Semester Endgame

Avengers Endgame opens this week!!!! That might not seem immediately pertinent to the CFILM BLOG, despite the importance of certain Wesleyan Alumni to earlier installments in the franchise, but trust me – it is a LEARNING MOMENT! This latest Marvel/Disney behemoth comes during the final weeks of the Cinema of Adventure and Action class where we have been thinking a lot about genre, cliffhangers and heroes.  We began the class studying American serials of the sound era, starting from the book I wrote on the subject (which itself grew out of earlier versions of the class). These low-budget chapterplays were released to theaters once a week from the 1930s through the mid 1950s and, in many ways, they started trends that have recently come to dominate our action cinema. The films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe owe quite a lot to the humble serial tradition that first brought superhero comic-book adaptations to the screen.

As the semester closes, we are particularly focused on Endgame because the previous installment, Avengers Infinity War, ended with a serial-style cliffhanger. Like an episode of Flash Gordon or Perils of Nyoka, the last Avengers movie concluded not with the heroes hanging from the edge of a cliff, but fully plummeting into the abyss. The movie left audiences not with the question of whether the heroes will win, but how they can possibly manage to come back to life, roll back time, and beat Thanos. These kinds of questions were essential to the sound serial, which left young viewers with problems to solve and to roles to play on playgrounds and in back yards during the week between chapters. Cliffhangers were lucrative model, helping to keep the story present in the daily lives of fans and, most important, encouraging paid attendance at next week’s show. Marvel is on the cusp of unprecedented box-office. Endgame will open on 4,600 screens in North America, has already sold out 4000 shows in advance, and is expected to rake in $850 million worldwide. For a historian, the remarkable thing is that this all hangs on a plot device that was refined 70 years ago in more-or-less forgotten formula films.

A few weeks ago, I presented an academic paper on serials and Marvel at the Action Cinema Now! Conference in Reading England. The boundaries between “serious scholarship” and teaching are wonderfully fluid at Wesleyan because our students are sharp, challenging, and inquisitive. Thanks to the members of the Cinema of Adventure and Action, I could step out of the classroom, into the conference room, and back into class without changing the conversation. CFILM faculty are lucky in this way.


In both the conference and the class, we’ve been pondering how films handle heroic failure, and what viewers can possibly get out of seeing everything go terribly wrong up on screen. Infinity War is a terrific test case, because the universe’s greatest heroes fail SO SPECTACULARLY! Last-minute actions all come to naught, and with the snap of his magic fingers Thanos extinguishes half of the living population in the multi-verse. Then, our heroes begin to fall.  Their deaths are carefully ordered for maximum emotion. First Bucky Barnes and various Wakandans turn to dust, establishing the principle of disintegration.


Black Panther is the first top line hero to die, and he does so quickly off frame.


He’s followed by teenage Groot who’s slower fading gives Rocket time to react.


Scarlet Witch, Falcon, Mantis, and Drax lead up to more prominent Avengers like Star Lord and Doctor Strange.


But the final dusting is the most painful. Figured as the death of a son before his father, Peter Parker protests his demise and embraces Tony Stark even as he evaporates: “I don’t want to go, please.”


The sequence revels in the violation of innocence, suffering, and recognition of loss, melodrama’s trademark emotional cocktail. The action film and the tear jerker are close cousins.

But, as in any serial, even as the heroes die, we know that they will revive to fight another day. Peter Parker’s death, for instance, is bracketed by Marvel’s well publicized plans for another Spiderman film to be released this summer. Cliffhangers benefit from a kind of dual apprehension: knowing that this isn’t really the end allows us to bask in the depiction of that end.

This turns out to be a great lesson in cinema viewing and making: audiences are always aware that what they are watching is more-or-less nonsense, but that doesn’t stop us from investing and living in the moment. Great films can capture us in the spectacular present. Like a serial from the 1940s, Marvel has managed to extend that moment between movies. Disney and Marvel have dug into the tried and true markets for games and toys and they’ve fed a broad fan culture devoted to the constant and continual interaction with the story.



Trailers, interviews, toy releases, and publicity images become fodder for speculation, conjecture, and debate. Marvel plays a good game. The studio famously plants misleading and digitally altered images in film trailers to feed the conversation. Fan sites compare the Infinity War trailer and film to reveal the removal of stones from Thanos’ gauntlet and the appearance of the Hulk who is mostly absent from the film.

