COFFEE AND CINEMA
INTERVIEW WITH 2ND YEAR MA FILM STUDIES STUDENT, JULIA STABEN

With host Stephanie MacDonell

Stephanie: Hi Julia!

Julia: Hi Stephanie! How are you?

Stephanie: I’m good, how are you? What are you eating and drinking here?

Julia: I’ve got a pumpkin muffin crumble and I’m drinking this ginger hibiscus tea but it hasn’t steeped yet.

Stephanie: It looks yummy! So, what are you working on? What is your current project?

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Julia: I’m in my thesis year and doing a more creative process of writing a thesis since I’m not applying for a PhD. During my first-year review we were discussing doing something like a creative non-fiction. My thesis is looking at children’s cartoon during the post revision era of the Children’s Television Act in 1996 and into the early 2000s. I’m looking at systems of violence and control through the lens of Deleuze and his model in “Postscripts on the Society of Control.”

Stephanie: I’m not familiar with the Children’s Television Act, can you tell me more about that?

Julia: It was the federal government’s response to parents and educators complaining about the dark ages of children’s television in the 1980s. It’s considered the dark ages because the primary mode of making television for kids was through marketing – so they would make entire shows around toy product placement. So, your Transformers, your Ninja Turtles, your My Little Ponies, all that. So, parents and educators alike created backlash on that mode of television which prompted the Children’s Television Act. It basically suggested all that the programing which was marketed for children needed at least three hours of educational programing per day and also orient it to a more educationally based television…whether or not they actually succeeded I don’t know…but it did push for less violent television. And then in the early 90s there was a push from the animators to create more “cartoony” cartoons. This tradition was lost on these shows, for instance the Vaudeville and slapstick was popular when animation was at its Golden Age. So, they made a push to return to the roots, for instance Animaniacs was a response to this and it was all happening during the post revision period.

Stephanie: Are you mainly looking at television shows for your thesis or are you looking at films as well?

Julia: I’m looking at television, distribution wise it’s really different…oh my tea is purple, that’s kinda cool! (laughs)...and I think there is more discussion to be had about the way children consume media especially in that generation because it is more television based. Plus, Television Studies is relatively new so I thought this would add more to the conversation. The children’s media market in cinema is pretty much dominated by Disney, at least at that time, and Pixar, DreamWorks, Sony, and slightly Illumination.

Stephanie: Yeah especially if you are looking at American children’s animation, you are going to fall into that limitation when it comes to film.

Julia: The thing is that here in America we have this idea that animation is for children. This doesn’t really translate as directly in other countries. Like in Japan animation is for all audiences but even places like France, Italy, and some South American countries animation isn’t considered something strictly for children. That isn’t something that we have adopted into our marketing strategies.

Stephanie: When I was teaching my Cult Cinema class we were looking at animation and we watched a lot of Adult Swim which is considered more underground or outside of the mainstream. We also watched anime and rotoscope films as well. But we read this article “Cultural Identity and Subcultural Forums” that looked at the demographic for Adult Swim, the author Evan Elkins argued that these “adult” programs were still marketed towards adolescent white suburban males which reflected in the show’s protagonists as well.

Julia: Absolutely, like South Park. People say, “oh cartoons are getting so much better now” and I think that’s because they are marketing towards a broader audience with the anime boom. Right now, animation is starting to get a wider audience, like Steven Universe. Shows are getting to be more nuanced in their approaches, like Adventure Time, they want to tackle bigger more complex issues. I don’t necessarily think that that makes a show better, I think it just makes it different. But we have this idea that the more complex something is the better and that’s just not true. Also through streaming younger kids are getting exposed to older content like South Park, especially young boys. They are taking that Simpsons tradition and applying it to children’s shows and saying it’s for kids for varying degrees of success.

Stephanie: What shows are you looking at for your thesis?

