Tag Archive for Film Studies

Director MacLowry ’86 on the Making of PBS Documentary, “The Battle of Chosin”

battlexm_film_landing-dateOn Tuesday, Nov. 1, “The Battle of Chosin,” a documentary produced and directed by Randall MacLowry ’86, aired nationwide as part of the PBS American Experience series. In the film, MacLowry told the story of this pivotal 1950 Korean War battle—the first major military clash of the Cold War—through the eyewitness accounts and archival footage of heroic survival despite freezing temperatures and bloody battle.

A film major as an undergraduate who counts Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies Jeanine Basinger as a seminal mentor, MacLowry is an award-winning filmmaker whose work spans more than 25 years. His previous film for American Experience was “The Mine Wars,” which premiered in January 2016. When the producers approached him for the Chosin project last year, he accepted with alacrity, despite a fast timeline.

“It’s exciting to tell history through the eyes of witnesses,” he says. “The veterans are now in their mid-80s to early 90s; we started right away contacting them, casting a wide net. We were thrilled to find out how much the stories still resonated with them.” The team contacted about a hundred veterans and interviewed two dozen in on-camera conversations, each lasting several hours.

Randall MacLowry ’86 produced and directed the latest documentary in the PBS American Experience series, The Battle of Chosin.

Randall MacLowry ’86 produced and directed the latest documentary in the PBS American Experience series, “The Battle of Chosin.” He is co-founder of The Film Posse and an award-winning director.

“The interviews were emotional,” he recalls. “Their memories are so vivid for a battle that happened more than 60 years ago, and the time of year we contacted them—late November—seemed to heighten this; it was right around the anniversary. A huge part of this battle was the cold; most have some form of frostbite. It’s a testament to these men: not only were they outnumbered by the Chinese but they survived grueling conditions.”

MacLowry’s work involved a great deal of research. “The other side of the documentary process is providing the viewer with material to visualizing it,” MacLowry explains, “and we found we had a surprisingly rich visual palate in terms of telling the story.” Working primarily from the national archives (“A hugely valuable resource”) he was also able to draw from other military sources, including the U.S. Marine archives at Quantico, as well as journalists’ photos and newsreels.

The story was also an international one. “This was the first time that the U.N. intervened in any sort of way, militarily,” he says. “It wasn’t just the United States forces, although those were the majority of the troops; it was a multinational force.” He was pleased they were able to include an interview with a South Korean veteran who was part of the South Korean Army, attached to the U.S. Marines as an interpreter who participated in this battle.

Initially not a documentarian, MacLowry said that after Wesleyan he “headed off to New York” planning to work in narrative films. After a year-long gig working on a 13-part series on American poets he found that the project “opened up my eyes to this kind of storytelling; I wanted to go down the editing path.”

He moved back to his hometown—Washington, D.C.—and began working with the late documentarian Charles Guggenheim. “Documentary film-making has been a constant learning experience for me; It’s the intersection of my film major and my exploration of a potential CSS major in my sophomore year.

“I’ve been blessed with several wonderful mentors,” he says. “From the start, being mentored by Jeanine Basinger and having her support—it really shaped my career. I feel honored to be part of the Wesleyan film community. And having Jessie Napier ’14 as our production assistant is an important part of continuing this Wesleyan experience.”

Jessie Napier ’14, who majored in film studies at Wesleyan, served as production assistant for "The Battle of Chosin."

Jessie Napier ’14, who majored in film studies at Wesleyan, served as production assistant for “The Battle of Chosin.”

Napier, also a Wesleyan film major, adds, “”The process of working on this film has really opened my eyes to the fascinating world of historical documentaries. There’s something extremely rewarding about digging through thousands of archival images and piecing together moments from more than 60 years ago. It’s a unique experience being able to immerse yourself in a specific moment in history. It was amazing to be part of a creative team committed to sharing the stories of these veterans who have lived through such a harrowing experience.”

“I feel it’s an important group of people whose story we’ve told,” MacLowry concurs. “So often called a ‘forgotten war,’ the Korean War actually shaped our national policies. When the Chinese entered the conflict full force, it shifted the American stance toward becoming the’ police of the world’—rightly or wrongly—dedicating much more money into defense build up, with military bases across the globe. America’s containment policy began with this war, in 1950.

