Tag Archive for Film Studies

Members of the Class of 2019 Inducted into Phi Beta Kappa

PBK

On May 25, members of the Class of 2019 were inducted into Wesleyan’s Gamma Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa Society, the oldest national scholastic honor society. The Wesleyan Gamma Chapter was organized in 1845 and is the ninth-oldest chapter in the country.

To be elected, a student must first have been nominated by the department of his or her major. The student also must have demonstrated curricular breadth by having met the General Education Expectations and must have achieved a GPA of 93 and above.

Phi Beta Kappa is the oldest surviving Greek letter society in America, founded in December 1776 by five students who attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. The emblem contains the three Greek letters “Phi-Beta-Kappa,” which are the initials of the Greek motto, Philosophia Biou Kybernetes. This essentially means “the love of wisdom is the guide of life.”

The spring 2019 inductees are:

Caroline Adams
Yulia Alexandr
Erin Angell
William Bellamy
Cara Bendich
Zachary Bennett
Chiara Bercu
Sophie Brett-Chin
Nicholas Byers
David Cabanero
Talia Cohen
John Cote 

Q&A: Sienkiewicz ’03 on Dual Interests: Comedy and Global Media Studies

Visiting assistant professor Swapnil Rai stands beside her colleague from Boston College, alumnus Matt Sienkiewicz, who gave a guest lecture

Visiting Assistant Professor of Film Studies Swapnil Rai invited Matt Sienkiewicz ’03, associate professor of communication at Boston College, to speak to her class about broadcast media in the Middle East. (Photo by Cynthia Rockwell)

Earlier this semester Visiting Assistant Professor of Film Studies Swapnil Rai invited Matt Sienkiewicz ’03 to be a guest lecturer in her class, FILM 328: Beyond the West. The course “examines the role that film…and other media play in shaping our sense of global, national, and local cultures and identities.”

Sienkiewicz, associate professor of communication and chair of the department at Boston College, teaches courses in global media cultures and media theory. One of his eclectic areas of research looks at the West’s investment in Middle Eastern broadcasting initiatives. In 2011 he produced a peer-reviewed documentary film, Live: From Bethlehem, which explored this topic, based on work that included six months of on-location research.

For Rai’s class, Sienkiewicz discussed his book The Other Air Force

Matt Sienkiewicz is teaching at the front of the class

Sienkiewicz spoke about his research on the West’s involvement in broadcast initiatives in the Middle East.

(Rutgers University Press, 2016), which looks at American influence on radio and television programming in the Middle East. He explained how he evaluates programming by using a scale, placing on one end U.S. influence as “soft power” (money supporting the programming but little attention given to oversight of the message), and on the other, “Psy-Ops” programming (marked by a more invasive interest in psychologically influencing the viewer toward adopting a pro-American point of view).

Additionally, Sienkiewicz also studies and teaches classes in the politics of contemporary American comedy. He is coeditor (with Nick Marx) of The Comedy Studies Reader (University of Texas Press, 2018).

He spoke to the Connection about his seemingly unlikely dual academic interests.

Q: When did you get interested in comedy?
A: I’ve always loved comedies. When I was 10 years old, my sister and I would perform Roger Rabbit routines on video. Alf was a must-see appointment each week.

Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Wesleyan in the News

  1. The New Yorker: “The Shapeshifting Music of Tyshawn Sorey”

“There is something awesomely confounding about the music of Tyshawn Sorey [MA ’11], the thirty-eight-year-old Newark-born composer, percussionist, pianist, and trombonist,” begins this profile of Sorey, assistant professor of music. Sorey was recently featured in the Composer Portraits series at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre.

2. The Register-Mail: “Video Slots Take Heavy Toll on Some Players”

In this article exploring the expansion of video slot gaming in a region of Illinois, Assistant Professor of Psychology Mike Robinson shares what he has learned through his research about how gambling affects our brains through the pleasurable release of dopamine. “You hear gamblers talk about chasing losses,” Robinson said. “Basically, they are talking about how gambling and uncertainty can even change how you respond to losing. It sounds counterintuitive, but for gambling addicts losing money triggers the rewarding release of dopamine almost to the same degree that winning does.”

3. The St. Thomas Source: “V.I. Studies Collective Asks, ‘What Is a Virgin Islander?'”

Professor of English Tiphanie Yanique, a core member of the Virgin Islands Studies Collective, recently led a workshop on St. Thomas at the Virgin Islands Literary Festival. A poet, essayist, and fiction writer who teaches creative writing at Wesleyan, Yanique comes from St. Thomas and has written fiction about life in the Virgin Islands.

4. The Forward: “8 Practical Tips on How to Lead a Progressive Seder This Year”

Asked for advice on leading a “progressive seder” for Passover this year, Wesleyan’s Director of Religious and Spiritual Life and University Jewish Chaplain David Leipziger Teva suggested adding a shoelace to your seder plate to express solidarity with the migrants fleeing their homes to cross into the U.S. “In thinking about the 92,607 migrants and refugees who in March of 2019 alone were detained after crossing the US Mexico border, I was struck by the fact that one of the first things that our US Customs and Border Patrol (USCBP) does is force these tired and vulnerable people to remove their shoelaces,” he explained. “Apparently anything, even the shoelaces of young children, considered ‘nonessential and potentially lethal’ is confiscated.”