Julia: I’m working with Kids Next Door, which I worked with on a project my first semester. In terms of talking about systems of control, power, abuse, and violence this show triggered my interests. Let’s see…The Fairly Odd Parents and probably Recess. We watched the Recess movie in [the class I’m teaching] and it triggered a lot of interesting points and I thought I should probably look at this one further. I’m interested in shows, in particular, that have a very strong pro-kids marketing campaign so like “Kids rule!” There’s usually this big divide between adult characters and children’s’ characters that changes the power dynamic in the show itself. I’m more interested in looking at children as a demographic and looking at the difference in ages and the relationships between children and other characters. The whole children’s demographic is a lie, because there are different economic backgrounds, they don’t really take those things into account.

I’m also really interested in how space is oriented around leisure and work, especially, with this reoccurring theme, like in Recess, the idea of freedom as it translates within ideological spaces and their functions. My original idea was to have an entire chapter dedicated to spaces and institutions to see how they’ve changed from the disciplinary societies into the societies of control. Are they really enclosures or not? Are they just ideological structures? In children’s television there is always this ideological stance that there is a world outside this work space, there is a world outside this school. This illusive summer vacation, there is this illusive recess, where children are free. Sometimes the way it is depicted is this idea of fun, this idea of freedom, and I think that’s something that comes up over and over and over again is this assertion that creativity and fun are the answers to oppression. I don’t know though if I agree with it.

Stephanie: Have you noticed a shift between the relationship or the composition between children and parents pre and post 1996, if there was a shift within that federal act?

Julia: They pushed for more parental involvement. They are mainly extreme right Christian groups and educators very concerned about this hyper violence happening. And yet (laughs)… and yet we still have all this occurrence where parents who are shown on television are neglectful, or downright mean, or cruel. This is something that happens in The Kids Next Door a lot where the parents are not necessarily mean but ignorant. What does that mean? What kinds of messages are you sending about the system that produces this? Those are some of the questions that I’m asking.

Stephanie: And you are specifically looking at the way violent acts are depicted? I remember your paper for that first project in Research Methods looked at that and your applied trauma theory.

Julia: Yeah for that I tried to look at the affect(s) of the violence and not the causes. I think that that lead me down a different path than what I wanted to go down in the beginning. So, my thesis is a little bit more in-line for what really, I wanted to do, it connects with ideas of Capitalist enterprise and Marxism, Deleuze’s “Postscripts,” and then a history of Foucault. So, I just feel like it’s more structurally based and I feel like I’m better with structural theory than abstract theory like psychoanalysis…not really my strong suit…but I tried it! You never know. Trauma theory was really interesting but for me it’s also daunting. I’m so much better with projects that I can historically trace.

Stephanie: So, let’s talk a little bit about the classes you have taken. What are you taking this semester?

Julia: I’m taking Louis’ Historical Materialist class, which we are looking at films with historical materialism as method…and we have to read so many books! One book a week, it’s like (leans towards recorder) you can’t see my fingers but it’s like two inches…sometimes two and a half.

Stephanie: (laughs) You can do it for the picture so the readers can see.

Julia: (laughs) Yes! We have been reading Michael Denning’s’ The Cultural Front and that’s a big book! It’s a good book! We are watching two films for that class, just two. We just finished Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times and now we are moving to Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Medea. We are using all of this text in order to support this one reading of Modern Times and then this one reading of Medea using the historical materialist method. I think it’s really useful to see how much work it takes to produce a publishable paper.

Stephanie: Are there any seminar papers you have written during your time here you would like to talk about.

Julia: I worked pretty much with animation and I don’t really know why I’m specifically drawn to it but I’m also drawn to Japanese anime and the way that it produces affect which is different from American animation. Japanese anime is so popular, and the way that it influenced American animation – not just in aesthetic but also in distribution but I remember one idea I had for Louis’ Film Studies class. We were looking at horror cinema directed by women and I wrote on an anime for that called Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni. There’s this troupe in anime called moe that promotes eternal youth and innocence which can be traced back to the loss of innocence and also preservation of youthful identity. It is often associated with young girls. It’s not quite like fetishizing prepubescents like other animes. Usually they are these characters that appear within romantic comedies with a different kind of appeal than characters that a man traditionally is supposed to fall in love with. So, in this show it takes all of these moe troupes and combines a lot of stereotypes used in visual novels because it was originally a visual novel or a choose your own adventure video game but instead of ending with a coupling it ends with a brutal murder or some kind of Japanese body horror. At the end of each arch it’ll start over and do that whole thing again with a different character and it was very violent. It was directed by a woman which is why I wrote about it and I thought it was one of the most interesting projects I’ve done because I was looking at very contrasting theories…very different aesthetics and seeing how they actually worked together.

