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Junger ‘84, Garcia ‘99 Screen Their Work at the Tribeca Film Festival

Filmmaker Sebastian Junger (left) in the field with the late Tim Hetherington, a collaborator on a number of his past films.

Filmmaker Sebastian Junger (left) in the field with the late Tim Hetherington, a collaborator on a number of his past films.

This month, Sebastian Junger ’84 and Liz W. Garcia ’99 will each feature their films at the annual Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Founded in 2001 by Jane Rosenthal, Robert DeNiro and Craig Hatkoff, the Tribeca Film Festival attracts nearly half a million attendees.

Junger, a journalist, author and filmmaker, is co-director, with Nick Quested, of the film Hell on Earth: The Fall of Syria and the Rise of ISIS, 

It follows an extended family and its attempt to flee their homeland in the face of violence and tragedy. Edited down to 99 minutes from an extensive 1,000 hours of footage, it will also carry viewers into the center of conflict as it captures the combat of Kurdish fighters in Sinjar and Shia Militias in Iraq.

Hell on Earth is the latest product of Junger’s long held interest in war journalism. In the past he has directed the award winning documentary Restrepo (2010), which documents US military personal stationed in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. This film would eventually become part of a trilogy that includes Korengal (2014) andThe Last Patrol (2016).

Prior to his war journalism, Junger authored two notable works of non iction,The Perfect Storm, which was adapted into a film staring George Cooney, and A Death in Belmont. His writing and journalism has earned him a Magazine Award and a Peabody Award and has appeared in magazines such as Vanity Fair, Harpers andThe New York Times Magazine.

Filmmaker Liz W. Garcia '99

Filmmaker Liz W. Garcia ’99

One Percent More Humid, which will also play at the festival, is director Liz W. Garcia’s second narrative film. It follows two college-age childhood friends, played by Juno Temple and Julia Garner, who return home from school for a New England summer. Although together they engage in typical summer mischief, the effects of their shared past traumas become increasingly pronounced. Yet as they attempt to process their traumas, a rift eventually arrises in their old friendship.

Deborah Rudlph, an assistant programmer at the festival describes One Percent More Humid as “a sun-soaked, atmospheric coming-of-age tale of two young women looking to free themselves from distractions, to repair their friendship, and help each other reach the other side of grief.”

Previously, Garcia directed The Lifeguard, her directorial debut, which premiered in 2013 at the Sundance Film Festival. She was the co-creator of the 2010 TNT series Memphis Beat, and has written for television series like Wonderfalls, Cold Case, and Dawson’s Creek. Currently she is writing the final installment of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Festival literature calls her “one of the most prolific female voices working today in film and television.”

Faculty, Students, Alumnus Co-Author Paper in Biochemistry Journal

Wesleyan co-authors published a paper titled “The Stories Tryptophans Tell: Exploring Protein Dynamics of Heptosyltransferase I from Escherichia coli” in the January 2017 issue of Biochemistry.

The co-authors include chemistry graduate student Joy Cote; alumni Zarek Siegel ’16 and Daniel Czyzyk, PhD ’15; and faculty Erika Taylor, associate professor of chemistry; Ishita Mukerji, the Fisk Professor of Natural Science, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry.

Their paper investigates the intrinsic properties of Tryptophan amino acids found within the protein, Heptosyltransferase I, to understand the ways this protein moves during catalysis. Understanding the movement of this protein is an important step in developing its inhibitors.

When this protein is inactive, either because it was genetically altered or inhibited, hydrophobic antibiotics become more effective, so inhibitors could be useful in reactivating antibiotics that are current not effective against these bacteria.

While it is popularly believed that inhibiting a protein requires a compound to compete with the substrate, their paper argues that instead one can design a inhibitor to disrupt protein dynamics, preventing activity. The co-authors compare the function of this “protein dynamics disruptor” to a wedge holding open a door–once inserted, the inhibitor prevents the protein from performing its function.

Their research on Tryptophan residues also found that distant regions of the protein communicate whether or not they are binding their substrate to other regions.

“It would be like if your right hand knew that your left hand was holding a pencil just by the changes in the position of your left hand. We are currently pursuing computational studies to look for these motions via molecular dynamics experiments,” Taylor said.

Poet Reece ‘85 and Honduran Orphans Are Subject of James Franco Documentary

Episcopalian priest and poet Spencer Reece ’85 taught poetry to the children of Little Roses, an orphanage in Guatelmala, the "murder capital of the world."

Episcopalian priest Spencer Reece ’85 and his poetry students, the children of an orphanage in Honduras, were the subject of a documentary executive produced by actor James Franco.

