Monday, December 19, 2016
December 19, 2016: Wishes for the AmericanStudies Elves: Student Films
[Each of the last few years, I’ve made a number of holiday wishes to the AmericanStudies Elves, things I’d love to see happen in the coming year. As you might have always known, the Elves are really all of us—so let’s work to make these and other great things happen in 2017! I’d love to hear your wishes, and causes or individuals or projects I can support as well, in comments!]
On how you can support a young filmmaker, now and moving forward, and why it matters.
Through my Honors Literature Seminar on the Gilded Age last semester, I had the chance to get to know Christine Coutts, a Fitchburg State University Honors student and Film/Video Major who is also a budding documentary filmmaker. At the end of the semester, Christine and her crew premiered Praying for Change, her 30-minute documentary about homelessness in America; I wasn’t able to make the premiere but have heard very good things, and she’s looking to expand the documentary into a feature-length film and take it to film festivals. As of right now there are still a few days left in her IndieGoGo pledge drive for supporting that documentary and those efforts, and I’d say it’s a very worthy cause on multiple levels. (And if you watched the trailer hyperlinked at the film’s title above, I think you’ll agree with me that this is a seriously professional project on every level too, one belying any stereotypes we might have about student films.)
I also had the chance at the end of the semester to hear Christine’s presentation on her next film, which will also fulfill her Honors Senior Thesis project. Another documentary, this film, inspired by Jose Antonio Vargas’ MTV documentary White People, will be entitled I’m Not Racist … But, and will feature Christine herself taking part in numerous conversations about race, racism, and culture in America. Christine plans another IndieGoGo page to support the making, publicizing, and distribution of this film, and when that page is up I’ll hyperlink it here. But I wanted to mention it now because, quite frankly, I think it’s extremely brave to make a film on racism—and in particular to talk to white Americans about racism—at a time when we’re seeing a resurgence of racist and bigoted rhetoric and hate crimes. The day that I’m writing this post, a Fitchburg area colleague shared on Facebook pictures of swastikas that had been drawn all over the city, just one of so many such crimes. The product of a biracial, Asian and European American family, just like my sons are, Christine knows full well what such rhetoric and crimes might mean for so many Americans, and is engaging directly with the issue in this new project.
Both that personal identity and perspective and that shared communal moment make Christine’s new film well worth our support. But I think she and her work also emblematize the overarching role and importance of student art. In the English Studies department where I teach, we’ve got great such art appearing regularly in both our online magazine Detour and our literary journal Route 2; I’m proud of all the students who have worked on and contributed to those efforts, as well as colleagues like Steve Edwards and Elise Takehana (and our past colleague Ian Williams) who have helped make it all happen. But Christine helps me highlight the wide variety and depth of quality of work being produced by student artists at Fitchburg State, as well as at institutions of higher education around the country. As with Christine and so many of those student writers, I’m quite sure that much of this student art is taking risks, experimenting, pushing their genres in new directions, engaging directly with some of the most difficult and important questions facing our society and world. So, AmericanStudies Elves, I wish that this vital and vibrant art in general, and Christine’s films in particular, can get the support they need to continue doing their crucial cultural work.
Next wish tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Wishes or causes you’d share?