s see: I got married to my wife Michelle who I met at OU. We moved to Chicago, I got my Masters Degree in Cinema Arts & Sciences from Columbia College, made a feature, continued working as a freelance director, DP, and editor, and a little over a year ago we had our first child Nico. I’m accumulating debt like you wouldn’t believe, but having a good time doing it.

What is your film, A Good Person, about?

On the surface: Over the course of a lost weekend, A Good Person follows a Dickhead Contrarian, his Passive Aggressive Wife and his "Puss-puss" Best Friend as they smoke weed, drink PBR, reminisce, box, exchange barbs, make out, yell, lie, spy on each other, cry, fight some more, lie some more, commit crimes, kind of make up, and dance.

Underneath that, the film is about the desire to be thought of as “good” despite the knowledge that everyone is flawed and some more than others. It’s about how love and relationships require patience, forgiveness and courage to weather the inevitable storms rather than concede to the easiest impulse and give up.

Every film is an adventure to make. Tell us about your journey in making this film.

Making this film was honestly a joy. I was coming off an experience in which I had made a very ambitious short with all kinds of depressing adventures. I had reflected on the mistakes that I had made on that production. I decided to scale back on scope and make something smaller and more contained with a group of people that I really trusted.

I had spent a summer working in Alaska, and used the money I made to finance the production of the film. The film really came together quickly, but I ran out of money. So the audio mix, color grades, and festival submission fees took longer to get together than I would have liked, but that’s life. With the help of my sister (another OU alum), I put together a successful indiegogo campaign and now I’m here.

I’d also add: I had the best group of people as my cast and crew. I would make another movie with all of them in a heart beat. They either were or quickly became my friends, and I continue to work and hang out with them now.

In what ways did the program at OU prepare you for the making of this film?

The OU Film program is something that I remember with great fondness. I was very young, and while I knew I wanted to tell stories through the medium of film and video, I honestly was very naive to all that entailed. My professors as well as my classmates gave me the knowledge, pushed me, and, frankly, called me on my bullshit when that needed to happen, and celebrated with me when I succeeded. Without that foundation, I wouldn’t be the filmmaker I am today. With that I’d also add, that I was always pushed to make the best version of the film I wanted to make, and that isn’t always the case in the academic setting.

What lessons have you learned since film school on how to survive the ever changing communications industry?

I would say it is extremely rare that you are handed anything. You have to be persistent. You have to fight. You can’t take rejection personally or as a reflection of your worth. I used to really feel hurt when I didn’t get a gig I wanted or got rejected from a film festival. While it will never feel great, I try to see rejection now as just a part of the process. You have to be told ‘no’ so many times, before you get to hear ‘yes.’

A Good Person will screen at the Athena Cinema on Sunday, April 9th at 3 pm. You can check out the trailer at

Coffee and Cinema:
Interview with 2nd Year MA Film Studies student, Nien-Chen Lin

With host Stephanie MacDonell

Stephanie: Hi Nien-Chen! What are you drinking?

Nien-Chen: Hi! I have my sparkling water with lime flavor. That’s what I’m into recently.

Stephanie: I’m having a Chai…I know…you’re not drinking coffee with me.

Nien-Chen: I already had my coffee…

Stephanie: Oh I get it, you had to teach this morning… you needed your coffee. (laughs). So what are you working on right now?

Nien-Chen: I’m very interested in how Asian directors, mainly Hong Kong and South Korean directors, how they appropriate film noir elements into their films. I want to focus on a key figure in film noir… the femme fatale, how these women are represented within these films. The femme fatale, within the 1940s and 50s, was the ultimate threat to men and to… human destiny really. They are really dark and fascinating, they almost always die or lead the heroes to total destruction. And with that metaphorically, the whole human race so to speak. I would say that the gender roles in the West and East are very different, because we were…and are still, influenced by the Confucius philosophy, and that whole thinking of modesty and confinement of women. So as a result, in the Hong Kong films I don’t find too many threatening female characters in those films, instead they are fetishized, sexualized, beautiful but they are not the core of the narrative, they are just there as decoration.

Stephanie: Is there a specific time period that you are focusing on?