The film, Voices Beyond the Wall: Twelve Love Poems from the Murder Capital of the World, documents the experiences of poet, priest, and teacher Spencer Reece ’85 in the year he spent teaching poetry at Our Little Roses, a home for abused and abandoned girls in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

Executive produced by Hollywood actor James Franco and directed by Brad Coley, the film had its world premier at the Miami Film Festival in March. Sherri Linden, in the Hollywood Reportercalled it “eloquent,” adding that “[i]t captures an inspiring connection between Reece and his students, whether they’re discussing love and loss or exploring meter through Auden and salsa dancing. It’s the connection between language and life.”

Reese, whose debut collection, The Clerk’s Tale, (Houghton Mifflin, 2004) was chosen for the Bakeless Poetry Prize, had been ordained as an Episcopal priest in 2011, and first visited Our Little Roses as a three-month-long Spanish language immersion program to help him serve his community. He told Joan Crissos of the Washington Post (The Priest Who Healed Orphans with Poetry) that over the course of these months he was struggling to learn Spanish and did not spend much time with the girls. But the night before he returned to America, he noticed one of the girls outside his room. Speaking in a language he was just beginning to understand, she told him, “Don’t forget us.”

And he didn’t. Back in the States, he applied for a Fulbright to return to teach poetry to the girls, “using the lines of meters and verse to help them excavate the layers of emotional scars left behind after their parents abandoned them.” The Fulbright, he admitted to Crissos, might have seemed an unlikely stretch: “’The whole thing didn’t look very good on paper…. I hadn’t taught before, I wasn’t a priest that long, and I hardly spoke Spanish.’

“‘But poetry was what I knew…. It gave me a place where I could find solace, feel that I was loved.'”

With the grant—and a film crew to help tell his story—Reece returned in 2013. His curriculum included a variety of English language poets such as Shakespeare, W.H. Auden, and Langston Hughes, and he encouraged the girls to write their own poetry, which they would translate from Spanish into English. He had planned to publish these poems, and the book, Counting Time Like People Count Stars (Tia Chucha Press), will be published in time for Christmas, he notes on the Little Roses Facebook page.

 

Wildman ’96 Speaks on ‘Paper Love’ for Annual Frankel Lecture

Emil Frankel ’61 congratulates Sarah Wildman ’88, who presented the 36th annual Samuel and Dorothy Frankel Memorial Lecture, which honors his parents.

Emil Frankel ’61 thanks and congratulates Sarah Wildman ’96, who presented the 36th annual Samuel and Dorothy Frankel Memorial Lecture, which honors his parents.

Sarah Wildman ’96, an award-winning writer and regular contributor to the New York Times, presented the 36th Annual Samuel and Dorothy Frankel Memorial Lecture on April 5, in the Daniel Family Common at Usdan University Center. The event was sponsored by the Center for Jewish Studies and organized by Dalit Katz, director of the center.

Wildman spoke on what she’d learned about the Holocaust in writing Paper Love: Searching for the Girl my Grandfather Left Behind (Riverhead Penguin, 2014).

The story began for her, she recalled, when, after her grandfather’s death, she came across a box that had been his, containing dozens of letters from a woman named Valy—or Valerie Scheftel—addressed to her grandfather. It was clear that the two, who had been medical school students together at the University of Prague before World War II, were sweethearts. When Wildman’s grandfather and family fled Europe, Valy had remained behind.

“Oh, that was your grandfather’s true love,” her grandmother told Wildman when she’d asked.

Wildman realized then that the comforting story she’d heard as a child—that their family had all escaped together—was not entirely true, and she began searching for this woman whose story remained only in a box of letters.

Wildman detailed the search with her Wesleyan audience—the libraries visited, the letters read and researched, and the visit to the International Tracing Service in the far western point of Germany. At this repository of everything the Allies had gathered when they liberated Nazi territory, Wildman found that someone else had been looking for Valy, as well. She finally meets the youngest daughter of this searcher in England, and learns much more of the context.

“As naive as it was to think my grandfather had escaped with everyone, it was also naive to think I could tell a story about a single person without trying to understand the community she was living in,” Wildman said.

When asked about Valerie’s fate, Wildman demurred. “I don’t like to talk about her fate when I talk about the book. I find that we flatten the experience of the war into the final outcome,” she said.

“What I really wanted to do with this book is actually look at the day-to-day and really dig in to what it would mean to be a woman, a professional, someone who doesn’t necessarily want to get married, who sounds completely modern, who just wants to be recognized as a doctor….

“There are a lot of letters out there that are not considered ‘interesting to history’ and I wanted to reconsider what we think is important and why. What did it mean to be a regular person, upon whom this happened? These are voices we don’t hear. Letters tell us a huge amount; they are an important source to learn about women and about daily life.”

