Bridging the Gap Between Professor And Student: MDOCs' Faculty Work Screening
Known for their work inside the classroom, professors can often become a bit of an unknown entity to their students. MDOCs, the documentary studies department at Skidmore, set out to change that narrative on campus by hosting a screening of faculty work on Monday, Nov. 12. Though there was no official theme, all of the projects happened to share similar topics of death and the way humans are remembered and, more importantly, granted students an intimate look into the innerworkings of their professor’s minds.
The first film, Open Air, was directed by filmmaker and curator Adam Sekuler, and centered on the only open-air cremation site in the United States located in central Colorado. He described it as an “observational documentary looking at the physical and cultural experience of this unique end-of-life practice.” The project was part of a group of films Sekuler made about death after the loss of a few friends and family, explaining “I needed to explore this subject in order to go through the process of my own mourning, but also to examine what that looks like more broadly.”
Next, Director of Storyteller’s Institute Sarah Friedland’s Any More a Portion shed light on Hart Island, a potter’s field located off New York City, where unknown people are buried. She was inspired by a line from an ancient Jewish text: “neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.” Access is restricted, so rather than documenting the cemetery itself, Friedland found another way to honor the dead.
“I was interested in creating a piece that actively engaged the audience in the process of mourning in a way that was not personal to them, for people that they do not know, which is something that we are having to do a lot of recently,” said Friedland.
Skidmore English professor Cecilia Aldarondo then showed clips from her film Memories of a Penitent Heart, which first premiered at Tribeca Film Festival in 2016. It was about Aldarondo’s investigation of her uncle, who she met once before he died from AIDS, and whose homosexuality caused conflict within their Catholic family.
My Life In Google, another work by Sekuler, then moved the audience into a nostalgic reflection of all the places he’s lived. In a live performance, Secular narrated his memories of each home, and even broke into song, while screen recordings of Google Maps and Google Earth took the audience to each location. He described the project as the “result of this curiosity around the way in which we either leave or don’t leave a trace inside of the landscape … and thinking about this vast archive of images that have been surveilled of our environment.”
Lastly, The Hard Problem detailed an audio voyage by science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson, performance art pioneer Marina Abramović and MDOCS director Adam Tinkle, who composed the sound. It was a surreal 40-minute experience that told an introspective science fiction story that touched upon the topics of celestial bodies, extraterrestrial life, the universe, consciousness, society and death.
“MDOCS is a place where students, faculty and staff can learn documentary storytelling practices that can serve their research and help bring it into the public sphere,” Friedland said. “We work across mediums and do not see documentary as something rooted in film, but rather as a practice which is used through many mediums.”
This event bridged the gap between student and teacher, allowing everyone to enjoy the experience of watching handwork pay off. As explained by Sekuler, “Seeing the work that the faculty has made and getting a better sense of the faculty as makers, I think, is beneficial for students to really understand who’s teaching them.”