Each successive Endgame trailer has been immediately subjected to frame-by-frame scrutiny, here the 3D trailer reveals figures in an explosion not visible in the 2D trailer.

Advertisements for toys are analyzed to predict story events. Fan theories of how Thanos will be ultimately defeated have spawned memes involving Ant Man shrinking down and attacking the villain from behind. Popular film fans are exhibiting the obsessive behavior we expect from CFILM students and their professors! At the same time, leaks about stars who are leaving the franchise have prepared us for strong emotions.  Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America are bound for heroic sacrifice. We will cry!

So these are some of the things we are thinking about, and some of the lessons we are learning on the eve of Endgame. But high-minded thoughts about popular art and film are one thing, actual PREDICTIONS about what will happen are another. As a test of the Wesleyan students’ spontaneous genius, I put the question of what will happen to my class. Here are some of their theories.


  • Ant-Man will be key to defeating Thanos, unfortunately not through more popular means, but probably through something or other involving the quantum realm


  • Tony Stark WON’T die, but will retire or something. Marvel is betting on people THINKING he will die and I think RDJ loves money too much to write himself out of these movies for good (even if he would make a great Uncle Ben surrogate for Spidey)


  • Captain America is GONE. Hope that he gets sent back in time or something but he might just be dead


  • Hawkeye might die? Or retire, I don’t think Jeremy Renner wants to keep doing these


  • Literally everyone else comes back to life (Also thru time stone?), including Gamora and Loki who died pre-snap


  • They destroy time stone and infinity gauntlet so they can never pull this trick on us again (until they do anyway)


  • Groots gonna do something cool


  • The cliffhanger resolves much like a serial would — we see everyone dissolving, dying, the horror, the horror. And then, we see someone we didn’t see originally — turns out, everyone dissolving wasn’t dead. Instead, snot-nosed Spider-Man pressed the wrong button in his Iron Man suit and accidentally teleported everyone to Toledo.


  • Lest you think this kills all drama, never fear. Toledo happens to be the location of Thanos’ sun drenched villa, so everyone is still in danger. It’s up to the Avengers to embark on a quest to Toledo. And along the way, Iron Man will fall into Lake Erie and freeze to death.


  • The Ant-Man/Thanos butt predictions are true, and Ant-Man dives head first into Thanos, bringing along Black Widow (shrinking her down to the size of a black widow first). They travel through Thanos, turning back time, and force Thanos to drop the gauntlet by controlling his muscles. So everyone lives happily ever after, and then in retirement, Black Widow is inspired by her trip through Thanos and becomes Ms. Frizzle, to teach children what she’s learned scientifically about the body. So, it turns out, Marvel’s 22 film saga has be the origin story of Magic School Bus.


  • I’m expecting a time travel plot, I’m hoping for some time paradoxes, because those are fun and funny. If they’re doing time travel, they could have an avenger appear from the future and give hope/make jokes to the grieving Avengers (this is very Doctor Who, but everything should be more like Doctor Who, so there).


  • When trying to figure out what’s going to happen in the next film, it’s hard not to be informed by what my dad has come to call “metadata” or “metaspoilers”. Essentially, that consists of anything happening in the real world production of the film that spoils what happens in the fictional world of the film. For example, if Aaron Taylor-Johnson was spotted on set or was on the official cast list, it would spoil the fact that Quicksilver is probably in the film in some way. It could be a flashback scene, but all of a sudden there’s a small clue as to what might occur in the film. This information can appear even when not sought out, as oftentimes it comes to me via my Twitter stream, without me searching for Avengers news in any way. Another example is the much-discussed end of Robert Downey, Jr.’s and Chris Evans’ contracts. Something has to happen to them, since they’re not in any more movies. Today’s film watching era will be defined by this, as nothing like this has ever been available or even desired in the past. There was obviously speculation like this in the serial era, but it was completely uninformed.


  • I don’t see a path to a conclusion in Endgame without some sort of otherworldly powers. What that eliminates is a massive fight with Thanos and simply shattering the gauntlet or the stones.


  • I’ve seen a set photo that is a recreation of the Battle of NY from Avengers, and so that implies some sort of Time Travel. Ant-Man and the Wasp’s placement in the MCU timeline points to the importance of the Quantum Realm. To me, what makes the most sense is that they use the Quantum Realm to travel back and fight Thanos in key moments before “the snap” even happened.


