Campus & Community

Film Study Center awards outstanding filmmakers with fellowships

6 min read

The Film Study Center (FSC) was founded in 1957 to support work that records and interprets the world in images and sounds. To this end, the FSC provides annual fellowships to outstanding visiting filmmakers and to students and faculty from the University.

The kind of work the FSC supports varies greatly, although nearly all of it shares a nonfictional perspective. The projects may include ethnographic films focusing on societies from Nepal to Nebraska; experimental films that combine images, sound, and other elements in unprecedented combinations; and projects that emphasize still photography or sound recording alone.

Lucien Taylor, associate director of the FSC, says that studying reality through the camera lens rather than through the intermediary of written language is “a radically different way of interpreting the world,” and one that complements the exclusive reliance on the written word common to the humanities and social sciences.

Taylor, a documentary filmmaker himself (his current project is a study of sheepherders in the American West) teaches a one-year course under the auspices of the Media Anthropology Lab, a collaboration between the departments of Anthropology and Visual and Environmental Studies (VES). Called “Sensory Ethnography,” the course prepares students to document human societies using film or video. A number of the center’s fellows are alumni of Taylor’s course.

Many award-winning films have been produced over the years with FSC assistance, including “The Hunters” (1957) by John Marshall; “Dead Birds” (1963) and “Forest of Bliss” (1985) by Robert Gardner; “Pictures from a Revolution” (1991) by Susan Meiselas, Alfred Guzzetti, and Richard Rogers; “The Same River Twice” (2003) by Robb Moss; and “Bright Leaves” (2003) by Ross McElwee.

The Film Study Center welcomes its 2007-08 fellows:

Diana Keown Allan has just completed a doctorate in social anthropology at Harvard. Her current project, “Still Life,” is a triptych of video portraits of three generations of Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon. The film explores different ways in which memory is mediated.

Rebecca Baron (FSC-Radcliffe Fellow) will be working on “What Nature Tells Us,” a series of short 16mm films that examine navigation and the sense of direction. The project is inspired by three disparate figures: navigator and inventor Harold Gatty, French writer and filmmaker Georges Perec, and pioneering photojournalist Felice Beato. Baron is currently on leave from the California Institute of the Arts, where she teaches documentary and experimental film.

Greg Gagnon earned an A.B. in visual and environmental studies from Harvard College in 2006. At the FSC, he will be working on “The World’s Fair Monument Project,” a cycle of short videos combining footage from his trips to former World’s Fair sites with archival footage of these fairs in operation, evoking futures that never came to pass.

Henri Herré has taught at the film school FEMIS in Paris and is an associate of VES. He has made both fiction and nonfiction films, many of which have won awards at international festivals. At the FSC, he is working on a documentary on Boston’s unique place in the history of cinéma vérité. Other current projects include a video on a public school in Dorchester, Mass.

Hélène Landemore, a Ph.D. candidate in government at Harvard, is shooting Mariage à la française. The film reflects on the meaning of marriage in secular, multicultural, Europe-integrated France by focusing on Landemore’s sister’s marriage to a young man from Slovenia.

Sharon Lockhart, an FSC-Radcliffe Fellow, works in both motion film and still photography. An associate professor at the University of Southern California’s Roski School of Fine Arts, Lockhart will complete a 35mm film and a series of still photographs titled “Lunchbreak.” Motivated by shifts in the world economy and its effect on American labor, the project will document the vital social space of the communal meal.

Susannah Morse is a teaching assistant in film and video at Harvard, where she graduated with an A.B. in visual and environmental studies in 2004. She is working on “A Single, Silent Phrase,” an experimental portrait in 16mm film of children’s fantasy writer Susan Cooper (author of “The Dark Is Rising”).

Amie Siegel, a Robert E. Fulton III Fellow, works in film, video, sound, and writing, investigating how cinematic conventions such as direct address, the interview, and the voyeuristic gaze form cultural memory. She is currently at work on a feature-length project about the former East Germany that considers the invasive use of cameras and microphones in the context of a culture once defined by surveillance and manipulation.

Jeff Silva is a teaching assistant at Harvard and an adjunct in experimental and ethnographic filmmaking and film studies at Emerson College. He is also a co-founder and co-curator of the Balagan Experimental Film Series at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. His FSC project is a 16mm film and installation, “Chilangolandia: Capital in Movement,” an impressionistic exploration of the cultural layers and rhythms of life in Mexico City.

J.P. Sniadecki, a doctoral candidate in social anthropology at Harvard, is studying contemporary Chinese culture. In collaboration with Harvard’s Media Anthropology Lab and the Harvard Asia Center, he produced the nonfiction video “Songhua,” which has been shown at festivals and conferences nationwide. His current project, “Removal,” concerns migrant workers at a demolition site in the center of Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan province.

Stephanie Spray is a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology who has been shooting video for several years as part of her ethnographic work among the Gaine of Nepal, an occupational caste of musicians. She continues this work with “The Gayek Family,” a video project exploring the complex web of relationships that bind three generations living under one roof in the Nepalese town of Lekhnath Chowk.

Christian Stayner is a graduate of Harvard College and a graduate student in architecture at the Graduate School of Design. He is collaborating with John Hulsey (VES ’04) on “Raft of the Medusa,” a feature-length documentary interweaving the stories of three people navigating the moral double binds and ethical entanglements posed by ever-rising tides of clandestine immigration.

Benji Zusman, a 2004 graduate of Harvard College with a degree in biochemistry, spent a year shooting video in the Darien Gap — a large tract of swampy jungle in the southernmost province of Panama along the border with Colombia. His video, “Darien Gap,” which he will complete this year, focuses on the people and land of this single gap in the 16,000 mile intercontinental Pan-American Highway.