Stephanie: One of the things I really like about your work is how you approach aesthetics specifically within animation.

Julia: I’d like to continue with that and look at the process of cell animation, older animation, and Vaudeville because I definitely think that that has a lot to do with it and the alignment of animation with the film industry. I think what is really interesting about the research I’ve done on that front is that aesthetically the early roots of animation were really influenced by Alan Crosland’s The Jazz Singer – animated personas is Chaplin, is Keaton, and is Al Joelson. One of the original Warner Bros characters, I think It’s Bosko, was really inspired by Joelson’s character in The Jazz Singer. So, I think you can do a whole thing about race and how race is constructed in cartoon animation. The whole history of racism is kind of Vaudeville and within the animation tradition. The question is if that inspires modern animation without us thinking about it. I think that’s really interesting because of this human animal hybrid thing that we come to understand with Mickey Mouse, Oswald, Warner Brothers, and Tex Avery cartoons comes from this kind of ape man hybrid that comes from Al Joelson’s blackface in The Jazz Singer. Not exclusively from that but from a similar tradition. I was actually just reading this article about Thomas the Tank Engine…did you read that?

Stephanie: No…unless we were supposed to read that for a class….then I have…(laughs).

Julia: (laughs) No it was published in the New Yorker. It is all about this authoritative system that is in place in the original Thomas the Tank Engine and the really harsh punishments for the trains that get really graphic and gruesome, there’s this whole sub fan group on Tumblr that’s all about dissecting authoritative qualities and it’s really interesting.

Stephanie: How is your class going? Do you enjoy teaching?

Julia: I’m teaching Children’s Cartoons of the 21st century. We are looking at systems of power and control but not exclusively Deleuze. We look at Deleuze’s model as well as gender, race, Marxism, surrealism, anime – those are the big categories. My students are all really great. I have them do responses because I know not everyone wants to talk in class. They offer their different anecdotes to bring into the stuff we talk about. Like we were talking about nostalgia and how nostalgia plays into criticism, how we see pieces from our past and sources them for our critical discourse. I think it’s interesting so I love it when my students give me anecdotes in their work. It’s really interesting format wise too because we don’t have to have screening days and lecture days. For instance, most of the time we will have a fifteen to thirty-minute screening and then we talk about it. It’s different from film classes I’ve taken so it’s allowed me to be more open to the form of the class.

Stephanie: I’ve been studying film for many years and I’ve always wondered why more courses don’t incorporate animation – most students who get into it must come to it from their own interests. What drew you to animation as an academic study?

Julia: I’ve actually always loved cartoons from when I was very little. I think a lot of that

came from not being very good at reading because of ADHD so I was much more visually inclined. I could enjoy shorter media and focus on different things like music and color. It

made me really invested in animation as an idea. I wanted to become an animator mainly because I wanted to write media for kids and I’ve heard all these people say, “oh the media we’ve shown our kids is all terrible.” and I never really one hundred percent agreed with that because I think everyone is blinded by nostalgia. When I came into scholarship, I was trying to think about what audience I cared about. I have always worked with kids ever since I was old enough to babysit and I was in children’s theater for a time. The problem with a lot of the criticism with children’s media is that we are looking at it from the perspective of adult entertainment – whether or not adults can be entertained by it and I think that that defeats the point. Having a good network like Nickelodeon, which is one of the first children’s oriented networks, is what can give children a political identity. I’ve been reading this book called Kids Rule by Sarah Banet-Weiser that talks about this through a sociological lens, the fact that children don’t really have, or were never fully given, an identity with this rise of late-Capitalism during the early 80s.