As for whether Valerie had been her grandfather’s true love, Wildman said the question might not be the right one:

“I believe he loved my grandmother,” she said. “I came to believe that the idea of ‘true love’ in this sense was not just Valy, but also stood for the life he had lived until age 26, which literally ceased to exist after that point. His ‘true love,’ then, was really everything of his past; it was that whole world. And Valy, in some ways, represented that world.”

Horwitz ’02 Scores Peabody Nomination for Hamilton’s America

Hamilton’s America, the PBS documentary by Alex Horwitz ’02 that explores the history behind Hamilton: An American Musical, created and written by Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, Hon. ’15 and directed by Thomas Kail ’99, was honored as a finalist in the documentary category for the 76th annual Peabody Awards. The awards honor storytelling done well in film, television, radio, and on the internet.

The acclaimed documentary was several years in the making. Horwitz first approached Miranda and Kail with the idea in 2012—and cameras were rolling by 2013. “All I needed to hear was a demo of that first song, ‘Alexander Hamilton,’ and my interest was piqued,” said Horwitz in our exclusive interview from October 2016, when the documentary premiered on PBS. “I’m a history nerd and a musical theater nerd, so Lin was scratching a lot of itches for me. I told him that it didn’t matter to me if he was making an album or a show; I just wanted to make a movie about him dramatizing history. That was the angle from the beginning.”

Click here to read the entire interview with Alex Horwitz.

Horwitz and his crew pared down almost 100 hours of footage for the 1.5-hour documentary, using Alexander Hamilton’s life as one the film’s three threads. “Whittling down is just a matter of time and repeated viewings. But that wasn’t quite as hard as the interweaving. We had these three threads—the life of Hamilton, the creation of the show, and excerpts from the show itself—which we had to braid into one cohesive film. So it was a question of finding a lot of internal logic and segues in the footage,” said Horwitz.

The Peabody Award winners in the documentary category were announced on April 18. All of this year’s winners will be feted during an awards ceremony on May 20th that will air on June 2 on PBS.

Music by Myhre ’05 To Be Broadcast on NPR’s Mountain Stage in May

Jess Myhre '05

Jess Myhre ’05

Jess Eliot Myhre ’05 is a professional touring musician with the band Bumper Jacksons. Their newest album, “I’ve Never Met a Stranger,” will be broadcast nationally on NPR’s Mountain Stage on May 5. The live performance will air on more than 200 NPR stations around the country, and the band will perform five original songs from the record.

The group originally began as duo—Jess Myhre (clarinet, vocals, washboard) and Chris Ousley (acoustic and electric guitar, vocals, banjo—crafting a sound inspired by the jazz clubs of New Orleans and southern Appalachian folk music festivals.

In the Delaware State News, the band discusses its growth from this duo in 2012 to its current configuration :

Eventually The Bumper Jacksons grew to its seven-member size after a few of the musicians casually dropped in on a few gigs with the duo.

“We were very loosely formed and it became almost modular depending who was available for different gigs. Guest musicians would join us for different songs,” Ms. Myhre said. These days, Ms. Myhre handles vocal duties, clarinet and washboard.

The Bumper Jacksons have a steadily rising list of honors: Washington Area Music Awards Artists of the Year, Best Folk Album, Best Folk Group for 2015; Strathmore Artists-in-Residence for 2015-2016; Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation Touring Artists for 2016-2017 and others. They have also just signed with Opus 3 Artists (among greats such as Yo-Yo Ma, Roseanne Cash, Bela Fleck and Wynton Marsalis) for their national representation.

Hayat ’13 Discusses High-End Shoe Line, Liudmila Footwear

Najeeba Hayat '13

Najeeba Hayat ’13 is the founder, designer, and CEO of Liudmila Footwear.

Najeeba Hayat ’13, entrepreneur and designer, is gaining attention in the fashion industry for her designer shoe company, Liudmila Footwear, most recently in Voguewhich hailed her shoes as “stunning” and “fantastical.”

Produced in Italy, Liudmila shoes are designed with Victorian influences in mind. Hayat’s shoes are also praised for being comfortable to walk in, disregarding the cultural norm that women should suffer for fashion.

Hayat, who is originally from Kuwait, was a government major at Wesleyan, but found herself dreaming of designing shoes. In an interview with the Wesleyan Connection, Hayat said, “The Russian literature classes I took at Wesleyan were actually the biggest influence on my decision to follow my passion for design instead of pursuing a career related to my major.”