  • I think that all the dead come back, excepting maybe Loki, but the cost is Steve Rogers life. He’ll die either at Thanos’s hand or as a tradeoff for the lives that were lost.


  • Tony retires at the end of the film; I don’t think he dies.


  • I think Nebula has a massive role to play, judging by her character arc thus far. She likely follows her comic storyline and delivers the finishing blow to Thanos. The rest of our heroes live, including Thor and Hulk, who go on to be in future MCU films.


  • I’m curious about whether this culture of speculation and looking for every little production detail will ever disappear, though it likely will not. Game of Thrones has done an exemplary job at keeping secrets secret, and there is almost no “metadata” to be found. Then again, Game of Thrones may be the last weekly show of its scale before there is a complete shift to streaming and entire seasons being released at once.


  • I find character deaths are usually a less interesting story route, so I’m hoping a bunch of them live, but choose to move on.


  • Thanos will die. I think he’s pretty much beyond redemption.

Things That Happened

It’s been a hurricane of an academic year, but Spring Break forces a moment of calm before everything is once more plunged into chaos. So, while we’re in the eye of the storm, the time seems right to mention a few of the THINGS THAT HAPPENED over the past several months in CFILM.

Last October I made my way to Shanghai China as part of a symposium on the Liberal Arts with Michael Roth. There, we met future Wesleyan students, Wesleyan Parents, and other friends of the University. Sha Ye (MA ’96) hosted a dinner followed by a screening of The Meg, last summer’s blockbuster Chinese/American co-production. Afterward I moderated a discussion with Jon Turtletaub (’85) and Jon Hoeber (93), the film’s director and writer who flew in for the occasion.

Jon Turtletaub
Jon Hoeber








Though they graduated nearly a decade apart, John and Jon collaborate like they are old friends. They speak the same cinematic language. The next day I offered a glimpse inside the classroom with a session based on FILM 307: The Language of Hollywood, and dove into a far-reaching conversation about collaborations between Hollywood and China with Jon, Jon, Professor Haibo Li of Shanghai University and Julia Zhu (’91) of Pheonix Live Entertainment.

Scott Higgins, Haibo Li, Julia Zhu, Jon Hoeber, Jon Turtletaub

Last November my introductory course hosted a surprise guest and a super-secret film. The guest was Peter Farrelly, the film was Green Book. He talked about the movie, his career, and the state of popular cinema with Jeanine Basinger, and then fielded questions from the class. The students did their professor proud — making sharp observations about sound, production design, story, and asking tough questions about the movie’s cultural stakes. One student noted that a door opening in the background caught his eye toward the end of the film and the writer/director revealed: “That was me. We liked the take and kept it.” Farrelly is one of those rare articulate creators who can explain exactly how and why he makes things, and he does it without complication or pretense. It was a semester-defining moment.

Peter Farrelly, Jeanine Basinger

Earlier this winter, we hosted our annual screening at The Buttonwood Tree of short films produced by students for Sadia Shephard’s project learning course. This year’s event, titled In Their Own Words, featured seven documentaries focusing the lives of people in Middletown and Hartford. Shephard explained that the course challenges students to “learn about where we are in the world, how to build and create empathy from other people’s perspectives, and to actively become engaged citizens.” The venue was PACKED with community members and students. We saw films about first-time voters, first-generation Americans, Jazz musicians, and a local transgender youth activist. If you missed it, you can read more about the night in the Middletown Press. You can also hear about last year’s documentaries on our podcast.

The Crowd at the Buttonwood Tree








In February, I attended the annual Film Alumni event in Los Angeles with Jeanine Basinger, where we had the chance to catch up with a few of the hundreds of former students now thriving in the entertainment industry.

Milla Bell-Hart, Kait Halibozek, Siyou Tan
Michael Roth addresses alumni in Los Angeles








Time was short, however, as I had to return to campus for a visit by Korean film producer Dongyeon Won. Mr. Won is responsible for some of Korea’s most successful popular films, most recently the mega-smashes Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds and Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days. We screened The Two Worlds and had the opportunity to talk with him about the Asian film industry, popular storytelling, and all things cinema. His visit was graciously arranged by Phoebe Shin (P ’17) CEO of Adante Design.