I always just leaned into animation. Before I got here I was on the fence because I would try to justify it as a point of critical study and be told it was not important. But how can it not change the way we view making content for children. Like the fart joke controversy (laughs). Like a fart joke is automatically low brow humor. Well if a show has a sex joke it is also automatically low brow but yet there is a way to do a sex joke tastefully. And I think if there’s a way to do children’s jokes tastefully…there’s a way to do the fart joke tastefully. What I mean is don’t belittle another experience just because you don’t relate to it anymore…being a kid is important!

I think this is something that despite the hyper marketing, the 2000s really did well, marketing shows for kids that kids liked. Adults might like it too. SpongeBob started off as an adult show, and then they reoriented it as a children’s show. But many were originally marketed for kids. And some of it was pushed to the extreme. Kids Next Door is pretty extreme with its anti-adult rhetoric which I think is really radical. It’s an important show. It ended an era in cartoon animation. I think it also relates itself to societal critique.

Stephanie: Thank you very much Julia!

Julia: Yeah thank you!

Film Division Students Screen Second Year Films

By Edward Loupe

On Saturday, October 14th, thesis students at the Film Division in Ohio University had the opportunity to show their Second Year films to a full theater in Athens’ historic Athena Cinema.

The nine films produced during the students’ second year at the Film Division (during a 3-year MFA program), were between 11–19 minutes long. They were filmed with professional production cameras, lights, and sound equipment and edited with industry level software and color correction systems. The films were written, prepared, and finished over the course of a roughly 1 1⁄2 year period, with guidance from the Film Division’s faculty.

A variety of talent and experience was demonstrated in the screening. Issues surrounding age, cultural identity, partnerships, and gender were explored in the filmmaker’s unique voice and style. Each filmmaker introduced their film, thanking casts, crews, faculty, and the other filmmakers throughout the night.

“You all are the ones who make this possible,” said Film Division faculty Rafal Sokolowski, addressing the audience. “You’re the reason we do this.”

The students are now in their thesis year, the third year of study at the Film Division, embarking on their largest productions yet. Their thesis films will be completed and screened over the next year.

The films and filmmakers featured were:

Uber Father, directed by Kingsley
Reunion, directed by Megan Fitzgerald
Near Sighted: The Usually Alone Interview, directed by Zachary Stoner Partners, directed by Corey Howell
Dakota, directed by Brian MacNeel
It Gets Worse, directed by Matthew Willets
Eden is for Sinners, directed by Rob Fleurent
An Etiology of Fatigue, directed by Nazgol Kashani
Pine Cove, directed by Carrie Love

To find more Film Division Events, please visit https://www.ohio.edu/finearts/film/

Ohio University Film Division Professor works with Palestinian & Syrian Refugees

By Edward Loupe

Ask Tom Hayes what he thinks about southern Lebanon and he’ll tell you straight: “It was hotter than the hinges of hell.” Ask again, and he’ll tell you that he “dropped 20 pounds in six weeks.” But if you ask a little more, you’ll learn about the long and tragic history of the Palestinian people, and the small hope that storytelling and filmmaking could bring them.

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Hayes & students Bourj Al-Shemali Palestine Refugee Camp Lebanon.jpeg

Tom is a professor and resident Editor-in-Chief at Ohio University’s Film Division. He teaches and guides OU students through the post production process of narrative and documentary filmmaking. Also a filmmaker in his own right, he has spent nearly four decades traveling through Lebanon, Palestine, and Israel to film and document the situation of Palestinian and Syrian refugees in the Middle East.

This past summer Tom took another step into that world; working with the LEAP Program (Learning for the Empowerment and Advancement of Palestinians,) to teach English and filmmaking to middle and high school aged children in the Bourj Al-Shemali refugee camp. For Palestinian children, this is important education. To get into high school the children need to pass the “Brevet” – a standardized test with an English proficiency component. As for the filmmaking education, that is important for a very profound reason. As Tom puts it:

“What’s really needed is for Palestinian voices to take control of their own narrative.”

Tom explains that since they were ousted from their country in the 1940’s, the Palestinians have not been able to return home. Palestinian refugees are stateless, without citizenship in Lebanon, and as a result are unable to access basic rights afforded to other people throughout the world. They can’t vote or buy land, so they are forced to build more compactly as their numbers increase inside the camps. Tom says, “it just keeps getting worse and worse.”