5. Reading Religion: “Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Bias”

“Through the medium of cartoons, Gottschalk and Greenberg examine complicated concepts such as Islamophobia and stereotypes in a manner that is both accessible and comprehensive,” according to this review of Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Sentiment: Picturing the Enemy, coauthored by Professor of Religion Peter Gottschalk and Gabriel Greenberg ’04 and recently re-released in an expanded and revised second edition. “This book is accessible enough to include on an undergraduate introductory syllabus, but also specialized enough for readers who are familiar with the concept of Islamophobia, or the study of the Muslims in the United States, to benefit from.”

Alumni in the News

  1. PeabodyAwards.com: Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart (PBS/WNET TV)”

Randall MacLowry ’86 is the producer and editor; Tracy Heather Strain is the filmmaker for this documentary, which PBS notes as “the first in-depth presentation of Hansberry’s complex life, using her personal papers and archives, including home movies and rare photos, as source material.” The couple cofounded The Film Posse, Inc., to work together in creating documentaries of high quality, and according to a press release, “spent more than 14 years raising money to develop the independently-produced film, which the couple produced with Strain serving as director and writer, and MacLowry and Chad Ervin as editors. Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart had its world premiere at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival and its television premiere on the PBS biography series American Masters in January 2018.”

2. Women and Hollywood: “Tribeca 2019 Women Directors: Meet Bridget Savage Cole [’05] and Danielle Krudy [’07]Blow the Man Down” 

“Wesleyan University graduates Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy met on a film set in Coney Island. They immediately bonded over a shared love of character-driven stories and juicy filmmaking styles. They have collaborated on numerous music videos, shorts, and writing projects. Blow the Man Down is their first feature-length film,” writes Gabriela Rico, who follows with the directors’ candid Q&A. Blow the Man Down premiered at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival on April 26.

3. Vanity Fair: Fosse/Verdon: 5 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets from the Cast and Creators”

Vanity Fair editor Radhika Jones, who moderated a panel that included Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, Hon. ’15, provided excerpts of the conversation: “‘I picked up a book off the shelf, and my job was to read the book and put it in Tommy Kail’s [’99] hand,’ said Miranda. The Hamilton creator had gone to Wesleyan University with Sam Wasson [’03], author of the 2013 biography Fosse—on which the FX series is closely based. In June 2016, Hamilton director Kail and Miranda began planning a way to bring Fosse back to the screen.”

4. Broadway World: “MCC Launches Season with Ross Golan’s The Wrong Man Directed by Thomas Kail [’99]”

The Wrong Man (“the wrong man meets the wrong women in the wrong place at the wrong time”) is a new stage musical, written by multi-platinum songwriter Ross Golan (book, music, lyrics), Tony Award–winning director Thomas Kail and three-time Tony and four-time Grammy Award–winning orchestrator Alex Lacamoire. Performances begin on Wednesday, September 18, 2019.

5. Boston Globe: “Cape Air on Course for Seaplane Takeoff in Boston”

Jon Chesto ’93 writes: “Dan Wolf [’79] needed to get his hands on an amphibious aircraft before he could fulfill his yearslong quest to bring seaplane service back to Boston Harbor.

“Now, the chief executive of Cape Air has an entire squadron.”

In this tale of Wolf’s acquisition of the seaplanes, Chesto notes some Wes-related history: “Wolf first learned to fly a seaplane at the Goodspeed Airport along the Connecticut River, while going to school at nearby Wesleyan University. That was nearly 40 years ago, but there’s a connection to this latest deal. Shoreline Aviation was run by John Kelly [MALS ’70], who taught Wolf during his college years. They obviously stayed in touch: Cape Air has used Shoreline planes during its Boston Harbor test runs.”

 6. MIT News: “Candid Conversation about Race: In MIT Talk, Beverly Daniel Tatum [’75, P’04, Hon. ’15] Urges Direct Discussion about Racial Issues at a ‘Polarized’ Moment in U.S. History”

Peter Dizikes, of the MIT News Office, writes: “Candid discussions about race relations are vital at a time of ‘pushback’ against social diversity in the U.S., said Beverly Daniel Tatum, the former president of Spelman College, in a talk at MIT on Thursday.

“‘It seems to me pretty clear we’re living in a pushback moment,’ Tatum said, referring to resistance against both political progress by blacks and a diversifying population. She added: ‘I think that today, most people would agree, we are more polarized than ever.’”

Tatum’s talk at MIT’s Wong Auditorium covered topics including the difference between race and racism, what is possible in the political arena, and the “long-running conditions of material inequality in the U.S.”

7. WBUR.org— “WBUR Announces Daniel Schorr Journalism Prize Winner”

From the website: “WBUR announced today that Hannah Dreier [’08] is the winner of the 2019 Daniel Schorr Journalism Prize. The winning segment was produced at This American Life in partnership with ProPublica, where Dreier serves as an immigration reporter.