Dongyeon Won discusses producing with film students







Two recent graduates also returned to share and discuss their work with our majors. Ethan Young (’13), who wrote our blog in January, brought his visual album for avant-funk artist (and Grammy winner) Esperanza Spalding’s 12 Little Spells. The videos are pieces of pure visual music, and seeing Ethan’s abstractions projected on our giant cinema screen was an ecstatic perceptual experience.

Ethan Young












A few days later Conor Byrne (’11) discussed his successful career as a writer and director of prize-winning shorts and advertisements. Conor, who is helping mentor a few of our senior thesis filmmakers this spring, took time to talk to us about his path into the industry, his strategies for staying focused and creative, and his feature-filmmaking plans. You can see some of his distinctive work here. We will hear much more about Ethan and Conor in years to come.

Conor Byrne
Byrne’s work for Skittles










Just before break, archivist Joan Miller offered film students a tour of the Reid Family Cinema Archives. It was a chance to get up close to film history. We looked at items from the Frank Capra, Kay Francis, and Elia Kazan collections, as well as script notes and a student film poster designed by Joss Whedon.

Students gather in the Reid Family Cinema Archives

Finally, local author Dr. Michael Good visited to show and discuss a film based on his book about the German officer who helped save his mother and over 250 Jews from genocide in Vilnius Lithuania. The book The Search for Major Plagge tells an incredibly moving story brought to screen in a recent Canadian/Israeli documentary. Over 100 community members and students gathered for our discussion.

Michael Good (left)








After break, we all slam into the other side of the “storm” which is April and May. We will have more terrific events, including a talk on recent Italian comedy by New York Times critic (and visiting Professor) A.O. Scott, a workshop on adapting movies to videogames hosted by game designer Matthew Weise, and a visit from screenwriter/producer/director Ed Decter who will announce our next edition of the Wesleyan at the AFI Summer Program. Our seniors will finish their thesis projects, share their work with the world at screenings and presentations, and meet alumni at our annual Life After Wesleyan seminars. Everyone else has papers, tests, films, and class presentations ahead of them. Nothing can fill a schedule or a mind like spring term. See you on the other side!

Film without a Camera

We recently hosted a Saturday afternoon workshop in Direct Animation with historian, artist, and filmmaker Janeann Dill. Dr. Dill is an accomplished painter, animator, teacher, and the biographer of Jules Engle (1909-2003) founder of American experimental animation. This Spring she will lead a course on Animation Histories in CFILM, and so the workshop was a taste of things to come. Dr. Dill walked us through experimental animation’s history and development in Europe, showing work by Walter Ruttman, the unparalleled Oskar Fischinger, and others. With those images still buzzing around our heads, we grabbed light boxes, strips of 16mm leader, and started making movies.


The Workshop at Work. Clockwise from bottom left: Laura Perez Maquedano, Lex Slater, Dani Rodriguez, John Chicco, Daniel Osofsky, and Dr. Dill

Armed with sharpies, thumbtacks, and a dental tool (!), we set about scratching and drawing directly on filmstock. Marking out 24 frames at a time, we drew repeated patterns, each a little different from the last. This was our first experience in “camera-less filmmaking.” If you’ve ever made your own flipbook, or played with a zoetrope, you’ve created moving images from still pictures. The principle is the same, but there is something revelatory about marking and scraping a length of film. In out digital age when every smartphone is a mini-studio, we can lose touch with the magical simplicity of cinema’s fundamental illusion. Few of us really know what happens to that light once it hits an image sensor, or how data is stored and rearranged to put a video on our screen. Effortless moviemaking. But touching film, leaving a physical trace in a tiny 10 X 7 mm (roughly) rectangle, and working through six feet of stock and 240 frames for 10 seconds of movement — that gives us a new, tactile relationship with the medium.

John, Daniel, and rolls of film.


Laura builds up to a blue background.


We toiled steadily on our tiny artworks, squinting at the acetate and making endless dots and dashes. Dr. Dill unrolled a bit of film she’s been working on, and we gasped at its precision and detail.


Dr. Dill shows her work in progress.

Our efforts were crude, but enthusiastic. We spliced our bits of film together, wound them on a reel, and threaded a projector. In the end we had barely enough footage to fix focus. We held our collective breath as our little dots quivered, wobbled, and zipped across the screen. For a moment, all those still pictures became something else entirely, they came to life. We witnessed the spark that ignited an artform.

