This semester Professor Joshua Guilford — a professor of English and Film and Media Studies — offered a course titled “Film and Video Curation.” The seminar aimed to grant students an opportunity to both think critically about curation and to bring the resulting knowledge into practice. The course was divided into two components, and the first allowed students to attend several screenings, which were discussed in concert with critical and theoretical readings about curatorial practice.
“We critiqued the programs we saw,” Guilford explained. “We were thinking about how different curators approached their programs, and different elements of the programs — we looked at program notes, and discussed issues, like the sequence of some of the videos being presented, as a group.”
The second half of the course has been the application of the first part’s examination of curatorial work. “This portion has been working in a more practical register to develop ideas for programs and to work towards actualizing those programs,” Guilford said. The class has been working in groups towards final projects which consist of a series of public exhibitions. In encouraging students to curate their own programs, Guilford has sought to move beyond the typical seminar structure — “the main thing I wanted this course to do was give students some facility with the sort of critical material and critical conversations around curating, but also to encourage them to make the shift from thinking critically about curating to using that sort of conceptual register as a basis for producing curated program. So how to move from something like theory to something like practice. Or how to think of them as more integrated than you typically think of them in a seminar.”
Guilford’s ability to offer students an opportunity to become part of the very practices they are analytically discussing in part stems from his own curatorial experience. While at graduate school at Brown University, Guilford partook in curatorial work on the side that existed in concert with his academic and research interests. Specifically, Guilford’s Film and Media studies research background focuses on American Avant Garde film of the ’60s. “I’ve been doing [curatorial work] since about 2009, but this is the first time I’ve developed a course around curation,” he said.
The final exhibitions have been a “long process,” as Guilford described it. Over six weeks the four student groups have carefully designed exhibitions — a process that has included building concepts, researching those concepts, drafting proposals, selecting screening locations, developing budgets and actually renting and obtaining films with appropriate exhibition rights. Guilford established parameters as a basis, but the groups have been able to depart in ways that have produced a diverse set of screenings.
Guilford has required that the groups submit a screening proposal, including a short description of primary ideas; design posters, with the options of working with outside artists or creating their posters on their own; produce program notes due at the screening in whatever form they chose, and create curatorial statements which draw on readings to establish conceptual frameworks for their events.
On April 28 at 7 p.m., in Keefe Campus Center Theater a group consisting of Evgeniia Trufanova (Russian Department TA), Basil Fawaz ’16 and Keara Phillips (Smith ’17) will hold a program that will attempt to define the concept of absurdity and film. “Our project will attempt to bring attention to a subgenre of experimental film that, as we believe, is not only underrepresented in mainstream media, but has not yet become a subject of intellectual discussion among film critics,” Trufanova said.
The program will feature a selection of films that varies in terms of production year, country of origin and utilized techniques which include collage animation, stop-motion animation, experimental film and found footage. The group was inspired by the very word “absurd,” and their inability to truly define it conceptually. “We are very interested in giving [absurdity] a shape,” Trufanova said. “Once we decided on our theme, quite a few interesting written works came our way. Definitely Albert Camus’ ‘The Myth of Sisyphis,’ Thomas Nagel’s ‘The Absurd’ and Soviety absurdist poetry of the 20s and 30s that I’ve been fascinated with for quite a long time and didn’t expect to find any traces of it in film, but some of the things that I was watching did remind me of it in terms of the rhythm and language,” she added.
In terms of assembling their program, Trufanova noted that the most interesting part was contacting artists directly, a process which at times resulted in having meaningful conversations with them. One Russian filmmaker was quick to grant the group usage rights, as he was “totally against the notion of artist’s intellectual property and any work that is considered complete by the artist himself should be accessible to everyone for whatever purposes.”
In addition to rental fees, the group plans to print publicity material and get refreshments for audience members.
“The major challenge we ran into is that each of us had a different understanding of what absurd and absurdist film is, and it took a while to bring our thoughts and ideas together to come to an agreement on what we are going to promote as our definition of absurd,” Trufanova concluded.
Race and Identity
On April 28 beginning at 11 p.m., a group consisting of Dane Engelhart ’16, Alexandra James ’16, Maria Elena Marione ’16 and Jin Jin Xu ’17 will be screening a program surrounding race and identity that is in large part a tribute to Amherst Uprising.
“We’re generally looking to reopen spaces of dialogue surrounding experiences of people of color looking back at Amherst Uprising and trying to create a space, again, that feels organic where people can talk about those issues,” Marione said.
In highlighting the Amherst Uprising sit-in, the program will be on the first floor of Frost Library — “with sleeping bags and pizza,” Marione added. The program will work to emphasize the incredible manner in which Amherst Uprising gained supporters. The group will be screening a series of short films in the periodical room of the library, and will encourage students in Frost to partake in the look at race.
“We’ll try to grab people who are in Frost,” Marione said. “ Just go through the floors and say ‘hey come down.’ Because I know to an extent that’s what happened with Amherst Uprising — people went around and said ‘ya know, you should be down here.’”
The group will also facilitate group discussions following the films. “We’ll start a dialogue about the films and how they made people feel,” James said. “And I think that’s really the center of what we wanted to do.”
“We hope we’re giving something for people to talk about,” Marione said. The group was inspired by both coursework surrounding site specific screenings and cultural representation.
“[We were interested in] what it’s like to screen something that’s not in a movie theater, that’s kind of a blank canvas in a way, and how to interact with the history of that space and the cultural components that come along with that,” James said.
“We’re also thinking about what it means to represent or screen something not of your own race or culture,” Xu said. “Especially to do that without fetishizing filmmakers of color,” Marione added.