“Dreier’s winning entry, ‘The Runaways’ is an hour-long investigative report that documents how the Suffolk County Police Department in New York failed to investigate a series of gang murders when the victims were immigrant teenagers. Days after the story aired on This American Life, the Suffolk County legislature forced the police department to conduct an internal investigation into how it had handled the MS-13 murder cases. ‘The Runaways’ proves that investigative reporting continues to effect change.”

Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Recent Wesleyan News

  1. The GlobePost: “Trump’s Foreign Trade Policy and the Art of the Deal”

In this op-ed, Giulio Gallarotti, professor of government, co-chair of the College of Social Studies, argues that Donald Trump’s approach to U.S. trade policy is shaped by his career as a real estate mogul and businessman.

2. The Hartford Courant: “Don’t Let the ‘Green New Deal’ Hijack the Climate’s Future”

This op-ed coauthored by Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies Gary Yohe expresses concern that the broad, aspirational goals contained in the “Green New Deal” proposal from Democrats in Congress “will impede continued progress on the climate front for years to come.”

3. The Tyee: “Lessons in Democracy from Haida Gwaii”

This review calls Shaping the Future on Haida Gwaii: Life Beyond Settler Colonialism by Assistant Professor of Anthropology Joseph Weiss a “remarkable book” that explores “the whole relationship of ‘settler’ Canada to the peoples whose lands we’ve occupied.”

4. Hartford Courant: “Middletown to Host LGBTQ Pride Parade in June”

Wesleyan, together with the City of Middletown and the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce, will coordinate Middletown’s inaugural LGBTQ pride parade on June 15. The event, which will also feature a festival on the South Green, will celebrate and affirm respect for members of the local queer community. Its timing coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, which marked the beginning of the gay rights movement in June 1969.

5. South Dakota Public Broadcasting: “Fishbacks’ Gift Opens SDPB Basinger Studio at SDSU”

A satellite broadcast studio at South Dakota State University has been named in honor of Jeanine Basinger, the Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, special advisor to the president, and an alumna of SDSU. “We are pleased to recognize SDSU Distinguished Alumni and world-renowned film educator and author Jeanine Basinger with the new SDPB Basinger Studio on SDSU’s campus in Brookings,” said Barb and Van Fishback, the donors who made the gift possible.

Recent Alumni News

  1. SXSW.com: “Bozoma Saint John [’99]: How Marketing Can Spur Social Change”

Bozoma Saint John ’99 was the Convergence Keynote Speaker for SXSWORLD, March 8-17, 2019, in Austin, Texas. Writes Doyin Oyeniyi for the official website: “Bozoma Saint John thinks and talks about empathy quite a bit. For the marketing executive and SXSW 2019 Convergence Keynote speaker, this is integral to the work that she does currently as chief marketing officer for Endeavor, and it’s been an important feature of her previous work with companies such as PepsiCo, Apple and Uber. As she explains, empathy is what makes the difference in actually being able to establish impactful connections through storytelling and marketing.”

2. New York Times Book Review: “Growing Up With Murder All Around,” by Eric Klinenberg

The March 4, 2019, issue of The New York Times Book Review features Eric Klinenberg’s review of An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago, by Alex Kotlowitz ’77 on its front page. “Like Kotlowitz’s now classic 1991 book, There Are No Children Here, about two boys growing up in a Chicago housing project, An American Summer forgoes analysis and instead probes the human damage that stems from exposure to violence. What he finds is important,” writes Klinenberg. He calls Kotlowitz’s latest work “a powerful indictment of a city and a nation that have failed to protect their most vulnerable residents, or to register the depth of their pain.”

3. International Documentary Awards: “Reflections on Andrew Berends [’94],” by James Longley ’94

An editor’s note begins the piece: “Documentary filmmaker and cinematographer Andrew Berends passed away—just a week after Free Solo, on which he was one of the cinematographers, won the Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary…. We thank Longley for sharing his reflections with us.”

Longley recalls meeting Berends in 1991, when they both entered Wesleyan as transfer students and became film majors. “I was the DP on his thesis film, and I could see his determination and commitment to filmmaking taking shape,” writes Longley. “After college we were off finding our parallel paths; I made a film about the Gaza Strip and he made a film about North Sea fishermen in the Netherlands. We reconnected in Iraq. I arrived before him; he was looking for advice and contacts. He wanted to know how he should dress for the place. Maybe grow a beard, I suggested. Andy showed up in Baghdad looking like a werewolf with mange. Lose the beard, I suggested.” Tracing their “parallel paths” with warmth, admiration, and deep sorrow, Longley—himself the director of award-winning documentary films including Iraq in Fragments and Sari’s Mother—notes that “Andy was my friend, he was my brother, he was as strong a person as I’ll likely ever know.”