“When I watch the film now, there are still several moments with the men, the emotions they share with us about their experiences, I still get choked up. We’re in a sense reliving it with them. There’s a real dignity in the way each man shares his story—an appreciation for what he did, of his survival despite the horrors of war that he endured. They feel proud of what they did, and also deeply aware of what they lost—on a personal level—by being engaged in the war. To be able to do right by them, that was my goal.”

Higgins Delivers Keynote at International Film Conference

Scott Higgins

Scott Higgins

Scott Higgins, chair and professor of film studies, delivered the keynote address during the 2016 SERCIA Conference, held Sept. 8-10 in Paris, France. The topic of his talk was “Benefits of Incoherence: Seriality in the Studio Era,” largely based on book, Matinee Melodrama: Playing with Formula in the Sound Serial (Rutgers, 2016).

SERCIA, an organization established in France in 1993, encourages teaching and research in English-speaking cinema.

During the 22nd annual conference, Higgins joined film scholars from all over the world to explore links between the filmic form and seriality.

“I argued that American sound-serials in the 1930s and 1940s, with incoherent plots, nonetheless offered certain kinds of artistic refinement,” Higgins explained. His main example was the 1944 version of Captain America. Higgins shares similar ideas in his video-blog on the sound-serial fight sequence.

This was Higgins’ second international talk in the past six months. In June, he was the respondent to a conference hosted at the John F. Kennedy Institute at the Free University in Berlin, Germany titled “Seriality Seriality Seriality: The Many Lives of the Field that Isn’t One.” Higgins shares his thoughts about the conference online here.

Jeanine Basinger, the Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, admires her colleague for his recent international efforts.

“I think it’s a reflection on how important a young scholar he is,” Basinger said. “I feel happy that the future of Film Studies at Wesleyan is in such good hands because he is also a great teacher and colleague.”

At Wesleyan, Higgins teaches courses about film history, genre and aesthetics. His other books include Harnessing the Rainbow: Technicolor Aesthetics in the 1930s and Arnheim for Film and Media Studies. He offered the first ever Massive Open Online Course in film on Coursera, and maintains the blog Thinking Cinematically.

McGill ’16 Screens Short Film at Princeton Film Festival


Adam McGill ’16

Film studies major Adam McGill ’16 screened his short film Punked! at the Princeton Student Film Festival this summer. McGill’s comedy is about a punk rock singer and guitarist named Dale, whose allegiance to his music is challenged when a new romance enters his life.

McGill filmed the short in the fall of 2015 as a senior thesis project at Wesleyan. During his time at Wesleyan, McGill was taught by Jeanine Basinger, the Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, who said, “I’m happy to see his work recognized outside the classroom. He joins a long line of Wesleyan film majors who have gone on to great things after they leave Wesleyan. It’s lots of fun to watch this happen.”

Since graduating in May, McGill worked on small sets in the New York City area and he’s currently interning at Sony Pictures Classics, a film distributor, working with their marketing team.

Punked! also will be playing later this September at the Golden Door International Film Festival in Jersey City, N.J. View his film online here.

Model Composes Music for Silent Films

Ben Model

Ben Model

Ben Model, visiting assistant professor of film, is spending the summer months composing scores and arranging music with the Frederick Symphony Orchestra in Frederick, Maryland.

Model, a silent film accompanist, performs on both piano and theater organ. The orchestra will perform a concert on July 20 at Baker Park in Maryland, including Charlie Chaplin’s The Immigrant; Buster Keaton’s Cops; and Felix the Cat in Pedigreedy

Model also is performing live music this summer, including a Leo McCarry retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art; at a festival in South Korea in August; and a silent movie festival in Northern Norway in early September. Learn more about Model online here.

Model, who taught at Wesleyan in 2015-16, will return to campus next spring to teach a class on silent film.

Basinger Praised as Iconic Film Professor in The Hollywood Reporter

Jeanine Basinger, Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies

Jeanine Basinger, Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies (Photo credit: Smallz + Raskind)

Jeanine Basinger, Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, was recently featured in a Hollywood Reporter article “The Professor of Hollywood,” by film historian and best-selling author Sam Wasson ’03, who studied with Basinger at Wesleyan. The magazine brought together 33 of her former pupils who work prominently in the film industry for “an A-list class reunion” photo—and several of them talk about how Basinger inspired them, encouraging their self-expression while also sharing with them her love for the medium.