This summer, Tom realized one of the students in his class this was the grandson of one of the first people he documented 35 years ago. Tom was happy to be so deeply connected to a family, but sad to see that the boy was still trapped in the same struggle as his grandfather. “They are like humans trapped in amber,” Tom reminisces. “It doesn’t change.”

Tom has decided that it’s not enough to point a camera at the refugees – you have to hand the camera to them. Tom reflects, “every now and then, artists had a real impact on the course of human events.” He talks about Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Huckleberry Finn in America, or Cry the Beloved Country in South Africa.

Through filmmaking, through telling their story themselves, they can “make a window for you to see their humanity and see their oppression.”

“There is a role for us filmmaker-types, and a role for those kids.”

Tom has made three documentaries on the Palestinian situation: Native Sons: Palestinians in Exile, and People and the Land are available as free downloads here: https://vimeo.com/ user9363542. His most recent documentary, Two Blue Lines is available on Amazon and iTunes.

COFFEE AND CINEMA
INTERVIEW WITH 2ND YEAR MA FILM STUDIES STUDENT, SOPHIA ALIOTO

With host Stephanie MacDonell

Stephanie: Hi Sophia!

Sophia: Hi Stephanie, how are you?

Stephanie: This is weird doing a coffee and cinema with you…because we are so close…

Sophia: And we are roommates….and we came up together, we were in the same cohort!

Stephanie: I remember you were the first person I talked to.

Sophia: Yeah, you cornered me in the bathroom asking where we were supposed to meet (laughs).

Stephanie: Yeah, because I was so nervous, I didn’t know where I was going, and thought “oh she looks nice!”

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Sophia: Yeah, I thought… “oh she’s blonde, she must be from California,” (laughs) no I didn’t think that. And then we met our professors and sat down for orientation. I remember Erin wearing that really cute scarf and Ofer gave us that scary article from U.N.E.F. Strasbourg, “On the Poverty of Student Life.”

Stephanie: Oh yeah! I actually haven’t read it yet (laughs) but it’s on my bulletin board just staring at me. Talk about the gaze, that article gazes back at me.

Sophia: I read it thinking we would talk about it and we never did (laughs).

Stephanie: So tell me about your project? What are you working on right now?

Sophia: I’m working on the comprehensive exam, my topics are posthumanism, cybernetics, and sci-fi cinema. There’s three specific eras when approaching posthumanism and cybernetics. There’s the cybernetics of the 1930s, the cybernetics of the 1960s, and then it reemerges again in the 1980s and that’s what I’m looking at mostly. I’m comparing this reemergence of cybernetics in the 1980s to present with sci-fi cinema that’s been released in the last 30 years. In very general terms I’m looking at how this shift in cybernetics has shifted our relationship to filmic images and subjectivity. This is in very general terms of course but its bringing me into conversations about what is happening right now both culturally and politically – and the imagery that’s circulating. 

Stephanie: I’m going to put you on the spot because I know you hate this question. How do you define Posthumanism?

Sophia: Posthumanism is such a blanket term that’s why I hate that question (laughs). What I like about it is that it is a way for me to break that binary within Western logic and psychoanalysis. So for me, posthumanism redefines and reconstructs what they call the liberal humanist self, the idea of the self that came from the Renaissance, the all being or the all person, the Man. In cinema, it’s a way to talk about bodies on the screen and mediate that question of the body as an apparatus itself. I’ve read a lot of Katherine Hayles and Donna Haraway. They began in science and switched over to the humanities. So they were using this biological logic for deconstruction. 

Stephanie: That’s so interesting, what are some examples within cinema? What films are you working with?