4. Boston Globe: “Grad Schools Lag in Promoting Diversity,” by Syed Ali [’13]

The author, a master in urban planning candidate at Harvard University, responded to an earlier article in the newspaper that called for Harvard to increase its commitment to diversity across its graduate school hirings and admissions. “This semester, I am enrolled in five classes at five different graduate schools (three at Harvard, two at MIT), and I believe that my peers and I would benefit from additional perspectives in each case. This extends to the faculty. Of the 15 courses I shopped across three Harvard graduate schools, 11 were taught by white men, four by white women,” he writes. Ali was an English and government double major at Wesleyan.

 

 

 

Film by Leter ’21 to Premiere in Paris

The poster for “Pau” was designed by Sarina Hahn ’21 and Vincent Warne ’18.

The poster for “Pau” was designed by Sarina Hahn ’21 and Vincent Warne ’18.

“Pau,” a feature-length film by Alexandre Leter ’21 will be premiering at the Cinéma Saint-André Des Arts in Paris on March 13.

“It’s a very engaged art-house and cinema that’s very supportive of young filmmakers,” Leter said. “I sent them a DVD of the film last summer, and they agreed to show it.”

Leter, who is majoring in religion and minoring in film studies, started making “Pau” during his senior year of high school in Paris and finished the film during his freshman year at Wesleyan. The film follows “Pau,” a young girl who begins to experience hallucinatory visions as a result of mourning her father’s premature death. The idea for the film came to Leter after his junior year of high school, when his father passed away.

“When you’re grieving someone, you start imagining them around you in a way, as if they’re still there, if you walk by a place where you used to go with that person,” Leter said. “For me, I would start seeing my dad there, imagining him in my head. The idea of the film was having that kind of experience, these illusions or hallucinations, of someone who just lost someone who was close to them.”

Leter’s mother is from Chicago, and both his mother and his sister went to colleges in the U.S., so Leter knew early on he wanted to follow in their footsteps.

“In France, you need to know exactly what you want to study after high school,” Leter said. “Even though I loved film, I didn’t want to be set on doing one thing right out of high school…I felt like the liberal arts education here was a really good fit.”

Once he began searching for schools, Leter became interested in Wesleyan for its emphasis on the arts.

“Wesleyan really caught my eye for being really strong in the arts and also academically, and having a really good film program, and having a lot of really dynamic people,” he said.

Watch a trailer for “Pau” online here. The film will run at the Cinéma Saint-André Des Arts until March 25.

Read more about Leter and “Pau” in this Feb. 13 LeParisien article.

Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Recent Wesleyan News

1. Los Angeles Times“As the World Warms, Deadly and Disfiguring Tropical Diseases Are Inching Their Way Toward the U.S.”

In this op-ed, Professor of Biology Frederick Cohan and Isaac Klimasmith ’20, both in the College of the Environment, write that infectious disease is a growing threat, resulting from climate change, that humans may find hard to ignore. Cohan is also professor, environmental studies and professor, integrative sciences.

2. Hartford Courant: “Trump’s Immoral Response to Climate Report”

Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, writes in this op-ed that it is “irresponsible” and “immoral” to ignore the findings of a major new report on climate change. Delaying action to mitigate and adapt to climate change will be increasingly damaging and expensive, he writes. Yohe is also professor of economics and professor, environmental studies, and was a reviewer on the new National Climate Assessment. He also recently co-authored an op-ed in HuffPost titled “People Are Already Dying by the Thousands Because We Ignored Earlier Climate Change Warnings.” 

3. National Geographic: “Both of NASA’s Voyager Spacecraft Are Now Interstellar. Where to Next?”

With both of NASA’s twin Voyager spacecraft now having crossed the threshold into interstellar space, Seth Redfield, associate professor and chair of astronomy, comments on what the spacecraft are likely to encounter on their journey. Redfield is also associate professor, integrative sciences, and co-coordinator of Planetary Science.

4. Inside Higher Ed: “Ordinary Education in Extraordinary Times”

President Michael Roth writes in this op-ed that in uncommon times, “traditional educational practices of valuing learning from people different from ourselves have never been more important.”

Recent Alumni News

  1. The Takeaway; WNYC Studios: “Politics with Amy Walter: Pentagon’s First-Ever Audit Exposes Massive Accounting Fraud”

David Lindorff ’71, the investigative journalist who wrote an exclusive on the topic for The Nation, joins Walter’s guests—including Staff Sergeant Patricia King, Ambassador Eric Edelman, and Dr. Isaiah Wilson III, a retired Army colonel and senior lecturer with Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs—to discuss military spending and its alignment with the military’s strategic goals.

Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Recent Wesleyan News

1. Inside Higher Ed: “Voting Is Good, but Higher Ed Must Do More”

In this op-ed, President Michael S. Roth writes: “In a year when inducements to political violence have become normalized at the highest level, colleges and universities must do more than just encourage our students to vote.” It is crucial that colleges actively work to protect free expression, free inquiry, and fact-based discussion, Roth argues.

Inaugural Liberal Arts + Forum in Shanghai Focused on Film Education, Collaborations

President Michael Roth moderated a discussion with alumni in the entertainment field, from left, Jon Turteltaub '85, Julia Zhu '91, and Jon Hoeber '93, on "practical idealism in action" at the inaugural Liberal Arts + forum in Shanghai on Oct. 20.

