Jared Callahan

Truthfully, I fell in love with Jared’s documentaries as well as his personality. I admired his strong enthusiasm, open curiosity, and the positive energy he presented when visiting our class. You could tell he truly has a passion for filmmaking, and he had a genuine interest in our own creative ideas and endeavors. He also displayed an admiration for his films’ subjects and a desire to convey simply who they are as people rather than primarily focus on a certain issue. I felt this was different from what we’ve experienced with previous films and filmmakers in this class, particularly Imba Means Sing and Homemade. For Jared, from what I understand, his main mission is to make the audience fall in love with the character(s), and then by doing so, he can shed light on a certain issue. From my personal experience watching his films, I felt this was an effective approach. In Jared’s own words, “by understanding the subject(s), you understand the concept.” This also tied into his last piece of advice given to us at the end of class, which was to “tell a big story through a small window.” Jared found this to be an important concept in filmmaking and storytelling, offering this message to us as we embark upon our own film projects. That being said, I also appreciated Jared’s advice on filmmaking itself. He tapped into what’s important in making/directing a film and delved into the creative process, giving us insight and advice on how to go about our own projects. There was something about the way Jared explained ideas and concepts that really made me feel exposed to the mind of a creative filmmaker. Other points of advice he mentioned were to tap into how films affect a wider audience, to spend time in the messiness of things, and to always have multiple ways to write ideas. I think Jared’s visit, at least for me, helped inspire the importance of creativity and how we can develop and grow as artists and creative thinkers.

“First Position” by Bess Kargman

My midterm essay was on a documentary film by Bess Kargman called First Position. This documentary explores the lives of several young dancers who participate in an internationally known, highly prestigious ballet competition, the Youth America Grand Prix. Through this film, Kargman set out to defy certain stereotypes about ballerinas and educate a larger audience on what it really means to be an aspiring professional dancer, exposing the blood and tears that are shed in the process. Through her use of characters from different backgrounds and identities, she illustrated that not all ballerinas are white, not all skinny ballerinas are anorexic, and not all male dancers are gay. She sheds light on existing racial and socioeconomic differences and captures the most mundane aspects of these dancers lives. She shows the pain and struggle these young dancers endure and unveils the realities of this overlooked community.

Bess Kargman (center) with two of her film’s subjects, Michaela DePrince (left) and Miko Fogarty (right)

Her characters each have their own unique stories. One is an adopted war orphan from Sierra Leone whose parents were killed by rebels right before her own eyes. Another is a Colombian 16-year-old who moves to New York by himself in order to pursue ballet professionally and raise money for his family back home. Amidst these and other characters, Kargman still manages to include what we would perhaps consider your typical ballerina: a tall, blonde American whose favorite color is pink. First Position truly reveals the diversity that exists within the ballet world and how this worldwide art form touches the lives of so many different youth. I appreciate the ways in which Kargman makes the film not about the competition itself but more about her subjects and how the competition affects them and brings them together. She stays away from too much dramatization and conflict and rather films what these dancers go through off stage.

Through film, Kargman does a beautiful job of portraying the realities of dance to an audience that may not know much about the art form—a job that, as a dancer myself, I find can be rather difficult. However, that being said, Kargman focuses only on one facet of the dance world. Dance as competition can vary greatly from dance as art, and in this case the film is about dance as competition. This does not in any way undermine dance’s value, and in my opinion dance in either form should be both appreciated and respected. However, some people do in fact look down upon dance as competition. Although Kargman’s objective was to expose this one specific subculture of dance, I only hope that non-dancers are aware that competitive dance does not dominate all dance forms and that this film was in fact more about the grueling lifestyles and struggles of being an aspiring professional dancer and not as much about the competition or about dance itself, since dance comes in so many different styles and modes.