Sophia: I’m looking at what I call the slower science fiction – so science fiction that is more dependent on sound over spectacle. For example Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, Duncan Jones’ Moon, I’m looking at Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris too, even though that’s an earlier film. I’m also looking at short films too, like Peggy Awesh’s She Puppet, her movies do interesting things with sound. Science fiction makes sense to me because it deals so narratively with philosophical questions that are so easy to access. It also is more keen to use technology and I’m interested if the innovations in technology change the meaning of the images and their affect. I want to look at movies that embrace both the commercial and the arthouse styles. It’s hard though because you want to use something people have seen but you also want to use something with meat in it…But let’s talk about our two years here! Let’s gossip!

Stephanie: (laughs) Okay. I think we were both talking earlier about how our favorite class was our first class together the Horror and the Cinematic Affect seminar. Not only for the material but also the films were really cool.

Sophia: The films were cool, for sure. I remember going to that first class, sitting there, looking at the literature, and being like okay this is a whole different language.

Stephanie: Yeah because you came from English literature, that’s what you got your B.A in. How’s that transition been from English Literature to Film Studies?

Sophia: The biggest struggle with me in switching to film was working with semiotics. How do we discuss the third aspect which is the apparatus? How do we talk about the sign and signifier? In literature its more imaginary, the images that come up in our brain when reading. In film, you are given a material object and bodies and then attached to meaning. To me that was the biggest struggle because it opened up all these doors and made me question what I’m even asking anymore? It gets you thinking of how you have been processing images your whole life and how you have been processing ocular information – information that comes through your eyes. Oh god, I feel like I’m back teaching my undergrads now. (laughs). 

Stephanie: You’ve done numerous independent studies on Deleuze are you going to be incorporating his work into your exam.

Sophia: (laughs) Oh yeah! He’s at the crux of it all. He’s the man! He just creates a basis for everything, when you start to look and read scholarship, there’s so many aspects of Deleuze, he’s a part of so many conversations. What I’m mostly looking at is the concept of “the body without organs” from Capitalism and Schizophrenia because that really looks at the posthuman self and the representation of the body as machine which is made up of parts. I’m also using works from his writing partner Felix Guattari like The Three Ecologies. 

Stephanie: So, tell me about some work you’ve done these last few years. What have been some resonating courses you’ve taken?

Sophia: I loved Louis’ Western and Settler Colonialism seminar, especially because it was looking at these westerns that hadn’t been touched with the kind of direct ambush that Louis kind of puts on these films…which is really nice to see…

Stephanie: Yeah! And it was nice because we used the historical materialist methodology to structure the class.

Sophia: Yeah that lens really makes it stable and concrete and pushes your argument into a material thing that you point to. For instance, the approach made you realize how much Native Americans have been silenced and how many groups of people have experienced social death through these images that are made to be pleasant and pleasing – selling the American way.

Stephanie: Have you seen anything recently. I know you’ve been watching a lot of documentaries on Netflix and I’ve subsequently been too.

Sophia: (laughs) Oh yeah Netflix just unleashed a crap ton of documentaries and television shows mostly about the prison industrial complex which is fascinating. Who’s in jail, why they are in jail, and what kind of ideologies keep this institution in place. Talk about mapping out a system, you can start to see patterns of a history and the reinforcement of a system. You can see how the prison industrial system took the place of slavery economically – an entire economic sector, a huge material production line. I don’t know, its fucked up. It’s interesting right now with our current cultural climate. The prison industrial complex has become a symbol and continuation of slavery. For instance, Ava DuVernay’s 13th and The Confession Tapes….I also just watched Def Comedy Jams. Shout out to Netflix because they’ve put out these documentaries which have followed the Innocence Project. 

Stephanie: You’ve been interested in television studies for a while now, what draws you to television or incorporating television into film studies?

Sophia: So much is going on in television right now, I think some of the best stories are happening on television, I’ve been saying this for the past five years. There’s this idea that television is an academy itself. A lot of shows in television are trying to make a school out of it like referencing one another and having this archeological knowledge of television history, which hasn’t really been written about, but I think that we are trying to make up for that in the shows that we watch. Also, television is more directed towards literature in the way it’s able to draw out more narrative and character driven stories than film which is more aesthetically driven towards a spectacular image.

Stephanie: What shows have you been watching?