President Michael Roth moderated a discussion with alumni in the entertainment field—from left, Jon Turteltaub ’85, Julia Zhu ’91, and Jon Hoeber ’93—on “practical idealism in action” at the inaugural Liberal Arts + forum in Shanghai on Oct. 20.

On Oct. 20, Wesleyan held its inaugural Liberal Arts + forum in Shanghai, China. This year, the forum focused on film education and U.S.-China film collaborations, and featured discussions between three alumni in the entertainment industry; President Michael Roth; and Scott Higgins, director of the College of Film and the Moving Image. Each year, the forum will highlight a different area of liberal arts education for an audience of prospective families, alumni, and the general public in China.

The centerpiece of this public event, which was attended by approximately 80 people, was a panel discussion featuring Jon Hoeber ’93 and Jon Turteltaub ’85, screenwriter and director of the summer blockbuster, The Meg, as well as Julia Zhu ’91, a media and entertainment expert and entrepreneur and CEO of Phoenix TV Culture and Live Entertainment Company. Roth moderated the discussion, titled, “Practical Idealism in Action,” in which the three alumni described how their liberal arts educations prepared them for successful careers in the entertainment industry.

The three later shared insights into the future of film collaborations between the U.S. and China, in a conversation moderated by Higgins, who is also the Charles W. Fries Professor of Film Studies, chair of Film Studies, and curator of the Wesleyan Cinema Archives.

Higgins also offered a simulated film studies class for prospective students and others in the audience—bringing the Wesleyan liberal arts film education experience to Shanghai.

Higgins said of the Forum: “I learned a lot about how the Chinese and American media industries are interacting, and renewed my long-time interest in Chinese cinema. I also met with a few recent graduates who are now making commercials and short films in the country, and was introduced to a whole new generation who are just now applying to Wesleyan. It was touching to be so far away from Middletown and yet feel connected to our ever-growing community.”

Watch a video (created by Chengjun Huang) of the forum highlights below:


Additional photos (taken by Weiji Sun) of the forum are below:

Front row, from left, Julia Zhu, Scott Higgins, and Michael Roth.

Front row, from left, Julia Zhu ’91, Scott Higgins, and President Michael Roth.

Film by Modi ’22 Screened at LA Film Festival’s Future Filmmakers Showcase

Ishan Modi ’22 directed a short film titled Just Stories that was shown at the LA Film Festival’s 2018 Future Filmmakers Showcase, a special screening of films made by talented high school students from across the globe.

Since his filmmaking debut at the age of 11, Ishan Modi ’22 has directed more than 20 short films. And the prospective film and history major has yet to call his creative talent “a wrap.”

Ishan Modi '22

Ishan Modi ’22

On Sept. 22, Modi’s short film Just Stories (2017) was shown at the LA Film Festival’s 2018 Future Filmmakers Showcase, a special screening of films made by talented high school students from across the globe. The film features a senior couple who—after a lively visit with their grandchildren—experience the isolation and uncertainty of old age.

In addition to screening at the LA Film Festival, Just Stories also was named an official selection at the Nashville Film Festival (2018); Rhode Island International Film Festival (2018); Carmarthen Bay Film Festival (2018); San Luis Obispo International Film Festival (2018); and the world’s largest high school film festival, the All American High School Film Festival (2018).

Modi’s other recent film, SuperNova (2017), screened at the Across Asia Youth Film Festival, the 17th Annual Laurie Nelson Film Festival, and the Newark International Film Festival Youth in 2017. For this film, Modi was named a finalist of the “Young Filmmaker Award” presented at the My Rode Reel Film Competition and a finalist of the 60th Golden Eagle Award for “Student & Youth Media.”

His other recent projects include Nextstep (2018) and the Singapore American School’s Class of 2018 senior video.

Modi, who is currently taking a class on Dante’s Comedy during his first semester in college, is looking forward to learning more about the filmmaker’s craft during the next four years.

“Wesleyan’s Film Studies Department offers a unique equilibrium of theory and craft,” he said. “While I’ve created many films in the past, I haven’t had many opportunities to learn about the history and study behind movies, which is also very important! Wesleyan represents the best of both worlds. I will learn skills to improve my practical filmmaking abilities, and at the same time heavily study film theory, bringing into focus what constitutes a powerful narrative.”

When applying for colleges, Wesleyan’s liberal arts environment was also appealing to Modi, who wants to explore different branches of knowledge.

“At Wesleyan, I have the freedom to take classes from multiple disciplines,” he said. “Filmmaking revolves around powerful storytelling. By immersing myself in history, philosophy, literature etc. I hope to satisfy my curiosity and find inspiration for stories that I can share with the world.”

For more information and to view other films, visit ModiFilms.com. Read comments from Modi in “Get to Know the 2018 Future Filmmakers on the Road to the LA Film Festival,” an article published on filmindependent.org.