Nien-Chen: This is what’s happening in Hong Kong around the Handover in 1997. Here I’m also arguing that after 1997, New Hong Kong cinema is dead, or has disappeared. But Erin (Schlumpf, Ohio University Film Studies Professor) reminds me that Hong Kong filmmakers are still making movies. For instance Ann Hui, she’s a Hong Kong filmmaker. Most, however, operate out of or go out of China to make big budget films and they’re very successful. But there’s politics, like the politics of disappearance and anxiety in Hong Kong before and right after 1997. These films directly and indirectly address this collective anxiety of July 1, 1997. They implicitly try to mediate this trauma. And now, 20 years later, there are films after that, but I would say in terms of scope, they’re smaller and more local, they still talk about or try to talk about it…. There’s a compilation of young directors that try to imagine the future of Hong Kong and it’s not promising.

Stephanie: So you are focusing on current films as well?

Nien-Chen: Do you remember the revolution that happened in 2013, the Umbrella Movement? The political fact is that there are protests happening in Hong Kong. There’s a tendency for people in Hong Kong not to focus too much on politics, because for them there’s not much they can do, whether the British governed era or after 1997. Hong Kong people under the British governance were regarded as British citizens, and before the Handover they applied for passports so that they could go back to the motherland, which is England, and many of them were rejected. While they could not go to England, many people immigrated to other Western countries like Canada or Australia because they regarded this return to China as a death of their future. But there were people who couldn’t leave because of economic or political reasons. They had to stay and accept the fact that they are not in control. They cannot elect their mayor or governor; the Chinese government already assigns for them. They have a few senates there but the whole system is centrally controlled. That was what they were fighting against in 2013. It’s still going on because for China, I would say, again the future is still not very promising.

Stephanie: Were there many films that came out in 2013 that dealt with this anxiety for the future?

Nien-Chen: Yeah, before and after that time period more fictional stories like Trivisa came out. The film is about the conflicts: there are three criminals from Hong Kong before the Handover, and they try to make it big because they wouldn’t be able to once Hong Kong became part of China. That story was like the last struggle of the Hong Kong people. So this huge pressure coming from China is really the main focus of Hong Kong Cinema rather than women or their thoughts and their lives.

Stephanie: And you are focusing on the female figures within these films.

Nien-Chen: Yeah, and then I found out that South Korean directors were somehow able to find a trace of more and more empowering women. That’s very interesting. In South Korean cinema I focus on two auteurs, Park Chan-wook and Kim Ki-duk, both have more and more empowering women figures in their films. I began with their early films in the 2000s to current films, like The Handmaiden, which just came out last year.

My research questions are comparing and contrasting South Korean and Hong Kong films in terms of why or how the South Korean cinemas are able to present more threatening femme fatales.

Stephanie: You should be writing a thesis!

Nien-Chen: I’ve been there; I’ve done that (laughs). You guys are so brave, that’s all I can say.

Stephanie: Thank you!

Nien-Chen: After I found out more about South Korean history, I was really surprised that the American army is still there right now, since the Korean War and the Vietnam War. I know that there is always a tension between North Korea and South Korea, but American control of South Korea really affects modern South Korean society. First, there’s the army, and they use the taxes from the Korean people. With the soldiers…there were prostitutes around the camp… also in Japan… So because of these conflicts between white males and the young daughters of this country….If you work as a prostitute…sorry, this is so terrible. I really don’t like this…so the males in Asian countries are colonized, they are being feminized and recognized not as strong as these Western male figures. So what they could do back then was to sell their daughters to these colonizers. It didn’t matter what these women did or what their social status was, they were regarded as prostitutes and they were always wrong. Their mothers, their daughters, even if these women were educated, wherever they came from… even if they learned English from the schools, they were just educated prostitutes. For the poor girls who had no other choice, they went to these sex camps and were literally prostitutes… it’s like whatever they did they were always the ones to be blamed. Under this social context, these conflicts, anti-colonialism and feminism, are always at odds with each other.

