Bittersweet: Black College Life at a Predominantly White Institution (2023, Director, Co-Producer, 99 min.)
See the trailer at: https://livedmu.lib.miamioh.edu/documentaries/
Part of an internally-funded, interdisciplinary initiative titled “Lived Experiences at Miami Through Stories: Race at Miami University,” Bittersweet shares stories of Black affiliates of this public, predominantly white university in rural, southwest Ohio. In this first phase of the “Lived Experiences” project, a team of librarians, staff members, and faculty compiled and organized one of the largest digital archives on this subject in the country, with holdings that included photographs of Black employees and students; memoranda, letters, and administrative documents pertaining to resource programs for students of color; dozens of oral history interviews with former students, faculty, and staff on campus in each decade between 1960 and 2020; edited short films on Black “Trailblazers” who started programs and resource centers at Miami; and a feature length documentary that synthesized all of these materials into a collective story about Black life in this place. A rough cut screening took place at Miami University during Black History Month of 2023. Festival run, lesson plan development, and educational distribution outreach will take place across 2023-2024.
Spirits of Rebellion (2017, Co-Producer, Cinematographer, Editor, 101 min.)
Winner of the 2016 African Movie Academy Award for Best Diaspora Documentary and the 2017 Best Documentary Feature from the University Film Video Association, Spirits of Rebellion documents the lives and work of a small group of critically acclaimed, but as of yet relatively unknown group of black filmmakers and media artists known as the Los Angeles Rebellion, the first sustained movement in the United States by a collective of minority filmmakers that aimed to reimagine the production process so as to represent, reflect on, and enrich the day to day lives of people in their own communities. All of the filmmakers associated with this movement attended UCLA between the “Watts riots” of 1965 and the “urban uprising” in Los Angeles that followed the Rodney King verdict in 1992, but black film students at UCLA and beyond continue to look to this group of filmmakers for inspiration, filmmaking advice, and practical guidance. Independent filmmakers, grassroots media makers, and various media artists in the US have found the example of the LA Rebellion School of Filmmakers to be an inspiring example of commitment to the medium of film as a tool for imaginative art and transformative storytelling. Following from the EthnoCommunications Program at UCLA (1968-1972), an experimental affirmative action initiative which created a space for ethnically Latino, Asian, Native American, and African students to collaborate on the production of films, student filmmakers of color remade the university and production process in ways that addressed their shared, though rarely discussed, sense of how to work together and why it was important to make films. Headlined by Julie Dash, Charles Burnett, Haile Gerima, Billy Woodberry, Barbara McCullough, Ben Caldwell, and Larry Clark, the LA Rebellion filmmakers collectively imagined and created a black cinema against the conventions of Hollywood and Blaxploitation films by attending to the quiet moments of everyday life in their communities, and paying homage to the dignity of their characters.
Spirits of Rebellion addresses a series of questions about what we might learn from the LA Rebellion today. As is often the case, the moniker LA Rebellion was one conceived not by the filmmakers themselves, but by critics trying to name a group of films, in retrospect, that shared a common spirit. Nonetheless, the sense of community fostered by overlapping hopes for social and political change, and the collaborative work process that the filmmakers developed continues to connect them to one another, while informing the lives of those who chose not to pursue a career in film production. Through intimate interviews with the filmmakers, archival research, and discussions with younger black artists, Spirits of Rebellion inquires into the future of a media-based social movement that started in the 1960s. How do the filmmakers assess the successes and failures of their efforts to create alternative cinematic forms for political ends? In what ways do they see their films expressing these aims? Where and how does the spirit of this movement manifest itself today, and what kinds of work practices innovated through the LA Rebellion might inform the principles of marginalized cinema collectives of the future? What are the long-term impacts of the public programs that enabled these filmmakers to access the resources to make films as students, and how should these insights inform future policies for funding the production of art and culture? Against the backdrop of cuts to social services and public education globally, transformations in the process of producing and distributing media, and growing wealth gaps in cities throughout the globe, it is an unusually poignant and urgent moment to reflect on the legacy of the LA Rebellion.
The project was realized in collaboration with scholars then part of the UCLA Film and Television Archive, which restored a number of the filmmakers’ prints, conducted oral history interviews with many of the participants in the movement, and published the authoritative book about history and significance of the LA Rebellion.
Unhooked (2016-7, Co-Director, Co-Producer 25 min.)