Art and Social Impact

As an artist myself, being a dancer, I find so much value in using art as a way to bring about social change. I believe there is so much power behind art, in any form, and its ability to communicate and convey important messages to a larger audience. It possesses a strong ability to inspire and influence others. However, I will argue that one of biggest problems in the arts today is a lack of funding. Although many organizations exist that link social change to art, artists still struggle to find the necessary funding to get their art out there and make an impact in the world. It’s no question that there isn’t much money in art, and unfortunately not as much importance is always placed on the arts as on other fields. Arts education, for example, takes a back seat when it comes to planning school curriculums and putting money towards what should be taught in schools. But an arts education can play such an important role in the development of any child. Personally, the arts have been an enormously prominent and influential part of my life, and it makes me happy to see organizations such as The Creative Visions Foundation fund artists and important projects. It is organizations like these that help promote the arts and make them known as something beneficial and impactful for our communities and the world in general. I think it is so important, as individuals, to support the arts and advocate its importance. I admire The Creative Visions Foundation for doing so, and I only hope that more organizations continue to rise in the future so that the arts continue to be recognized and fully appreciated.

Conflicting Identities

There are a few examples from my own life experience in which I have felt like an insider or outsider and have struggled with my different identities. For one, I am from Atlanta, GA. Although I go to school in the south, there are so many students at Emory from the north, and it almost felt as if I was the one in culture shock when I arrived here my freshman year. However, although having grown up in the south, I don’t necessarily associate myself 100% with southern culture. My parents are both from Ecuador and came to the United States after they got married in 1985. Therefore, I grew up in a very Spanish household. What I know of or have acquired from southern culture comes predominantly from school or my friends. I didn’t grow up with my dad watching SEC football on television but rather the FIFA World Cup. I didn’t grow up eating traditional southern food but rather traditional South American dishes. And ever since I was born, Spanish has been the primary language in our household. Therefore, there are so many times in my life when these identities clash with each other, and I can fall into a strange gray area between insider and outsider. I visit Ecuador often, as a large part of my extended family still lives there. Although I speak their language, know the country, and know its people’s customs, I am still very much American in contrast and feel very American when I’m there. It can often times be an uncomfortable feeling. Back in Atlanta, or the U.S. for that matter, I know I can identify myself as someone who has grown up in the south, but at the same time I know I didn’t grow up in a southern household. There are many things that I cannot relate to with my friends from home who were, in fact, raised with Southern parents. It’s interesting how all the identities we associate ourselves with can sometimes act against each other, making us insiders, outsiders, or maybe just something in between. I wonder if I were to conduct research on people in Ecuador or the southern United States, would I possess an insider or outsider status?

The Power of Photography

This week in class, it was interesting getting to see how we react and receive information when given to us in different forms and mediums. Furthermore, the techniques and methods used by each of these mediums, particularly photography and film, that make us feel a certain way or draw our attention to something in particular. For example, when we discussed the filming strategies used in Saving Private Ryan or talked about what stood out to us most in the iconic Vietnam War photo.

Answering questions about photography allowed us to open up to these new ways of thinking and interpretation. I have also come to realize, by examining and reading about war photography, how truly powerful photography can be. Reading Susan Sontag’s “Looking at War” made me think about an argument made by critic Roland Barthes on a certain photograph taken in 1865. The photo is of Lewis Payne, who was involved in Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, as he sits on death row awaiting his execution. The photographer is Alexander Gardner.

Lewis Thornton Powell, or Lewis Payne, awaiting his execution (Alexander Gardner, 1865)

What fascinated Barthes was that this photograph was a representation of both the past and the future. It reveals something that has already happened yet at the moment it was taken, Payne’s death had not yet happened. Barthes resents the fact, however, that all photos are essentially a representation of the sitter’s impending death. In other words, a photograph is a past presence of a future death, whether the sitter is still alive or not. I think photographs (those that are not staged) provide such an accurate representation and authentic depiction of something that it allows us to place ourselves in that context, making them so powerful. We imagine ourselves in that moment and can feel completely transported. I think many of us felt this way when watching Saving Private Ryan or observing the Vietnam War photo.

I was also intrigued by Sontag’s comment about photography’s ability to turn something tragic and devastating into something beautiful. Why do we find images of ruins—for example, the remains of the World Trade Center after 9/11—so beautiful? As Sontag says, it seems almost “frivolous, sacrilegious,” but photographs following the 9/11 attack were, in fact, quite beautiful. As Sontag continues, “Photographs tend to transform, whatever their subject; and as an image something may be beautiful—or terrifying, or unbearable, or quite bearable—as it is not in real life.” Perhaps it is not the photograph itself, but a photograph’s ability to transport, transform, and create a certain sensation within us that makes it so powerful.