There is one theorist I’m reading, she grew up in post-war Korea. Now she has moved to California and is a college professor. One of her chapters begins with the description of a day she was driving home and she noticed a soldier behind her and her first reaction was to pose herself and then straightened her back. It was a self-conflicting reaction, because she is a middle-aged women now, so she doesn’t really have to present herself to the soldiers, so there is a conflict inside her and her memory as a Korean woman which is really still bothering her even though she is not there anymore and really far from that time.

Stephanie: So you are looking a lot at collective memory too and how it is represented in these films.

Nien-Chen: Yeah, like Park Chan-wook’s Joint Security Area, which depicts a friendship between North and South Korean soldiers. And then there is one major female character that is an interpreter. She grew up overseas. In this film she is not the focus of the film and is interpreting a case before it goes to military courts. Here she is the bridge between the men, these North and South Korean soldiers. In Park Chan-wook’s revenge trilogy, in the film Lady Vengeance, he uses the same actress and she, the main focus of the film, is the one who drives the narrative to move forward and she completes her revenge not through physical strength but by her skills of manipulating people. This is one very unique quality.

Stephanie: So would all these films be considered Noir? Or Neo-Noir?

Nien-Chen: There’s another genre called Asian Extreme. These films with violence or incest, very violent scenes that almost have a physical impact on the audience, they are categorized as Asian Extreme. Some of the Hong Kong films are included too. So if the definition of noir films is “no way out” then yeah, I would say that some of his films, before The Handmaiden, are noirs. But not The Handmaiden, because he provided a bright future for the heroines, the lesbians.

It’s a really nice one, really, really nice one. The interesting thing is that the director adapted it from a British novel by the same name, I think. But he re-appropriated it to Japan-occupied Korea. So it has this historical conflicts between Japan and Korea. In the film these two heroines are involved in a scheme for money and legacy. The plan is to have a fake Duke marrying this woman so they can run away from her uncle who wants to marry her in order to get her money. So for this marriage, this patriarchal system, the only solution is she either leave or die. Her uncle wasn’t a very decent man, and this handmaiden who was supposed to help this Duke and send his wife into an asylum…which means death by then. The story turns out that these two women fall in love with each other and get rid of the Duke and start their lives. So there’s a bright future, that’s what I like so much about it.

Stephanie: Has Erin seen it for the Queer Feminist Film course?

Nien-Chen: I think she will because I have mentioned it every time. (laughs)…since last year. Stephanie: Going back to noir, as I understand, it began as an American movement. But now I question if it is just a phenomenon that happens during times of crisis or anxiety.

Nien-Chen: There is question of it as a genre or just a style, a movement, a phenomenon, or something. Well because right now many films that don’t include detectives or murders, you can still call them noir. I think there was this retro or Neo-noir that came back in the 90’s in the United States. In Asian countries, because we are regulated by the code of modest women, these directors are trying to confront that kind of anxieties in their own ways.

Stephanie: It seems like it is very liberating in some ways even though it’s not a very liberating style. So it’s being subverted in a way.

Nien-Chen: Also in Park Chan-wook's work I come to question if he is liberating or if he is the ultimate exploiter of women’s image because they are lesbians and how their sex is portrayed.

Stephanie: It goes back to that question of authorship. Nien-Chen: And we don’t want to fall into that trap of essentialism. Stephanie: Yes and that is a philosophical question that we are not going to answer here.

Nien-Chen: (Laughs) We will continue on that. I really like Varda’s Vagabond, have you seen that?

Stephanie: Yeah I have, I like it too. I remember getting so affected by it and going on that journey…the way the character gave up on herself.

Nien-Chen: That wasn’t a commercial success was it?

Stephanie: I don’t think so. I don’t think Varda’s films have necessarily been commercially successful, which is unfortunate.

Nien-Chen: Now that you say that. I was thinking of Ann Hui.

Stephanie: I think the only one I’ve seen is the Postmodern Life of My Aunt. But I really liked that one.

Nien-Chen: Yeah, it is super interesting and really fun. She grew up in Hong Kong and received her education through the British government. It’s super weird because they teach their subjects in English at a rather young age. They weren’t taught in Chinese, but in English, which creates this gap between what they learn in school and their daily lives. She also has a documentary that is called As Time Goes By in 1997.