At the end of the day, we separated our bits of film so that we can continue to work on them, guaranteeing that the little movie we made will never again be shown. But I was lucky enough to make a smartphone video of one piece of film. Laura Perez Maquedano, a junior film major who’s short Méliès movie was featured a few months back on this blog, created this little dance of blue, black, and white.

Itching for a Fight!

It’s only just October, but lately my mind has been wandering to next semester and The Cinema of Adventure and Action. This is one of the first classes I taught here at Wesleyan and I return to it every few years without fail. I love action films because they seem so fundamentally cinematic — a genre that no other medium could do better. At their best, they sweep viewers up in a kind of rhythmic perception, where movement becomes emotion — visual and visceral music.

Teaching the class led me to write my most recent book, a study of a small but formative slice of action-film history — the sound-era serial. Among other things, these quick and dirty productions from the 1930s – 1950s refined a cinematic vocabulary for depicting physical combat. Today’s super-hero blockbusters have humble origins indeed. Since it will be months before I get to leap back into action, I thought I’d share a video-lecture on the art of staging and cutting fight scenes. Consider it a down payment on Spring semester:

Documentary: The Other Kind of Visual Storytelling

Four of our CFILM Podcasts speak to a lesser-known but vitally important component of Wesleyan Film: Documentary Storytelling. Though fiction has dominated the past few years of our Senior Thesis Screenings, the film department’s dedication to teaching and making documentary stretches back to its origins. From the outset, Professor Ákos Östör, both a practitioner and scholar of documentary, offered courses in the form, cross-listed with Anthropology. In the early 00’s we pioneered co-taught science documentary courses with Biology, and our production professors regularly move between fiction and documentary in their own work. We also devote time to documentary history in FILM 304 The History of World Cinema and our elective FILM 385 The Documentary Film. In general, we think of documentary and fiction as two points on a continuum of visual storytelling. Both are narrative forms and both can make use of the same techniques. But while fiction films use cinema to create imaginary worlds, documentary refers to the real.

Wesleyan has an enviable roster of documentarians among its alumni, including James Longley (Iraq in Fragments), Douglas and Roger Kass (Emptying the Skies), Sebastian Junger (Restrepo), Roger Weisberg (Dream On), Jessica Sanders (After Innocence), Martha Shane (After Tiller), Shannon Sun Higginson (GTFO) and many many others (apologies to all I’ve not mentioned!).  Over the past year, we’ve welcomed back distinguished documentary filmmakers to share their experiences on our podcast. You can find out about Mary Robertson’s Trumped: Inside the Greatest Political Upset of All Time and her related projects on American political culture in PODCAST EPISODE 4. Over the summer, we posted EPISODE 7 featuring Tracy Strain and Randall MacLowry, and EPISODE 8 with Lana Wilson, followed by our season opener, EPISODE 9 featuring Sadia Shepard. Together, these interviews reveal the richness of contemporary nonfiction film and Wesleyan’s contribution to it.

Wesleyan graduate Randall MacLowry and his partner Tracy Strain are consummate professionals who have produced nearly 20 documentaries through their company Film Posse. They visited last spring to discuss Sighted Eyes / Feeling Heart (2017) the first feature documentary about African American author and activist Lorraine Hansberry.  Tracy, who wrote and directed the film, explains how Hansberry’s story inspired her to become a filmmaker and led to a decades-long project that culminated with Sighted Eyes. Randy, producer and editor, takes us through the process of shaping the movie for the marketplace. Together, they offer insight into the art of crafting a story from documents, the necessity of building trusting relationships with interview subjects, and the importance of tenacity for any filmmaker. They also give our students invaluable advice along the way.

There’s no better proof of the continuity between fiction and documentary than Lana Wilson’s profoundly touching film The Departure (2017), the subject of CFILM PODCAST EPISODE 8. As a student, Lana focused on movies like Douglas Sirk’s ravishing 1950s Melodramas and Aki Kaurismäki’s sublimely dry Finnish comedies. As a filmmaker, she’s made her name in non-fiction, beginning with the Emmy-winning After Tiller (2013) a film about abortion rights that she made with fellow alum Martha Shane, and most recently with The Departure which follows the suicide prevention efforts of Japanese Buddhist Priest. When she visited campus last year, Lana talked about her career journey, how she went about creating The Departure, and how that film was inspired by lessons she learned from filmmakers she studied here. After a highly successful American tour, the film opened in Japan in September. Her latest work A Cure for Fear just premiered at the Camden International Film Festival.