In the article, Basinger discusses how and why she came to devote her life to the study of film and how working as an usher in a movie theater, watching the same film over and over, helped her to understand the filmmaking process—and gave her the foundation for her future as a film scholar at a time when there were no film schools. In 1960 she began work in the advertising department at a scholastic publisher on the Wesleyan campus, but within a decade, she began teaching at the University some of first film study classes in America.

Hispanic Film Series Playing in Goldsmith Family Cinema

On Thursdays in September and October, Wesleyan is hosting a four-part Hispanic Film Series showcasing the power and artistry of contemporary Latin American and Spanish film. All films will be shown at 8 p.m. in the Goldsmith Family Cinema, and are free and open to the public. The series is sponsored by the Thomas and Catharine McMahon Fund, the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, and the Latin American Studies Program.

The films being shown are as follows:

Sept. 24–Relatos Salvajes (Wild Tales)

Oct. 1–Mosquita Y Mari

Oct. 8–La Isla Mínima (Marshland)

Oct. 15–Hotel Nueva Isla

More details on each film are available in the posters below. For more information, please contact Ana Perez-Girones at aperezgirone@wesleyan.edu.

Hispanic Film Graphic

Basinger Comments on Why Today’s TV is So Good

Jeanine Basinger, the Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, curator of the Cinema Archives, spoke with The Huffington Post about why today’s television is so good. TV has come a long way since 1961 when Federal Communications Commission Chairman Newton Minow proclaimed television “a vast wasteland” in an address to the National Association of Broadcasters. The article explores how advances in technology and television production have vastly improved the experience for viewers.

One of the biggest changes was the introduction of DVR and streaming services, which mean we’re no longer slaves to the television schedule, required to sit on the couch for an hour when our favorite show airs.

“I think that’s a very ‘old people’ view, that we’re all just sitting around on our couch and eating cookies,” Basinger told The Huffington Post. “That’s very 1960s. I don’t think people do that anymore. We can control our viewing of TV, when we watch it and how we watch it.”

The writer also argues that “TV is now the definitive space for starting a dialogue around social issues.”

“TV has become a global forum of discussion, information, entertainment and intellectual stimulation,” Basinger agreed. “Watching TV doesn’t eliminate your intellectual life. It actually adds to it.”

Jimmy Stewart Stars in Free Summer Film Series

stewardfilmsThis July, Wesleyan’s 2015 Summer Film Series presents “Hollywood Icons: Jimmy Stewart,” a four-film series sponsored by Wesleyan’s College of Film and the Moving Image (CFILM). Films will be shown at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays in July at the Center for Film Studies.

All films are free and open to the public and will be preceded by an introduction by Marc Longenecker, CFILM’s programming and technical director. The “Hollywood Icons: Jimmy Stewart” film series includes Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (July 7), Harvey (July 14), Rear Window (July 21), and Winchester ’73 (July 28).

See Wesleyan’s Summer Film Series website for more information.


7 Faculty Promoted, 1 Awarded Tenure

In its most recent meeting, the Board of Trustees conferred tenure on Hari Krishnan, associate professor of dance. He joins seven other faculty members who were awarded tenure earlier this spring.

In addition, seven faculty members were promoted to Full Professor: Mary Alice Haddad, professor of government; Scott Higgins, professor of film studies; Tsampikos Kottos, professor of physics; Edward Moran, professor of astronomy; Dana Royer, professor of earth and environmental sciences; Mary-Jane Rubenstein, professor of religion; and Gina Athena Ulysse, professor of anthropology.

Brief descriptions of their research and teaching appear below.

Associate Professor Krishnan teaches studio- and lecture-based dance courses on Mobilizing Dance: Cinema, the Body, and Culture in South Asia; Modern Dance 3; and Bharata Natyam.  His academic and choreographic interests include queering the dancing body, critical readings of Indian dance and the history of courtesan dance traditions in South India. He is a scholar and master of historical Bharatanatyam and also an internationally acclaimed choreographer of contemporary dance from global perspectives.

Professor Haddad teaches courses about comparative, East Asian, and environmental politics. She has authored two books, Building Democracy in Japan and Politics and Volunteering in Japan: A Global Perspective, and co-edited a third, NIMBY is Beautiful: Local Activism and Environmental Innovation in Germany and Beyond. She is currently working on a book about effective advocacy and East Asian environmental politics.