Stephanie: I feel like with all these interviews I now just have a long list of movies to watch. So you are the only one of us who has a previous MA degree and you’ve already written a thesis, which is understandable why you don’t want to write another one. And you wrote about female figures in Manga books. Do you see a correlation in your previous work on that thesis and your work now?

Nien-Chen: Not directly related because the manga I wrote about was a coming-of-age story about someone going from a girl to a woman. In Japanese society shoujo is what you call a girl who’s not yet a woman before their marriages. They call them shoujo and they are supposed to be asexual. So there are a lot of comic books released for these girls that focus on romance…big eyes…the shoujo manga that everyone knows with the prince-like male characters, but that’s all too typical. And in the 2000s, many people in Japan reads manga so already, so in the 2000s, these manga stories became really detached from young girls’s actual lives. So they started making manga that depicted things like a girl’s period or how to get along with your male classmates, how to treat them like human beings, and saying that you are not asexual. So there’s this new category called Young Lady’s Manga. Instead of pretending oneself to be asexual and forever young, there’s a transition now to start seeing yourself as not yet a woman but also not an immature girl. That’s a theme and concept of reframing shoujo. I’ve always been interested in the representations of women in media like films and manga.

Stephanie: Are you planning on going on with academia after this?

Nien-Chen: Um not now. I plan on getting an internship, applying to extend my Visa that will allow me to work at least 20 hours a week. There’re a few internships with translation and audiovisual subtitling. There are a lot of places looking for researchers too; there are a lot of layers in this industry.

Stephanie: Yeah, with translation and subtitles, that can change meaning within the film.

Nien-Chen: Yeah, that’s localization. I think that is still an issue right now, especially with Mandarin and English, because these two languages are very different.

I rewatched The Handmaiden at the Athena with English subtitles. It feels different. Because I already knew what the story was about, but with the English subtitles it feels different. They speak both Korean and Japanese in the film and use different colored subtitles for each language, which is nice so if you pay attention you can see that. I think that’s a very important part of that film. The interplay of two languages functions as a key in that film. In terms of translation, maybe there’s something you can’t find a perfect counterpart for in the target language. There’s something harder to translate if we want to keep it’s essence. It [The Handmaiden] almost feels like another film. That kind of experience was because I had the Chinese subtitles before and then after, the English ones.

Knowing the other language is awesome. It really helps to appreciate the work whether it a movie or a novel.

Coffee and Cinema:
Interview with MA Film Studies Thesis student, Jordan Parish

With host Stephanie MacDonell

Stephanie: Hey Jordan

Jordan: Hi Stephanie

Stephanie: How are you?

Jordan: I’m fine, how are you?

Stephanie: So tell me about your work, what are you working on right now?

Jordan: I’m doing my thesis on Japanese Horror films made at the turn of the 21st century. I’m looking at what’s called the “undead subject”, it deals with the undead figures in Japanese horror films. There’s this distinction between two different modes of being, two different relations to a lost object. I’m trying to incorporate that into what this undead subject is and what these different films portray the undead subject as, in figures. I’m looking at the popular J-horror movies, like Ringu, Ju-on:Grudge, films by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, he did Pulse and Cure. Lot’s of writing and rewriting, researching but it’s good. Coming out of it it’s a nice feeling, being really learned in a certain topic.

Stephanie: So I know you are taking a language course as well: Japanese. How’s that going? Are you finding connections between what you are doing in your thesis right now and studying the language?

Jordan: It’s going alright. You do notice some things within the films. There’s the move by Kurosawa, Pulse, throughout the movie he frames characters in this way that looks like a certain kanji within a box. The movie is about being unable to get out of this box, all about entrapment. So learning what the kanji means, as a symbol or a picture in a sense…

Stephanie: So what are some of the films that you are teaching in your class: 21st Century Cinematic Fantasies?