Because the group will be screening in the library, they have had the support of the library staff in procuring films that are available for general use on campus. “It’s been an interesting collaboration with the library in that way,” Engelhart said. In addition to the films gained through library usage rights, the group had to contact a distributor for one film and an artist — who was very excited that they were screening his work — for another.
In terms of budgeting, the library helped with the bulk of film costs so the group was left with only two film rentals to cover, leaving the bulk of their budget open. The remainder of their budget will be spent on their low publicity costs and food.
“I think it’s kind of cool and integral to our project that its sort of on the low, existing budget, even though we’re self imposing that [more funds were available if needed] to really show that you can make something in this way.”
A challenge the group faced was the actual process of finding the films they wanted — a process which involved a lot of sifting through and emailing. “We had a lot of potential films but it was hard to find contemporary works,” Engelhart said. “We’re working in short experimental films and very independently films mostly. Its not mainstream production or films that have been around for a longer time and have gained some kind of notability. We were looking for contemporary films that touched on race — we ended up turning to a short documentary.”
The group described the process of selecting the films as both “organic and less organic.” “Our program became more coherent as we found films we happened to stumble upon that happened to work together,” Xu said.
“The Net is Not a Joke”
Matthew Buonaguro ’16, Rishi Kowalski ’16, Jax Reiff ’17 and Samual Wohlforth ’17 will show their program “The Net is Not a Joke” on May 1 at 9 p.m., in Keefe Campus Center Theater. Just as the title implies, the group will try to capture the diversity of material found on the internet.
“We want to take people to a more critical place with their internet use,” Wohlforth said. Screening the internet material in a traditional theatrical setting, the group is asking audiences to redefine content they see on a daily basis.
“You’re looking at images online, you’re watching videos online, you’re reading stuff online. And part of what we’re looking at is that these things are art objects,” Kowalski said.
“How often do you critically deliberate on something you saw on the internet,” Buonaguro said. “You have a short attention span, you’re probably reading Wikipedia in another tab, you’re probably listening to music. What happens when this is in a traditional screening setting.” The group will show material that includes an array in terms of both platforms — YouTube, Vimeo, etc. — and content, including camcorder videos, DVD rips from old media, art films and professionally produced go-pro footage.
The presentation itself will also reflect the internet experience. The group plans to transition between pieces by switching between different browser tabs or online platforms, keeping the projector on throughout. “We should have a tech issue segment,” Reiff joked. While maintaining the feel of browsing the internet, the group also hopes to maintain a sense of organization and structure to keep the viewers engaged as participants in a traditional screening.
The sense of the traditional screening will in large part be secured by the location — “we want to connect strongly with the historical tradition of using the group setting in a much more institution way with the gravitas that a cultural institution has,” Wohlforth said.
Additionally, the group is engaging with the notion of the traditional screening in simply utilizing pre-existing forms in a modern manner. “Using a screening to highlight the diverse possibilities of a form — that’s not new,” Wohlforth said. “There are historical examples of very famous screenings that have educational documentary, experimental and traditional narrative films in one setting in one night. So, I don’t see us as doing anything inherently different from that.”
The group also wants to reinvent the notion of the curator. “There’s been a heavy emphasis on the presence of the curator bringing these films to people,” Reiff explained. “A lot of the language is assuming that we’re not constantly surrounded by media. We have access to as much media as we want. There are pieces that felt a little weird or not updated because of that attribution of power to the curator.”
The group was fortunate in that YouTube public usage rights eliminated any rental costs, so most of their funds were put towards pricier advertising materials, and food. “I wanted an ice sculpture of a guy on a computer,” Buonoguro said, “but I looked into it and that’s like $500 and that’s the whole budget so that was shot down at a very early conceptual stage.”
A crucial element of the project has been assuring that audiences will understand the substance of the works they’re showing. Audiences must recalibrate their notions of internet material, because, as the group suggests, the importance of the material is often overlooked.
“There’s a ton of stuff out there,” Kowalski said. “The Internet’s a big place.”
“Sweet 16: A Coming of Age Screening”
The final screening, taking place on May 2 at 7 p.m. in Keefe Campus Center Theater, has been produced by Katy Rose O’Brien ’17, George Liang ’17 and Sarah Lanzillota (Hampshire ’13.) The screening “Sweet 16: A Coming of Age Screening” will showcase the filmmaking of five established filmmakers alongside the films of 11 students from Professor Adam Levine’s course “Experiments in 16 mm film.” In placing the two groups in concert, the group hopes to emphasize the notion that “every artist has to start somewhere,” as Lanzillota put it.
In maintaining the “coming of age” theme, the established filmmakers’ films will be selected from their early work. “In terms of picking the outside films for the screening we did some research on the early work of filmmakers we already knew about and liked, and decided on films that are not often shown or talked about and films that we thought would fit well with the student films,” O’Brien said.
In working with student films, the group has created an interesting curatorial experience. Because the student works won’t be done until the time of the screening, the interaction between the established filmmakers’ works and the students’ works wont be seen until the night of the screening.
The allocation of the group’s budget has been seamless — half has gone to renting films [funds were saved in using student films] and half has gone to paying an artist to make posters and to paying a projectionist who will run the screening.
“Professor Levine has told us that in the past, films made in his intro classes have appeared in festivals, won awards, and are essentially no different than films made by non students or seasoned film makers,” Lanzillota said. “We are aiming to investigate the prejudice against student artists by tricking the public into coming to an end of semester showcase, thinking they will only be experiencing famous works.”