Sophia: I’ve been watching The Americans, I got hooked on shows that have been taking information from FBI files released because of the Freedom of Information Act. A lot of shows are getting their stories and their information from these files and you find out a lot of things that have been happening under government regulation that we haven’t had access to. You showed me Roseanne, which I hadn’t seen before, which was interesting to look at a sitcom about a working-class family with a female lead. 

Stephanie: I wanted to ask you about your turn in production? Right now, you are writing a script for MFA/friend Kingsley Lims for his thesis film?

Sophia: Yeah, I’ve been amateur screenwriting. I’ve always wanted to explore and access what we see in different ways rather than what we do in the classroom or in teaching…that sounds pretentious (laughs) I don’t know. I’ve been writing, but thinking analytically and intellectually is a different brain space than thinking creatively. I’ve been exploring sight and sound through a series of vignettes. I don’t think I can write a stable story from A to B, I have to write in fragments because that I what makes sense to me right now. The story is a family that sits down to dinner every year and how conversations change and morph and people come and go but it’s always that space, the community space. I have two, my other is a comedy, it’s about a group of kids being picked up from soccer practice and you have a kid in the car who no one knows who he belongs to and you’re just in the car for the journey. So, it’s just another representation of who we have around us and the mundane things turn into things that you wouldn’t expect.

Stephanie: How’s it been working in both scholarship and production? You not only write but have done acting and crew work.

Sophia: Steve Ross said it best when I was on Nazgol Kashani’s film (MFA/friend), I made them stop the whole take because my mic pack fell off, and Steve just scoffed, “Scholars as actors.” (laughs)

Stephanie: I remember hearing him whisper that behind me a few times on that set (laughs).

Sophia: The minute you see a set be produced…everything you’ve written about film begins to break down…it gives you a bigger ideological idea of what makes a film a film. For instance, what set is like, the behind the scenes, once you are physically there and sitting for hours bored as shit, then you start to see where the intention comes in…where the ideology comes in…where do the economic components come in. It breaks it down in a way that I wouldn’t have gotten in a classroom. Honestly it makes me more confused intellectually but more excited creatively. 

Stephanie: We are the last two of our cohort and soon we will be graduating. Any last words on our experience here?

Sophia: There is no direct answers for anything – we all see the same image but have different takes. That is the biggest thing I got from grad school. What I really love about our cohort is that we actually listen to each other and we continue to ask each other questions, which is not to be critical to one another, but to broaden each other in a different way. So I really enjoyed that. Every single person that I’ve had in class, I’ve learned from and there’s always comradery in suffering…and we grad students have suffered so much! (laughs)

Stephanie: Thank you so much Sophia!

Sophia: It’s been a pleasure Stephanie, I’ll see you in five minutes at home.

Film Division Students Screen First Year Films

Written by Edward Loupe

This past Saturday, the First Year MFA students in the Ohio University Film Division participated in one of the most valuable opportunities offered – the chance to display their films on in front of an audience. The screening took place at Athens’ historic Athena Cinema.  “These are learning filmmakers at the beginning of their career,” said Natasha Maidoff, professor at the OU film division, “these films represent a starting point to grow from.” The ten films screened were shot on 16mm black & white reversal film and covered a wide variety of themes including romance, loss, recovery, killing your boss, and others. “I am a much better filmmaker now than I was before, and I’m still getting better,” said student Bruno M. Viana while introducing his film The Wall Between Us.

The featured films and filmmakers were:

Changé, directed by Savannah Heller
Buildup, directed by Michelle David
Torn Apart, directed by Lauressa Nicholson
Strange Faces, directed by Ben Bouxsein
The Bitch Who Can Eat Shit and Die, directed by Ayesha Nizhoni
Heal, directed by Ying Ding
Teaching Ain’t Easy, directed by Eric Eldridge
Logosophia, directed by Robert Kaithern
The Wall Between Us, directed by Bruno M. Viana
A Dangerous Man, directed by Cecil Houser

The OU Film Division’s Second Year Films will be screened on Saturday, October 14th at 7pm at the Athena Cinema. To find more Film Division Events, please visit https://www.ohio.edu/finearts/film/ 

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 is...do 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!