Jordan: Well those movies, the J-horror films. We are looking at 21st Century films that involve fantasy figures like a ghost or imaginary figure. For instance, in Fight Club the character Tyler Durden is a figure of the masculine ideal. These are psychoanalytic ideals of the figural representation of subjectivity. In the summer I’m teaching films in the 2010s, we are going to focus on the gaze and performance. I tried to pick films that focus on some type of performance, like Black Swan for example. Then there’s La La Land, a musical, but also about different types of performances. What else… Abbas Kiarostami’s movies…and Holy Motors. That movie is like Holy Motors, it involves some sort of relation to God and religion but then at the same time it’s about a guy who’s an actor and he’s able to perform and change his performance, he’s able to change his self.

Stephanie: What’s been your overall experience in teaching here? Like coming up with courses and teaching your own solo classes.

Jordan: It’s been great, great that OU lets you teach your own class. That’s awesome, I don’t know if you can find that in the larger schools, that make you just TA once in your whole grad career…I don’t know if they actually make you do that… but there’s a lot of opportunity for that at OU and it’s great. It gives you a lot of experience.

Stephanie: Are you plugging the school? (Laughs)

Jordan: (Laughs) Hey! Yeah!

Stephanie: So you took some Film Studies courses in your undergrad, what was your main focus in your undergrad?

Jordan: European cinema really. That’s was set me on course with psychoanalysis. My teacher started us off with Jung. So I started with Carl Jung but then I talked with people and read more and discovered he was…bullshit (laughs)…so I switched.

Stephanie: That’s funny, which psychoanalytic theorists do you work with now?

Jordan: I’ve been working with Joan Copjec or Todd McGowan.

Stephanie: Oh yeah! And you got a chance to meet Copjec last semester when she was visiting!

Jordan: Yeah, her work and what she’s talking about is really interesting with Iranian cinema. She looks at how Iranian cinema contrasts with Western cinema, the cinema that’s total exposure and then Iranian cinema that she calls a “modesty culture”. She doesn’t say one’s better than the other but digs into both and how they can be looked at together. It’s really interesting.

Stephanie: She works Kiarostami’s films, which you are teaching over the summer.

Jordan: I’m trying to, if you’ve ever seen his movies, they’re weird: half documentary, half fiction.

Stephanie: Yeah like 10 or Taste of Cherry.

Jordan: Yeah!

Stephanie: So tell me about the papers have you written, or seminar papers while you have been here?

Jordan: Hmm…I’ve written like a hundred pages on The Grudge for different classes.

Stephanie: That’s one of your thesis films too….cheater!

Jordan: Hey! No I want it on the record that I say different things in every one… (laughs)….leave me alone!


Stephanie: Well that’s totally going in the interview.

Jordan: I’ve written on New German Cinema, I’ve written a lot on Far From Heaven. That movie has connections to Fassbinder and he’s another director that I’m a freak about. And he has those connections to Douglas Sirk that I write about. The World was another, which is also all about performance.

Stephanie: So you’re planning on continuing psychoanalysis after you graduate and maybe enter a PhD program?

Jordan: Probably, if, well who knows, but I’d like to if possible. I also am working with Deleuze, that’s something that I’ve picked up here. I had never heard of Deleuze. Those Cinema books are just ridiculous. You can just read like two sentences and use it for an entire paper. That was my European cinemas paper on New German Cinema. I have a lot of different interests and like a lot of different films. I could just sit here and talk about old movies. I saw La La Land, I thought that was nice, not just for the musical thing but its own take on the musical I thought was nice. I’ve mostly been watching older movies on my own time (leans into the recorder) like Shock Corridor (laughs) that needs to be advertised, that movie’s ridiculous. It’s about people from the 1950s who have…this guy is a news reporter and he’s trying to do a report on a man who was murdered in an asylum, so he’s going to do this by going undercover as an inmate in an asylum and he’s going to do this without going crazy…somehow. He goes in there and he talks to the other inmates, like on who was the first black student to be in an all white integrated school and he’s gone insane from all the things that had happened to him and there’s other people who he talks to. It’s a big social commentary on 1950s culture.

I mean, if you just see these movies that Deleuze talks about in his books, they’re all awesome, even the really old ones. Like Johnny Guitar! You guys watched that one in Louis’ Settler Colonialism & Western course. That movie was ridiculous, holy shit. The scene when the two main characters get back together, it’s just…gorgeous…There’s a lot of old silent movies that are awesome. They just don’t get a lot of credit unfortunately.