How do you continue making a film when the access, plans, and conditions underlying it suddenly dissolve? Students in Amitanshu Das's class grappled with this question last semester when, in the midst of creating documentaries with/of students across Philadelphia highschools, the COVID-19 pandemic put an abrupt stop to both on-site filming and the programs the Penn teams were focusing on.
Graduate students in the School District of Philadelphia and Penn Graduate Student of Education Film Program, study ethnographic filmmaking by making films in the community. The program is led by founder Amitanshu Das (Senior Fellow and Director at the Penn GSE and the Annenberg School for Communication) with the Ethnographic Filmmaking courses taught by Amitanshu Das and Kathleen Hall. In the fall, Penn students first learn filmmaking and are introduced to ethnographic principles, approaches and methods. They visit Philadelphia high school communities- students, teachers and staff- so that everyone can get to know one another. Planning for this years program started more than a year ago in Spring 2019, when Philadelphia high schools were invited to apply to be one of three selected schools, finally resulting in Sayre Highschool, Girls High, and the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts being chosen.
Penn GSE Films, the district, and each selected high school began communicating early in the summer 2019, in order to prepare for a logistically and technically complicated program. The program works differently in each unique Philadelphia school, making these planning sessions critical. Later in the fall or early spring, both high school and Penn students choose a subject they would like to make into a film and what kind of film it should be.
This hands-on education in ethnographic filmmaking builds towards a grand project for each filmmaking team: a finished short film by students, about students, that reflects the voices, interests, concerns and perspectives of students. In early May, these documentaries, narrative or experimental films are first premiered at the School District of Philadelphia then broadcast on PSTV (the school district of Philadelphia’s television channel) and posted to YouTube.
This year, graduate student teams were organized at three high schools: Student teams were already knee-deep in plans and filming when the global COVID-19 pandemic hit in February, followed quickly by an abrupt closure of Philadelphia schools in early March. Facing an unprecedented shift in the educational experience, Amit Das fully expected the early May deadline to change dramatically, and that was only if students were able to finish the films by summer at all.
Completing a documentary film is a daunting task even in the best of times---conflicts can arise seemingly out of nowhere, critical footage can be lost. In a pandemic that disrupted schooling, personal lives, and human life on a massive global scale, it must have seemed impossible. With only some of the filming complete, and thus planned edits and original storylines no longer possible, the students and the high school teams would have to reimagine their original projects entirely. Surprising everyone, each of the three teams did just that, with three completed films coming in just under the deadline.
The SDP-Penn GSE Film Program is coordinated by PSTV and PennGSE Films, sponsored by the SDP-CIO and Penn’s Netter Center For Community Partnerships. Ethnographic Filmmaking Parts 1 & 2 are Netter Center supported ABCS (Academically-based Community Service) Courses and are closely affiliated with Penn’s new Center for Experimental Ethnography.
Thanks to the generosity of Scribe Video Center and the Precious Places Community History Project, we are excited to bring you new short films by Philly community members each week from April 20 through June 1! Each film will be available for one week only so make sure to catch it before its gone! Find the schedule below.
These films are from Scribe Video Center's Precious Places Community History Project in the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Precious Places is a community oral history project inviting members of the Philadelphia region's many neighborhoods to document the buildings, public spaces, parks, landmarks and other sites that hold the memories of our communities and define where we live. Precious Places teaches the video production process to participating groups, fostering projects authored by those who intimately know the featured neighborhoods.
Conceived as a way to allow neighborhood groups to celebrate their unique histories and as a tool to address current-day concerns, the Precious Places video documentaries explore the rich stories of our communities, the memories, and stories held in public spaces and community landmarks. They record community histories and help define where we live at a time when so many of the city's memories are undergoing so much change (Precious Places description from Scribe.Org 2020).
The Precious Places Community History Project is funded by The Independence Public Media Foundation, Comcast NBCUniversal Foundation, Dolfinger-McMahon Foundation, and The Alston Beech Foundation.
SCHEDULE OF SUMMER 2020 SCREENINGS
"People may move, but they don't leave Norris."
Join us this week in watching We One, the Love and Life of Norris Homes by members of the Norris Homes community. It documents the history of a North Philadelphia public housing community affected by federal policy and is told from the perspective of former residents who lived at Norris going back to its earliest days in the 1950’s. The film will be available for the next seven days, until Monday the 27th of April.
We are excited to bring you an aural experience during this time of quarantine and isolation: an online audio exhibit from student-creators in 2019 CEE Fellow Ernst Karel's course "Audio Ethnography". Ernst Karel designed the course as an opportunity to open up the question: what might constitute 'audio documentary' or 'ethnographic audio'? Student audio ethnographies from the course, which covered historic sites in and around Philadelphia as well as contemporary social movements in Hong Kong, were originally presented as part of a CEE live listening event on December 9, 2019, held at the Penn Museum in the Rainey Auditorium.