Professor Higgins teaches courses in film history, theory, and genre, and is a 2011 recipient of Wesleyan’s Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching.  His research interests include moving-image aesthetics, feature and serial storytelling, and cinema’s technological history. He is author of Harnessing the Rainbow: Technicolor Aesthetics in the 1930s and Matinee Melodrama: Playing with Formula in the Sound Serial (forthcoming), and editor of Arnheim for Film and Media Studies.

Professor Kottos offers courses on Quantum Mechanics; Condensed Matter Physics; and Advanced Topics in Theoretical Physics. He has published more than 100 papers on the understanding of wave propagation in complex media, which have received more than 3,000 citations. His current research focuses on the development of non-Hermitian Optics. This year, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research has recognized his theoretical proposal on optical limiters as a high priority strategic goal of the agency.

Professor Moran teaches introductory courses such as Descriptive Astronomy and The Dark Side of the Universe, in addition to courses on observational and extragalactic astronomy.  His research focuses on extragalactic X-ray sources and the X-ray background, and his expertise in spectroscopic instrumentation combined with an insightful conceptual appreciation of galaxy formation have positioned him as a leader in observational black hole research.

Professor Royer offers courses on Environmental Studies; Geobiology; and Soils.  His research explores how plants can be used to reconstruct ancient environments, and the (paleo-) physiological underpinnings behind these plant-environment relationships.  His recent work on the relationship between atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and climate over geologic time has had significant impact on the field of paleoclimatology.

Professor Rubenstein teaches courses in philosophy of religion; pre- and postmodern theologies; and the intersections of religion, sex, gender, and science.  Her research interests include continental philosophy, theology, gender and sexuality studies, and the history and philosophy of cosmology.  She is the author of Strange Wonder: The Closure of Metaphysics and the Opening of Awe, and Worlds without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse.

Professor Ulysse offers courses on Crafting Ethnography; Haiti: Between Anthropology and Journalism; Key Issues in Black Feminism; and Theory 2: Beyond Me, Me, Me: Reflexive Anthropology. Her research examines black diasporic conditions. Her recent work combines scholarship, performance, and exposition to ponder the fate of Haiti in the modern world and how it is narrated in different outlets and genres.  She is the author of Downtown Ladies: Informal Commercial Importers, A Haitian Anthropologist and Self-Making in Jamaica, and Why Haiti Needs New Narratives.

Basinger Reflects on Star Wars Sequel Success

Though movie sequels had been successful in the past, it was a huge surprise when The Empire Strikes Back turned out to be as popular as the original Star Wars film, Jeanine Basinger, the Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, told the website Boing Boing for a story reflecting on Empire 35 years after it arrived in cinemas.

“When you have set a level that you set with Star Wars in terms of financial success, critical success, audience success, quality of production, greatness of storytelling, you don’t really think even if the second one is going to be good that it can hit that same level twice because Star Wars was a real landmark film,” Basinger said. “It was a real big impact film and so you don’t expect the next one in that sequence to also be a landmark. It just doesn’t seem possible the way storytelling works but Empire was a movie that did not let down the standards set by Star Wars and that was great. Everybody was thrilled.”

She added that Empire opened up in a new way the possibility of sequential storytelling on a giant scale.

Basinger also is curator of the Wesleyan Cinema Archives.

Screenwriters Lounge Supports Student Filmmaking on Campus

Members of the Wesleyan Film Project’s Screenwriters Lounge gathered at the Shapiro Creative Writing Center’s library Feb. 16 to discuss current projects. The Wesleyan Film Project is a student-run group that formed during the fall semester 2014 and supports filmmaking on campus. During Screenwriter’s Lounge sessions the students meet with each other, writers, directors and producers to review student-submitted scripts in order to prepare them for production.

For more information on the group, visit the Wesleyan Film Project on Facebook.

Photos of the Screenwriters Lounge gathering are below: (Photos by John Van Vlack)


A. O. Scott Moderates Talk on Arts Criticism


Four arts writers participated in a panel conversation titled “Criticism Now! A Conversation on the State of the Art” Nov. 11 at the Goldsmith Family Cinema, Center for Film Studies. A. O. Scott, Distinguished Professor of Film Criticism at Wesleyan and a chief film critic at The New York Times, moderated the event.