Dombrowski, Saaka, Taylor Receive Binswanger Prizes for Excellence in Teaching

President Michael Roth with Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching honorees Lisa Dombrowski ’92 and Erika Taylor. Honoree Iddrisu Saaka is not pictured.

During Wesleyan’s 186th commencement ceremony on May 27, Wesleyan presented outstanding teachers with the Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching. These prizes, made possible by gifts from the family of the late Frank G. Binswanger Sr., Hon. ’85, underscore Wesleyan’s commitment to its scholar-teachers, who are responsible for the University’s distinctive approach to liberal arts education.

Recommendations are solicited from alumni of the last 10 graduating classes, as well as current juniors, seniors, and graduate students. Recipients are chosen by a selection committee of faculty and members of the Alumni Association Executive Committee.

This year, Wesleyan honored the following faculty members for their excellence in teaching:

Lisa Dombrowski
Lisa Dombrowski ’92, associate professor of film studies, has been a member of Wesleyan’s faculty since 2001. She teaches in the College of Film and the Moving Image and is a core member of the College of East Asian Studies. She earned her BA in film studies and American studies at Wesleyan in 1992 and went on to receive an MA and PhD in film studies from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Dombrowski is the author of The Films of Samuel Fuller: If You Die, I’ll Kill You! and the editor of Kazan Revisited. She has written for The New York Times, Film Comment, Film Quarterly, Film History, and the Criterion Collection, among others. Her research is concerned with the art and business of cinema, especially post-WWII film form and modes of production. Her teaching focuses on film history, the industry, and aesthetics in international art cinema, East Asian cinema, American independent cinema, and melodrama and the woman’s picture. Dombrowski is currently completing a book on director, screenwriter, and producer Robert Altman and American independent cinema in the 1990s and 2000s.

Iddrisu Saaka

Iddrisu Saaka (Photo by Perceptions Photography)

Iddrisu Saaka (unable to attend the ceremony)
Iddrisu “Iddi” Saaka, artist-in-residence in dance, has taught at Wesleyan since 2008. He earned a diploma in dance from the University of Ghana and an MFA in dance from UCLA. A dancer, dance teacher, and choreographer from Ghana, West Africa, Saaka has choreographed and performed at the World Festival of Sacred Music, the International Festival of Masks, the Skirball Center, Royce Hall, the Fowler Museum, Dance Arts Academy, Debbie Allen Dance Academy, El Portal Forum Theatre, and the Music Center in Los Angeles. At Wesleyan, he teaches courses in West African dance and also directs the West African Drumming and Dance Concert at the end of each semester. He has served as a visiting instructor of dance at UCLA, University of California San Diego, and the University of Ghana.

Erika Taylor
Erika Taylor, associate professor of chemistry, environmental studies, and integrative sciences, joined the Wesleyan faculty in 2007. She holds a BS in chemistry with honors from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and a PhD in chemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She was also a postdoctoral research associate at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Throughout her career, Taylor has worked at the interface of chemistry and biology where she strives to find ways to exploit enzymes found in nature to perform chemistry that can help advance the fields of chemistry and medicine. She also employs chemical synthesis to help answer questions of both biological and medical interest. At Wesleyan, her research has focused on the identification and characterization of enzymes that are important for the development of antimicrobials for the treatment of Gram-negative bacterial infections—particularly bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses, such as E. coli and V. cholerae. She also studies enzymes that can improve the efficiency of biomass to biofuel conversion, particularly the breakdown and bacterial utilization of lignin. She teaches courses in the areas of organic chemistry, biochemistry, environmental chemistry, and biomedicinal chemistry, among others.

View previous Binswanger recipients online here.

Wesleyan in the News


In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Recent Wesleyan News

  1. Variety: “Entertainment Education Report: The Best Film Schools in 2018”

Wesleyan is highlighted as one of the best schools to study film. An exceptional group of filmmakers, including Joss Whedon ’87 and Michael Bay ’86, have cited Jeanine Basinger, the Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, as a major influence on their understanding of film.

2. Hartford Courant: “New Bike Share at Wesleyan Offers Speedy Transport for Students”

Sustainability Director Jennifer Kleindienst discusses Wesleyan’s new partnership with San Francisco–based start-up Spin to provide bicycles on campus for quick and low-cost rental by students and other community members.

3. WNPR: “Where We Live”

Katja Kolcio, associate professor and chair of dance, and Anna Fox ’19 discuss Wesleyan’s partnership with a university in Kiev, Ukraine, their recent visit to the country, and what they have learned from activists involved in the country’s revolution in 2014. Kolcio is also associate professor of Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian studies and associate professor of environmental studies. (Kolcio and Fox come in around 26 minutes).

4. Poets & Quants for Undergrads: “The Case for ‘Test Optional’ College Admissions”

A new study, which analyzed data from Wesleyan and many other schools that don’t require the SAT or ACT in admission, finds that “test optional” institutions tend to enroll a higher proportion of low-income, first-generation students on average, and students from more diverse backgrounds. The study also found that high school GPA was a better predictor of success in college than standardized test scores for these students.