Unhooked is a dance documentary about desire, hookup culture, and sexual violence in Greek Life at universities, made in collaboration with members of sororities and fraternities at UCLA. A rash of recent documentaries and news reports criticize Greek life for facilitating excessive drinking, drug use, and sexual violence. Unhooked allows a space for members of fraternities and sororities to reflect on their experiences with these activities through action-conversations, a process designed by renowned choreographer Victoria Marks in which improvisational dance exercises lead a group to deep discussions about the root causes of divisive social scripts. Participants flesh out the often unspoken patterns in the hookup scene, ultimately coming up with new ideas about how to change what is often deemed the epicenter of rape culture.
Teaching Entomophagy (2016, Director/Producer, 6 min.)
Made in collaboration with the 150 freshman in a class titled “Food: A Lens on Environment and Sustainability,” Teaching Entomophagy considers the consumption of insects as a global cultural practice, a potentially sustainable source of protein for heavy meat consuming nations in North America and Europe, a means to food independence in food insecure areas of the tropics, and a resource for education in the classroom, where I asked students to videotape one another eating a cricket for the first time. Features then Lakers basketball star Metta World Peace…
Beyond the Fifth Dimension: University-Community Partnerships in Learning (2013, Director/Producer, 55 min.)
This video is about a model for after school learning programs called the Fifth Dimension, theorized by cultural psychologist Michael Cole as a way to emphasize technology and diversity in research about human development and learning, while addressing the educational needs of underserved local communities. The Fifth Dimension is a university practicum course that brings undergraduates majoring in human development, education, and communication together with K-12 children in after school settings. They collaborate on fun, educational enrichment activities like gardening, arts and crafts, theatrical performances, video production, and educational computer games. Undergraduates write research papers about learning based on their quarter-long weekly or bi-weekly interactions with a child at their specific site. Initiated in the early 1980s at UCSD, there are now over 100 Fifth Dimension sites internationally, and more than 30 in California. They can be relatively low-cost ways to accomplish the goals of K-12, higher education, and scholarly research at the same time.
The film profiles three of these sites that operated simultaneously in 2011: a charter school grounded in project-based learning; a public elementary school that bused in 1/3 low income, predominantly Spanish language students; and a community center after school program in an historically African-American neighborhood of San Diego. Featuring interviews with participants including undergraduates, K-12 students, teachers, parents, graduate students, professors, and leading researchers on collaborative learning, the film will serve as a valuable resource for other academics or community organizations interested in establishing such partnerships in their own locales. It offers a nuanced look at the possibilities and pitfalls of play and project-centered education, and makes a case for the value of non-standardized, community-based, hands-on forms of learning. It also touches on the dynamics of race, class, and linguistic differences that these interactions between university students and children from low-income communities tend to bring to the surface.
About Face!: Reenacting in a Time of War (2010, Director/Producer, 97 min.)
Excerpt from “The Battle of Saratoga”
About Face! Reenacting in a Time of War explores the cultural politics of commemorating American national history in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Told from the perspective of the filmmaker in the midst of his experience joining a group of reenactors who portray 18th century British soldiers, Redcoats, the film ruminates on what it means to play irredeemably violent brutes in reenactment events like the Battle of Lexington, whilst echoing in the role the position of contemporary American military professionals sent far from home. It turns out, ironically, that more American service members who become Revolutionary War reenactors choose to play Redcoats and Hessians than members of the “ragtag” colonial militias, which lacked the sense of military discipline that these contemporary men find comforting in their hobby. The film focuses on the intersection between the memories of war of such reenactors, and the experiences of war reenactment as a means of communicating about war across the veteran-civilian divide, all set against the backdrop of the media-saturated, anxiety inducing “War on Terror” that marked the years after the 9/11 attacks.
As a military command, “About face!” directs soldiers to perform a 180 degree turn. The soldier may not then walk, talk, or move without further commands, but he or she sees a completely different landscape. About Face! the documentary considers this term as a metaphor for looking back at history from an alternative point of view, and face as it relates to notions of shame and dignity. Most broadly, the film is guided by a question that becomes more urgent with each passing year of war: how does crisis in the present affect the ways we think about our histories, and how in turn do our understandings of history affect the way we think about the present?
Artist Portraits: Kiki Smith (2005, Director/Producer, 3 min.)
A vignette of textile artist and sculptor Kiki Smith at work, one of a dozen short portraits of artists at a retreat in Maine.