In our latest podcast (EPISODE 9) we catch up with filmmaker, producer, and author Sadia Shepard (In Search of the Bene Israel) who is inspiring the next generation of Wesleyan documentarians in her course Documentary Filmmaking: An Introduction to Project Learning.  Each year, she leads a group of first-year students through the process of developing, shooting, and post-producing short documentaries about Middletown and the surrounding area. CFILM hosts a showing of the films at Middletown’s art center The Buttonwood Tree each spring. On the podcast, you will hear excerpts from the discussion that followed last year’s screening, featuring the students themselves. The class combines an introduction to the history of the form with intensive practice, and it was an instant success. This fall, Sadia added a second section to help meet the demand, and some of her former students are now making documentaries for their senior theses.

Encouraged by our students and alumni, CFILM plans to expand opportunities for documentary filmmaking and study over the next few years. Our world needs honest, responsible, and compelling non-fiction storytellers more than ever. We are committed to helping them find their voices.


Back to (film) School

Ben Model accompanies DOCKS OF NEW YORK in FILM 307


Well, it’s over! We started courses on Monday and already the Summer seems lightyears away. Not that Middletown has suddenly turned autumnal, we’ve had a sweltering week, but on the syllabus, in the classrooms, and here on our BLOG it is definitely fall. After a brief August hiatus, the CFILM social media team are back and ready to share. If all goes according to plan, you can check in here for bi-weekly blog entries, bi-monthly Podcasts, and a regular feed of nonsense (umm, vitally important intellectual exchange) on Facebook and Instagram.

If you’ve been monitoring the Instagram feed (or following the trades), you already know that CFILM started this school year with the distinction of being ranked #9 on the Hollywood Reporter’s Top 25 American Film Schools.

The first 8 schools are big fish on the West and East coasts, all with graduate programs in filmmaking. It’s a true testament to our alumni and to the little program that Jeanine Basinger founded in the early 1970s that CFILM manages to make a showing year after year. We are the only exclusively undergraduate program to make the rankings, and the only liberal arts institution on the list. CFILM punches above its weight! More accurately, we focus on what we’ve always done and are happy that someone agrees it is special.

What we’ve always done is to take cinema seriously as an artform best understood from the perspective of the filmmaker. Studying and making go hand in hand. Sadia Shepard’s course FILM 104 Documentary Filmmaking: An Introduction to Project Learning exemplifies this philosophy.Shepard (’97), a novelist, filmmaker, and documentarian, returns to campus each fall to initiate students into the history and practice of non-fiction storytelling.

Sadia Shepard ’97

Her students produce, shoot, and edit short documentaries about Middletown and the surrounding community, which we screen for the public at The Buttonwood Tree arts center on Main Street. These movies show Wesleyan students at their best: creative, engaged, and compelling. Our first podcast of the season will feature an interview with Shepard and her students recorded at last year’s screening. Based on the course’s success, and student demand for it, we’ve added a second section this year.

I am once again teaching our gateway course FILM 307 The Language of Hollywood, which for many students is their first college film class. This week we went to cinematic extremes. We started on Tuesday with a thunderous showing of Ryan Coogler’s Creed (hence the boxing analogy above) to a packed (and rather warm) house. On Thursday we welcomed silent film composer and historian Ben Model who accompanied von Sternberg’s Docks of New York on his unique theater-organ emulator.

Ben Model in the Goldsmith Family Cinema

The cinema reverberated with Model’s original score and we felt what it was like to go to the movies in 1928. We will spend the rest of the semester studying how movies made between Docks and Creed manage move audiences with image and sound.  Ben will return in the spring to teach a whole course on silent film, and he will provide live accompaniment for every movie. For now, though, we have an exciting fall ahead of us.

Un Oubli Gigantesque

 FILM WORKSHOP is CFILM’s organization for frosh and sophomore student filmmakers. Every week, the workshop meets with one of our filmmaking faculty members to discuss screenplays, organize projects, and produce short films. Steve Collins mentored the group in the fall and Mirko Rucnov took over in the spring.  Laura Perez Maquedano, a rising junior film major, joined the workshop last year and devoted herself to making a trick film in the style of Georges Méliès. The result is Un Oubli Gigantesque.

