Sylvia Chong / English & American Studies
As a professor who specializes in film and media and in Asian American Studies, I immediately thought that my “Dream Idea” would obviously be to make a film with my students. After all, what better way to promote active student participation? However, from my past experience teaching out-of-the-ordinary films, I knew that the typical student actually has very little exposure to the vast variety of film styles and subjects in the world. Even student film buffs knew very little about film, having cultivated their tastes based on what was available at their local video store.
The range of possibilities that they could imagine was very narrow-David Lynch or Michael Moore might represent the outer limits of the “strange” or the “different” for them. This is quite different from the situation in which student poets or novelists find themselves, for they profit from years of literature classes and a wealth of books available at the local library. What kinds of inspiration can an aspiring student filmmaker receive if their only exposure is to the cinematic equivalents of Danielle Steele, J.K. Rowling and Michael Crichton?
I want to tackle this lack of a visual education directly, by exposing students to not only a wide variety of films, but to working filmmakers as well. My dream idea is to take an entire class up to a film festival in Washington, D.C., and overload them with a weekend of films and filmmakers. The class I have in mind is my American Studies 201, Asian American Cultural History, which I will be teaching again in Fall 2006. Each October, over the course of 2 weeks, D.C. hosts the Asian Pacific American (APA) Film Festival (http://www.apafilm.org), during which dozens of new films by APA filmmakers receive their national or regional premiers. As a group, my AMST 201 class would attend the opening weekend of the 2006 APA Film Festival, giving them the opportunity to watch over 10 films in 3 days. In addition, I would organize, with the help of festival staff, a dinner with some of the featured filmmakers, where students would get a chance to interact with the authors of these works and deepen their understanding of the films. In 2004, some of the themes included Families on the Edge, Voices of Asian American Youth, Racial
Scapegoating in Times of War, and the Filipino American Journey. The program for 2006 has not been determined yet, but it will likely include an equally eclectic mix of feature length and shorts, documentaries and fictions, avantgarde and commercial films.
My estimated budget would be as follows:
Housing at a D.C. hostel or dorm
(25 students x 2 nights x $20/bed) $1000
Transportation via mini-bus
(15 person mini-bus from Enterprise, $90/day x 2 buses x 3 days) $540
(many films are shown at the Smithsonian w/o admission fees; $10/ticket for evening screenings at commercial theaters; 25 students x 2 tickets each) $500
Dinner with filmmakers
($15 per student x 25 students, with 2-3 filmmaker guests) $420
I realize that this amount is over the $2000 limit, so likely I would either as students to contribute towards their housing costs, or try to seek supplementary funding from some other source at UVa. Alternately, I could probably reduce costs by taking fewer students, and there is a possibility that not all students will be able to go because of their other commitments (sports, clubs, family, etc.). But ideally, I want this to be a whole-class project, not just areward for a few “special” students.
Even if this dream idea is not selected for the Mead Endowment, I've put enough energy into figuring out the logistics that I might just implement it anyways, asking the students to pay their own way! I know that I myself have benefited from this “blitzkrieg” method of immersing oneself into a film festival, and I want to give as many students as possible the opportunity of experiencing this, whether or not they decide to pursue filmmaking in the future.