Reaction to The Crossing

Something that struck me was how much the act of crossing can be explained as if it were an art form or an Olympic sport. It “takes both practice and strength to master” and it “is planned and trained for like a military mission.” These are things I could imagine being said by an Olympic athlete talking about their training regimen or a professional ballerina talking about the artistry and skill of ballet or even a surgeon talking about the time, effort, and work that goes into completing a surgery. It was interesting hearing the act of crossing—a treacherous, upsetting, and life-threatening human struggle—being described in the same way we could find ourselves talking about these certain talents and professions. But, clearly, the act of crossing is a means of survival. Training takes place not to perfect a talent but to escape over a 20-foot high fence and leave an intolerable world behind for a brighter future. Whereas for many of us, our heroes may be athletes, artists, or scientists, the heroes for many of these migrants and refugees are those who make the crossing and establish a better life for themselves, even if it is solely by working in the back of a kitchen. It is that tenacious act of crossing and those who have achieved it who inspire hope among those still waiting behind in the camps. Being selected to be in the first round of stormers is also considered an honor among these migrants and refugees, as it means you are one of the strongest and fastest among the group. It is striking how success and honor are defined for people in a world so vastly different from ours.

These men work diligently and prepare tirelessly for their crossing so that they may make it to the other side and have a chance at a better life. And although their chances are slim of making it all the way, if even to the second fence, it is that one glimmer of hope they tightly hold on to that keeps them pushing forward and believing in a better tomorrow. Even trying and failing is considered a success, as Dikembe states, “any crossing that we all escape alive, is a small success.” For me, this strongly emphasizes the danger and life-threatening aspect of crossing that these men take on. I admire and marvel at the sense of determination that comes from these migrants and refugees in spite of the struggles they constantly face.

Even so, many of those in the camps are, in fact, young boys still in their teens. As the article states, Beni, for example, looks “better suited for beginning middle school in the fall than crossing international borders on his own.” This put in perspective for me the unbelievably large burden that these young boys carry. These are boys the same age as many of our younger brothers, cousins, brothers of close friends, etc. Its incredible when you look at the lives of these boys and compare them to the lifestyles of young boys living in more privileged homes. In many ways, they are similar. They most likely share basic common interests such as playing sports, hanging out with their friends, and looking through their phones. However, at the end of the day, one set of boys must sacrifice their life for the sake of their families and a better life ahead—something I could never imagine having to tackle at the mere age of 14.

Beni and two other boys looking through photographs on a phone of those who have crossed the border into Europe

Melissa Llewelyn-Davies

Melissa Llewelyn-Davies is an anthropologist who is well known for her involvement in television and popular entertainment, This made her strikingly distinct in her work, given that many anthropologists shied away from the idea of exposing anthropological knowledge through media, believing this would diminish anthropolgy’s authentic value by degrading it to mass communication. Llewelyn-Davies’ involvement with television primarily began after she was hired for “Disappearing World,” a television show from the 1970’s produced by Granada Television International that featured different documentaries on people around the world.

This late 1970’s early 1980’s period is when Llewelyn-Davies was primarily working in the field. She was innovative in that she creatively brought together anthropology and television in a unique and meaningful way that challenged formal customs and traditions. She used television as a way to bring forth important anthropological knowledge and enhance anthropology’s public appearance in an enlightening and educational way. She helped promote television as a legitimate medium and ethnographic tool and has therefore influenced the field by doing so. She is well known for her work with the Masai people of East Africa, creating a series of films that were featured on television beginning with Masai Women in 1974, which was aired on “Disappearing World.”

Llewelyn-Davies attended the University College of London and received a degree in Social Anthropology. She then went to Harvard to get her PhD in Social Relations. However, once she began her fieldwork on the Masai, she never did, in fact, complete her PhD. Llewelyn-Davies was also heavily influenced by feminism, and her work with the Masai people placed a strong focus on women and their roles in society. One of her films, The Women’s Olamal, concerns a fertility ceremony performed by Masai women, captured and presented to a mass audience through Llewelyn-Davies’ use of television as a medium. While filming, Llewlyn-Davies would refrain from being on camera, as she wanted viewers to see what she saw. She also preferred films with little or no commentary. In her film Masai Manhood, it is clear that she gives a modest amount of commentary and is rarely seen on camera. When shown, she is conducting interviews with her subjects and is barely caught on camera. The focus continues to remain on the Masai and their community.