Laura shot the movie on 16mm and achieved her special effects in-camera, using techniques pioneered by Méliès between 1896 and 1913. Her inspiration was The Cook in Trouble (1904), a movie we show in History of Global Cinema.




Laura’s cook gets into serious trouble when an egg grows to gigantic proportions and transforms into a horrible dragon. The growing egg, which might look like a simple effect in the digital age, took some serious engineering to achieve. Laura drew on  production techniques for The Man with the Rubber Head (1901).




Like Méliès, Laura built a special ramp to slide the egg toward the lens and double-exposed the film by rewinding the camera and carefully counting frames.




She shot the whole thing in an abandoned garage, not too much smaller than Méliès original glass studio.  The film is a great example of working within limits, inhabiting film history, creating something new by returning to the past, and celebrating the joy of cinema — all things we try to teach. We can’t wait to see what Laura does in the major!

Click HERE to Watch the Film 

What and WHY will we teach in the Fall?

Scott Higgins, CFilm Director

The echoes of commencement weekend have faded, and we are busy balancing budgets, repairing equipment, cleaning our desks, watching probably too much FilmStruck, and getting ready to start all over again. This is the time of year that a teacher can honestly ask questions like “what will I teach” and “why will I teach it?” In the heat of the semester we rarely have time for reflection, so I’m asking my colleagues to share their thoughts on this blog over the summer. For my part, on Tuesday September 5th at exactly 8:50 am, I’ll be in the Goldsmith Family Cinema launching our gateway class FILM 307: The Language of Hollywood. This is our introduction to Wesleyan Film, and so I’ll be meeting many members of the class of 2022 as well as students from across the campus who are intrigued by film. It is a “film watching” class, but (not so) secretly it is also a filmmaking class. In it, we aim to understand films from the perspective of the filmmaker, to reverse-engineer cinema to see how it all works. CFilm’s curriculum is built on the premise that study and practice are inseparable and mutually beneficial. Film critics and historians have a LOT to learn from the experience of holding a camera, setting up lights, and cutting together pieces of stock. For filmmakers, there’s no better way to open up the craft, broaden visual vocabularies, and find inspiration than sitting in the dark, watching, thinking, and feeling.

Because I’m a historian, and because “watching, thinking, and feeling” doesn’t quite work as a syllabus, I organize this class historically. We look at three changes in film technology: the coming of sound, the introduction of color, the shift to widescreen, and the development of 3D. The class isn’t so concerned with the history of technology (if you want to know, say, about the history of Technicolor, I have a book for you), but with how working filmmakers react when change happens.

On that first day, I will probably show one of the great silent films from the 1920s. For the past several years I’ve started with Frank Borzage’s ravishing romance Street Angel, a movie so confident in its storytelling that the absence of synchronized dialogue hardly seems a deficit. Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell find love, lose it, and then miraculously find it again in shimmering soft focus. What more could one possibly ask from cinema? And yet, within just over a year no studio in Hollywood was making silent films! The transition to sound was a crisis point for all film artists. They lost some tools, gained others, and struggled to find the same emotional power and visual poignance in the new era of “talkies.” Looking at what filmmakers do under pressure, at how they solve problems when the game has changed, reveals how artists think, what they value about their medium, what works and what doesn’t. Within a short time, sound cinema had the confidence and air of effortlessness that silent film once claimed. But studying the excitement and desperation of sound when it was new helps us see its possibilities with fresh eyes (and ears). This sensitizes us to film form, so that we can look at a much later sound film like Ghost Ship, a wonderfully strange horror movie from the early 1940s, and find filmmakers who kept the novelty of sound alive, using effects, music, and silence, to create a new emotional journey.

At the end of this class, elements of film form like sound, composition, lighting, cutting, depth, and color should be visible in a new way. If class goes really well, cinema will cease being a “given” and become instead a field of possibilities, some long forgotten, ripe for exploration. Using sound in a movie should feel like a positive choice rather than a stale inevitability. Watching is the gateway to making. That’s the BIG idea behind this class, and I hope to keep it in mind even in the depths of November when we are all overwhelmed with deadlines, page-counts, and tests. For now, with summer stretched before me, I’ll be revising, re-watching, reworking, rethinking.