She credits the classes she took with Susanne Fusso, professor of Russian language and literature, for cultivating her love for the “unique, bizarre, striking characters of Gogol, Dostoyevsky, Chekov, and Sologub.”

Liudmila Shoe Drury Lane

Liudmila shoe from the new spring line

“One day, about a month or so before I graduated, we were discussing a speech given by a character in The Petty Demon that struck me by its passion, simplicity and its exact mirroring of my own sentiments,” she explained. “It was an exasperated paean to life and pleasure that in an instant turned me away from the career in consulting that I was actively pursuing at the time. I immediately decided to jump ship and move to Milan to study footwear.”

The Petty Demon is where Hayat found the inspiration to name her new company. Liudmila is one of the central sisters in the book. “As I was naming my brand, I went through many names, but was unsatisfied with all of them,” she said. “Liudmila’s speech kept coming back to me as my primary inspiration and so I decided to name the brand Liudmila in homage.”

Though her career took a different turn from the degree she earned, Hayat believes her liberal arts education prepared her for her role as founder, designer, and CEO. She said, “Even though the field I pursued had nothing to do with what I studied, all of the skills in analysis, problem-solving, and out of the box thinking that I developed at Wesleyan were crucial to my early success.”

Homeless Services CEO Rosenblatt ’87 Develops Affordable Housing in NYC

Muzzy Rosenblatt ’87, president and CEO of the Bowery Residents Committee in New York City, was interviewed by Crains for the organizations new foray into developing affordable housing.

Muzzy Rosenblatt ’87, president and CEO of the Bowery Residents Committee in New York City, was interviewed by Crains for the organizations new foray into developing affordable housing.

Muzzy  Rosenblatt ’87, president and CEO of The Bowery Residents Committee (BRC), a nonprofit offering services to people who are homeless in New York City, caught the attention of Crain’s New York for his organization’s recent foray into affordable housing development.

In the article by Judy Messina, Rosenblatt explains the reason for this new focus: “In our workforce program, we were seeing more and more people finding jobs, but in the shelters that we run for the Department of Homeless Services, fewer people were moving out, and they were coming back at a higher rate. … We had to find a way to help.”

The shelter system, he explained, can only work if there is turnover. With recidivism so high, the organization realized they needed a new option. Calling it an “aha” moment, he explained to Messina: “We could build a 200-bed shelter, take the income that a private developer would have taken out as profit and use it to leverage low-income housing.”

The BRC sought a location near subway and bus routes to because “We don’t believe poor people should be shunted to the edges” and made it clear to current residents of Landing Road in South Bronx that BRC’s investment is a commitment to the community: the organization is both responsive and accessible to their neighbors.

Rosenblatt says that the model they are creating is not only replicable and affordable, but also saves money otherwise lost to third-party developers. Messina note that Rosenblatt is “upending traditional models.”

“We should expect nonprofits to be entrepreneurial, disruptive and problem-solving,” says Rosenblatt, who was profiled for his work at the Bowery Residents Committee in the Wesleyan magazine in 2007.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lowe ’13 Grows Art Girl Army Organization

Sydney Lowe ’13

Sydney Lowe ’13

Film and TV producer Sydney Lowe ’13 is the founder of Art Girl Army (AGA), an organization that generates networking opportunities and fosters community among young women with creative careers. The collective originally started in Lowe’s small New York City apartment as a space for her and her friends to collaborate, provide support to one another and share their experiences as women working in creative fields, which largely lack gender, sexual and racial diversity. Since 2014 it has developed into an online global community of nearly 3,500 artists, including illustrators, comedians, dancers and more.

Lowe enjoyed ample opportunities to connect and collaborate with her peers as an undergraduate at Wesleyan. In an interview with Artsy, she explains how transitioning to the competitive environment of New York City made her miss being part of a supportive, creative community:

Chayes ’07 Wins Award for Women in Theater

Jess Chayes ’07

Jess Chayes ’07

Brooklyn-based director Jess Chayes ’07 has recently won the Lucille Lortel Award from the League of Professional Theatre Women (LPTW), which annually recognizes an aspiring woman in theatre who shows creative promise in the field. As a founding co-artistic director of The Assembly, a collective of multi-disciplinary performance artists, Chayes has co-created and directed eight original productions. These include I Will Look Forward To This Later and HOME/SICK, which is a NY Times Critics’ Pick.

Chayes founded The Assembly Theater Project with three other Wesleyan alumni: Stephen Aubrey ’06, Edward Bauer ’08, and Nick Benacerraf ’08. Together they created a collaborative and thriving community. Determined to show the effectiveness of solidarity and team effort, Chayes’ work is always risk-taking as well as thought provoking.