5. Gizmodo“What Shapes Are Things in Outer Space?”

Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, assistant professor of integrative sciences, paints a picture of the planet formation process, and explains why planetary systems tend to be flat.

Recent Alumni News

  1. Tech Crunch: With Loans of Just $10, This Startup Has Built a Financial Services Powerhouse in Emerging Markets”

    Shivani Siroya ’04 is founder and chief executive officer of Tala, a Santa Monica–based financial services start-up. The Tech Crunch article offers examples of lives that have been changed in places such as India, Mexico, the Philippines, and Tanzania with help from Tala. Additionally, author Jonathan Shieber reports that Steve Case’s Revolution Growth fund recently provided $65 million in new financing for Tala: “’We see Tala as a company building the future of finance. They have quickly become one of the leading mobile-first lenders in emerging markets where well over 3 billion consumers do not have access to traditional banks,’ says Case.”

2. Washington Post: “The Trailblazing Writing Life of Alexander Chee [’89]”

“Alexander Chee is best known as a novelist, and after the operatic plot of his Queen of the Night, readers may be surprised at the quiet intimacy of his first essay collection, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel,” writes reviewer Crystal Hana Kim. “By offering the reader such advice in the form of personal revelation, we are asked to journey with him, to learn how to write alongside him. In the ensuing essays, Chee reflects on his professional trajectory. In some, like ‘The Writing Life,’ which chronicles Chee’s class with Annie Dillard at Wesleyan University, he discusses craft explicitly. In others, like ‘The Rosary,’ he only alludes to his writerly life….”

 

3. Washington Post: Op-Ed: “I Thought Grit Would Bring Me Success. It Almost Killed Me,” by Nataly Kogan [’98]

Nataly Kogan, who arrived with her parents in the United States as Russian refugees when she was only 13, is the founder of Happier, a learning and technology platform. In this op-ed she writes about the pressure she put herself under to succeed in America, but through work with a life coach, she learned important lessons about self-compassion. She is the author of  Happier Now: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Embrace Everyday Moments (Sounds True; May 1, 2018).

4.  Channel NewsAsia: Commentary: ”A Liberal Arts Education in Singapore and the Usefulness of ‘Useless’ Knowledge

Terry Nardin, professor of political science and director of Common Curriculum at Yale-NUS College in Singapore, offers an explanation of a liberal arts education that challenges the cultural expectation that “the purpose of tertiary education is to equip students with technical or other specialised skills that qualify them for a specific job and stable employment.” As an example of a liberal arts graduate who has met with success he offers:  “Luke Wood [’91] graduated in 1991 from Wesleyan University, an American liberal arts college, where he had majored in American studies. Wood was able to turn his passion for music into an internship at Geffen Records, after which he signed artists for DreamWorks and Interscope.” Nardin traces Wood’s path further, concluding that “Wood’s success is another good reminder that ‘useless knowledge’ can not only turn out to be useful after all, but also that usefulness is in the eye of the beholder.”

5. Variety:Bloom/Spiegel Partnership Unveils Participants of Second Edition (EXCLUSIVE)

Ostin Fam ’17 (Dung Quoc Pham ’17) was selected as one of eight filmmakers for “the second edition of the Bloom/Spiegel Partnership, an alliance between New York’s IFP Marcie Bloom Fellowship in Film and Jerusalem’s prestigious Sam Spiegel Film School.” The article includes this background on the Wesleyan alumnus: “Born in Vietnam and based in New York, Fam graduated from Wesleyan University and received the Steven J. Ross Prize for his senior film thesis. Fam is currently finishing the screenplay of his first feature, Small Wars. Taking place in a rural village in Vietnam, the story is about a family of three.”

Executive Producer Selkow ’96 Directs Hip-Hop Docu-Series Rapture

At SXSW film and music festival, members of the creative team behind Rapture are Executive Producer Ben Selkow ’96, Director Marcus Clarke, Executive Producer Peter Bittenbender (of Mass Appeal), and Executive Producer Sacha Jenkins (of Mass Appeal). Rapture, a docu-series produced by Mass Appeal for Netflix is available now. Netflix describes the project as: “star[ing] directly into the bright light that hip-hop culture shines on the world…. Rapture dives into the artists’ lives with their families and friends, to sitting front row in the studio and grinding on tour, to experiencing the ecstatic power of moving the crowd.” (Photo Credit: Daniel Boczarski/Getty for Netflix)

Rapture, a new eight-part docu-series on hip-hop that premiered on Netflix March 30, features Ben Selkow ’96 as executive producer, showrunner, and one of the directors. It is art with an overarching purpose: “We hope to bring audiences and fans closer to the artists’ experience by sharing their biography and showing the perseverance, talent, and luck that helped each transform and transcend their situation,” says Selkow, a film studies and African American studies major while at Wesleyan, who previously directed Reza Aslan’s CNN series Believer. After returning from the SXSW film and music festival in Austin, Texas, where the team showcased several episodes of Rapture, Selkow discussed the project.

