Radcliffe Announces 2016-17 Fellows


Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University has just announced its selection of fifty 2016-17 fellows. I have learned so much from the scholars, scientists, and artists who gather at Radcliffe through producing 15 videos for the Institute in the past several years.

Interdisciplinarity is one of the key features of the Radcliffe experience.  Each fellow is dedicated to their singular project but they meet for weekly lunches, work groups, fellows' talks, and lots of informal interactions.  It has been fascinating to hear about law professors learning from literary critics, biochemists being inspired by composers, and writers gaining insight from scientists.

2014-15 Radcliffe Institute Fellow Ben Miller, a writer who explores urban Iowa, described the twice-weekly fellows' lectures as "a white river raft trip at high speed: knowledge is spraying in your face and you’re reacting to it, and you’re finding out about your own mind.  I found things out here about my own mind at a rather advanced age – discoveries that were very nice to make."

Having a year to focus deeply on their independent project – with the support of the Institute and the inspiration of a diverse range of colleagues – seems to generate turning points for many of the fellows.  Several talked about how useful it was to examine their narrow specialty through a broader lens.  "All of us, whether we were artists or social scientists or humanities people, we're in the truth business," says 2014-15 Lisa Goldberg Fellow, John Tasioulas in our new video. "And it’s important to realize that there are different ways to get at those truths."

Designing a Program for Extended Learning Opportunities


The Students at the Center Hub - a fabulous resource for educators, students, and families to learn about student-centered learning – has just posted our new video, "Designing and Implementing a Student-Centered ELO Program."

The video features the thriving new Extended Learning Opportunities program at Providence-based Highlander Charter School. ELOs are opportunities for students to engage in anytime, anyplace learning such as internships, job shadows, mentor partnerships, and off-site classes.

At Highlander, the ELO experience is scaffolded, with freshmen taking a career class to explore their interests; sophomores doing an on-site ELO (such as the Culinary ELO featured in the video); and juniors doing an off-site ELO (such as the DJ and music production experience we follow). The experiences are grounded in an academic component involving a class and blogging requirements.

"Students are learning a lot in their ELO projects," says Highlander Director of Multiple Pathways Simona Simpson-Thomas. They’re learning beyond just the academics.  They are also learning professionalism. They are learning creativity. They are learning how to think outside the box." The video was funded by Nellie Mae Education Foundation , a major force in student-centered education.

"It taught me how to work with different groups of people I’ve never met," says sophomore Fanta Diakite.  "So when I go into a new job setting, I’m not nervous on working with new people. I’m more comfortable."  Junior Pedro Rodriguez adds: "I learned  that I’m more of a hands-on person. I’d rather learn from like doing it myself rather than somebody just telling me how to do it.  Knowing that will make stuff in my future easier."

The Fish is the Last to Discover Water


Last night I took my RISD video students hear superstar artist Alfredo Jaar speak at Brown University.  The room was packed with hundreds of students, professors, and artists - and it was dead silent from the moment Jaar began, with the question: "How can I make art when there is so much going wrong in the world?"

The audience hung off his every word as he moved through a very structured presentation detailing his many large-scale works responding to genocide, human rights abuses, and social injustice. In between, he repeatedly showed a series of images of Aylan Kurdi, the 3-year-old Syrian boy who washed up on a Turkish beach - images that moved the world and inspired at least some countries to begin accepting the desperate refugees.  At the end of the talk, Jaar came back to these images to emphasize to us how very much an image can create an impact.  When asked what he thinks of art that does not take on pressing social issues ("art for art's sake"), he responded that he thinks ALL art is political.  All art makes a statement about that artist's view of his or her society.

Jaar often takes years to get to know the context of the culture and society where he is producing a work.  At the same time, he mentioned the privilege one has as an "outsider" to a situation, referring to the proverb "The fish is the last to discover water."

My students and I found Jaar and his work super inspiring. What a great opportunity to hear from this genius first-hand.

Test Run at Harvard


Yesterday my editor Shondra and I made a field trip to show our rough cut of THE CIRCLE to Ross McElwee's Fundamentals of Filmmaking (as in 16mm - they shoot and edit a group documentary on celluloid!) class at Harvard.  We are both big fans of Ross's work, and I also taught with him and edited his film IN PARAGUAY.

This was the first time we have shown the film on a big screen to an audience.  It was wonderful to see that Janet's story is really moving viewers.  The students were really interested to see more in the film by some of the other subjects - like Clarissa Turner, founder of the Legacy Lives On survivor support circle, Strong Oak Lefebvre, an indigenous restorative justice leader, and Ismael Fortunato, a young man who struggles with anger after a close friend was murdered and another friend stabbed.

Ismael is a participant in a violence prevention circle that has been running every other week out of Margarita Muñiz Academy.  I have filmed several of their circle gatherings - facilitated by Janet, Clarissa, and another mother-survivor named Charmise - and it has been such a powerful journey.  These mothers can move mountains in people's hearts!

Ross's students are making a documentary about the Bernie Sanders campaign in Massachusetts.  They said they often get privileged access at campaign events when the other reporters see their Aaton!  Shondra and I showed them the photo of our index card wall to talk about how we are finding the structure for our film.  A lot of rearranging of those cards yet to come...

Imperfect Machines

I'm headed back from the Bay Area after an interesting event with Indelible Lalita at UC Santa Cruz's Center for Documentary Arts and Research. The gathering was called Imperfect Machines: Screening Bodies, Illness, and Disability and involved three films exploring themes of disability, illness, and intersections between physical and national bodies.

Emily Cohen's Bodies at War: a Colombian Landline Story uses stories of amputation and rehabilitation as a window to look at the legacy of Colombia's decades of civil war.  Beginning with a graphic amputation scene and continuing through physical therapy and prosthesis manufacture, the film traverses a rich social and psychological landscape.

Benjamin Schultz-Figueroa's short The Green and the Blue looks at the artist's mother's complex relationships with her plants, her family, and her pacemaker.  The greenery of her native Puerto Rico inspires her interactions with the world and sets a troubling contrast with the new machinery within her.

I really enjoyed meeting these filmmakers and talking with our moderators Megan Moodie and Nancy Chen. Thank you UCSC and CDAR director Irene Lusztig for bringing me and the film there!