May 13, 2014


Last Friday May 9th I attended the student documentary showcase from the 2013-2014 Video Production Seminar presented by the Department of Anthropology, the Department of Cinema Studies, and the Program in Culture and Media at New York University.
The documentary showcase consisted of nine short films running from 10-20 minutes long, and produced, edited, directed and written by each student in the program. As a candidate in the Culture and Media program, I was interested in seeing what I should prepare for next year as I embark on the documentary production part of the course. At the end of the event I was excited, and very impressed by the works of all the students, as well as began to feel the pressure of having to meet the high standards set by this talented group of documentary makers.
The event, probably due to logistical issues, was long and with a short intermission after the screening of five short documentaries, which was unfortunate because there was not much time left for the Q&As that were conducted after every screening. It also made it hard for everyone in the audience to be able to stay until the end. However, for the group of us that stayed, it was worth the while, especially because the environment was very welcoming, and friendly and the students, and professors were open to engage in conversation after the show.
The Culture and Media program is a two-year program that is part dedicated to the theory and study of media and ethnographic film, and the second part consists of the production of a documentary from an anthropological perspective. The series opened with a short documentary by Anna Green (Cinema Studies), which was a lovely portrait of a pizza place in Green Point, Brooklyn that has survived as a local home, and restaurant in for the community, and is still surviving in this gentrifying area. The documentaries varied from cinema-vérité style portraits, such as Zoe Graham’s The Regulars, which is about a waitress at a local diner who is a peculiar and entertaining character, and provides a home outside of home for the people in the area. To a beautifully shot, sensory experience in the style of Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab about the hazardous, and intricate production process of the street manhole covers in NYC made by hardworking, and unfairly paid Indian men (Natasha Suresh Raheja, Cast in India).
The style and subject of these documentaries varied in form, structure, aesthetic, and subject, this is mainly due to the flexibility of the professors who run the program, and their emphasis in allowing the student filmmakers to create their own style by finding their own voice. This made for a diverse, engaging, and rich watching experience, and the works stand as prove of how there is no one right recipe in art or in this case in particular documentary practice. These works show us or remind us of the variety of ways that documentary can speak to a wide range of issues, and concerns through different perspectives and angles without compromising the quality, and value of their subject(s).
The curatorial aspect of the event was well done besides the unfortunate issue of having to showcase all of these works on the same night, or without having much time for discussion after every screening. However, being able to see the works in consecutive order was important to the mission and goal of the program in showing the diversity, and range of subjects that the students are allowed, and encouraged to explore. Perhaps a longer day for the event with some more room for discussion with the filmmakers about their work, or including a panel discussion moderated by a professor making the showcase closer to the style of a symposium than just the screening of the documentaries might be more enriching? Either way, this was a worthwhile, and inspiring experience, and I look forward to begin the adventure of making my own documentary!

by Ximena Amescua

Docs on the Edge website and program:

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