Connection: What drew you into this project and made it personally compelling?
Ben Selkow: Netflix wanted to collaborate on a new hip-hop project with Mass Appeal, an on-the-rise culture media and content company. A Netflix executive introduced me to Mass Appeal’s Sacha Jenkins and Peter Bittenbender, who needed an executive producer and showrunner. We got on really well from jump—and spent the next 18 months conceiving, refining, staffing, shooting, editing, finishing, and promoting Rapture.

I was drawn to it on many levels. I’ve been listening to hip-hop since my first Beastie Boy, Ice-T, KRS-One, Big Daddy Kane, and Public Enemy tapes—yes, tapes! And at Wesleyan, I continued my education in hip-hop with Javaid Khan (DJ Van Vader) ’96, Phil Jenkins (DJ Casual Phil) ’96, Jason Rosado ’96, and my man Jake Sussman ’96 making me mixtapes, as well as partying at [Malcolm] X house, while Matt Dickerson (DJ Denmark) ’95 was spinning. And then—beyond my love of the music, the culture, the politics, and its growing power of expression and American reporting—I really dug Sacha and Peter. Of course, the opportunity to work with Netflix and connect with audiences in 190-plus countries/117 million subscribers was a dream.

Connection: What was your role on the project and what were your biggest challenges?
Ben Selkow: As showrunner and one of the executive producers, I worked with all our specialists in each area, leading the charge—from conception to the talent casting, to the aesthetic look, to team staffing, to legal, to music supervision, to running everything with our amazing post-production team and doing the general crisis control. I also directed the episode with 2 Chainz.

Hip-hop artist Nas (left) and Executive Producer and Director Ben Selkow ’96 attend the Rapture Netflix Original Documentary Series, Special Screening at The Metrograph in New York City, on March 20. (Photo by Johnny Nunez/Getty Images for Netflix)  Wesleyan viewers will want to know that Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02 makes a cameo appearance in Rapture‘s Nas/Dave East episode, when the three are shown filming the video for the Hamilton mixtape song, “Wrote My Way Out.”

As for challenges, we had no proof of concept as this was Season 1, so the initial casting was the first challenge. We wanted a diverse group of artists and we were trying to compel the artists to entrust their stories with us. We were also making big asks for their time—not just an interview and some B-roll, but we wanted to do longitudinal, observational cinema, which makes for totally unique narratives. But we were able to earn a tremendous amount of trust with all the artists. Then the challenge was keeping up with their kinetic lives and building narratives. In the end, it was both a relief and incredibly exciting to watch the artists’ reactions once we screened their episodes with them. Sitting in a screening room with Nas, Just Blaze, or 2 Chainz and hearing that they loved it and thanked us…. Man, amazing feeling.

Connection: Why is this piece important? What do you think are the most important points you are bringing to the world?
Ben Selkow: By selecting a wide breadth of artists who range aesthetically, regionally, generationally, racially, and gender-wise—as well as including a super producer—Rapture paints the portrait of hip-hop as a diverse, complex, and wildly dynamic music universe. By offering an immersive view of the artists’ personal lives—beyond just seeing them as superstars—we are afforded the privilege of witnessing the artists’ humanness and mortality, as well as seeing what it is to live a life of an international celebrity.
We hope that Rapture illuminates some of the misconceptions about hip-hop and rap culture. For so long society at large has written off hip-hop as being only for gangsters, thugs, people who were morally corrupt. But through Rapture, we sought to depict the brilliance, passion, intelligence, artistry, dexterity, humanness, complexity, and perseverance that has made hip-hop and rap music the dominant global form.

We hope the series shows the featured artists at the top of their game for a reason, rising because of supreme artistry, hard work, a desire to change their situation: in summary, rising through the American dream.

Connection: Were there some best moment, breakthroughs, or epiphanies? What did you learn?
Ben Selkow: We had many, many incredible moments—from rocking with Nas at JazzFest in New Orleans backed by a 10-piece brass band in the Soul Rebels, to watching T.I. and Harry Belafonte intensely examine contemporary issues. But one moment that I just experienced speaks to the moments of resonance, the nuances and many gems throughout this whole series: During the screening of the Nas episode at the 1,100-seat Paramount Theatre at SXSW, T.I. was sitting with Dave East in the audience (I was one row behind them). They were really enjoying the episode, where director Sacha is highlighting Nas’s power in hip-hop—and she tells him that legendary Bronx rapper Big Pun’s grandson’s given name is Ether (“Ether” was a famous diss track Nas made in 2001). On screen, Nas is visibly taken aback at hearing this—as, I can see, are T.I. and Dave East, Nas’s protégés.

The next thing that happens in the film is we play a line from “Ether” to punctuate the point, that Nas’s influence is deep: “I am the truest, name a rapper that I ain’t influenced.” When this line plays, the audience spontaneously sings this line together—led most loudly by T.I. and Dave East.

At that moment, I realized: Doesn’t matter what the reviews say; true hip-hop is feeling this project. We did it—and, hopefully, get an opportunity to keep telling these stories. [See trailer below].

YouTube Preview Image