Recent directing includes Half Moon Bay (Lesser America), Primal Play (New Georges), The Bachelors (Williamstown Theater Festival), The Sister (Dutch Kills) and The Netflix Plays (Ars Nova). She has developed new work with The Vineyard Theatre, The Playwrights Center and New York Theatre Workshop, among others. Chayes is a NYTW Usual Suspect, a co-founder of The New Georges Jam artists’ lab, and alumna of The Civilians R&D Group and the Soho Rep Writer/Director Lab. She’s also worked as an associate director on Peter and the Starcatcher (Brooks Atkinson Theater and New World Stages) and Misery (Broadhurst Theater).

Draper ’12, Celestin ’13, Khandros ’13 Create Film Festival on Greek Island

The Syros International Film Festival was founded in 2013 by a team of four—including Nathaniel Draper ’12, Casandra Celestin ’13, and Aaron Kahndros ’13—and will run this year for five days in July.

The Syros International Film Festival was founded in 2013 by a team of four—including Nathaniel Draper ’12, Casandra Celestin ’13 and Aaron Kahndros ’13—and will run this year for five days in July.

How does one convert a shipyard into a cinema? “With a lot of gumption and very little sleep,” reports Nathaniel Draper ’12, the technical director of the Syros International Film Festival (SIFF).

For five days in July, Draper and his colleagues Cassandra Celestin ’13, Aaron Khandros ’13 and Jacob Moe will transform the small Greek island of Syros into a multifaceted cinema space.

Projectors hauled over three hours by boat from Athens will be erected on Syros’s docks, beaches and quarries to screen a variety of films, from art house to Hollywood. Musicians and filmmakers will gather for all-night multimedia performances and, with the help of participants, will construct musical instruments and perform. These are just a few of the unconventional features of the Syros International Film Festival.

Initiated in 2013 by Celestin and Khandros, the festival began as a DIY project financed out of pocket. But it has grown rapidly. Today, their sponsors—the Onassis Foundation, the US Embassy of Athens, Institut Français and Huffington Post Greece, among others—cover much of the expenses.

This year, the festival roster will explore the comedic and psychotic implications of its thematic idiom, “Cracking Up.” As such, it will feature a mix of cinema and expanded cinema that will, according to Draper, break open “the traditional confines of the projection experience.” One of the selections is a 1926 silent film by Japanese director Teinosuke Kinugasais A Page of Madness, which depicts the lives of patients in a insane asylum through an expressionistic style.

These alternative cinematic performances inspired Draper and his team to engage with the shadow puppetry of Indonesian gamelan performance, which Draper was first introduced to through Wesleyan’s world music program. They hope to feature the experimental musician Mike Cooper, performing alongside Gods of Bali, a film that documents Gamelan music and dance. With the assistance of an expert from nearby Cyprus, volunteers and participants will also learn to perform in a Gamelan ensemble built from from items gathered on Syros.

Quite literally a product of its environment, the SIFF has also had to contend with the Greek economic crisis–ironically, the opening night of the 2015 festival coincided with Greece’s vote for austerity.

The SIFF is not Draper’s first experience curating film: As an undergrad, he helped create the “Cinema Sorcery Front,” a club that ran independent film screenings for students. A film major, he fondly remembers Associate Professor of Film Studies Steve Collins ’96, who supported his work and pushed the boundaries of his classroom education.

Audio Guide by Rowland ’11 Featured In 2017 Whitney Biennial

Cameron Rowland, Public Money, 2017. Institutional investment in Social Impact Bond. Courtesy the artist and ESSEX STREET, New York (detail). Photograph Bill Orcutt

Cameron Rowland, Public Money, 2017.

Every two years, the Whitney Museum of American Art showcases some of the most talented young artists from around the country in an exhibition filled with purpose and passion. This year, the 2017 Whitney Biennial, the 78th installment of the longest-running survey of American art, features work by Wesleyan alumnus Cameron Rowland ’11. View the project online here.

“Arriving at a time rife with racial tensions, economic inequities, and polarizing politics, the exhibition allows the artists to challenge us to consider how these realities affect our senses of self and community,” according to the Whitney. “The Biennial features 63 individuals and collectives whose work takes a wide variety of forms, from painting and installation to activism and video-game design.”

In line with this year’s theme, Rowland’s work involved having the Whitney Museum agree to invest $25,000 in a Social Impact Bond, or a “Pay for Success” contract that arranges for the government to support social-service organizations. On display is the document of their compliance. A framed printout of a wire transfer functions as the physical manifestation of his work.

Rowland also was mentioned in an article published online by W Magazine, which highlighted the other 20-something artists making great strides in the art community.

The exhibit is open now and runs through June 11.