This digital exhibit reprises the live listening event. Experiments in Audio Ethnography features the work of six student-creators in the course: Florence Madenga, Austin Fisher, Armaghan Fakhraeirad, Juliet Glazer, Jacob Nussbaum, and Pablo Aguilera del Castillo.
A conversation about everything between
CEE Fellows Emily Carris and Wayne Modest
Since we were unable to converse publicly at SSMF this spring, we convened online to hear from our Spring 2020 CEE Fellows on the topics of love, joy, laughter, being black today, materiality, and the urgencies of our contemporary condition...
Arielle’s work and writing on Black political performance has been published in the anthology Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Frontlines, ARTS.BLACK and Public Art Dialogue and others. Arielle was a 2017-2018 Diversity and Leadership Fellow with Alliance of Artists Communities, a 2019 Monument Lab National Fellow, and she serves as a cultural planning consultant for the Penn and Slavery Project at the University of Pennsylvania. Recent dramaturgical credits include Grounds That Shout! And Others Merely Shaking (Fist and Heel Performance Group, Partners for Sacred Places and Philadelphia Contemporary) 2019 and SaltPepperKetchup (InterACT Theatre) 2018.
The Documentaries & the Law lecture series on Media and the First Amendment, sponsored by Stephanie Abrutyn L’91, will consider the impact of the first amendment in documentaries and modern media.
This year’s lecture will be a Dialogue On Demagoguery and Free Speech between Professor Patricia Roberts-Miller, Professor and Director of the University Writing Center, Department of Rhetoric, The University of Texas at Austin and Professor Seth Kreimer, Kenneth W. Gemmill Professor of Law, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School.
Demagoguery has been a frequent topic of American documentary films. Demagoguery is also seen as posing a threat to news media around the world today. But what precisely is “demagoguery”? Where does the power of its appeal of populism and irrational prejudice come from?
American demagoguery has a “peculiar” relationship to the First Amendment. Freedom of speech allows demagoguery to develop, yet free speech is generally among its targets. Nonetheless, a democratic society that pursues a political praxis of robust debate and disagreement is best able to fend off and recover from demagoguery’s polarization and factionalism. Can we trust the First Amendment to right the ship of state if it is overtaken by demagoguery and bring about a return to democratic deliberation?
Professor Roberts-Miller, a distant relative of Penn Law’s own Justice Owen J. Roberts, is the author of Demagoguery and Democracy, a pocket-size primer from Experiment Books. Professor Seth Kreimer is a constitutional law scholar who has represented plaintiffs in a range of constitutional litigation.
Held in GITTIS 214 | HAAGA CLASSROOM on Feb 20 at 5:00-7:30 PM
Please join us for this very special discussion, moderated by Dyana Williams, and duo performance in celebration of Christian McBride’s The Movement Revisited: A Musical Portrait of Four Icons (Mack Avenue Records) at Penn Museum’s Widener Lecture Hall. Attendees are invited to visit the new Africa galleries from 5-6:30pm.
When Philadelphia-born bassist and bandleader Christian McBride arrived in New York in 1989 as a Juilliard student, he was the “Godchild of the Groove” with unlimited potential. Today, with over 300 recordings as a sideman and 11 critically- acclaimed albums as a leader, he now reigns supreme as the “Lord of the Lower Frequencies.” He’s the influential and ubiquitous bassist of his generation, as evidenced by his quintet Inside Straight, his big band, his trio and his work with everybody from James Brown, Pat Metheny, Chick Corea and Wynton Marsalis to Sting, The Roots, Bruce Hornsby and Paul McCartney.
Emily Carris began her presentation posing a question she first asked in England, while contemplating an image of a slave ship in a tumultuous ocean, "what does salt know?" Seven years after her work in England, Emily returned to Philadelphia to work on developing institutional space for art as scholarship, which culminated in her founding the Art Dept. Collective. Engaging with Black women’s traditions of quilting, textile work, and healing, one of Emily’s most exhibited pieces features indigo and silk matta root embroidered over the raised whip scars on a famous portrait of “Peter,” an enslaved man who escaped from a Louisiana plantation in 1868. She is following this interest in textiles and quilting to explore the concept of armor as clothing, and the powerful historical intersections of quilting and warrior culture.
Following Emily Carris's presentation, dr. Prof. Wayne Modest began by introducing his current project as the Director of the Research Center for Material Culture (RCMC). He began his talk with an insightful provocation: “What happens to a history of design if we look outside the West...or teach a history of photography starting in 1842 in Jamaica rather than one starting in 1839 in Europe?” Wayne then drew attention to the histories that remain to be written, and the voices that remain to speak, Wayne argued that ethnographic objects in these collections carry within them ways of thinking history and write history otherwise. Throughout his presentation, Wayne highlighted that decolonization also requires that we challenge the taken-for-granted assumption that museums are inherently socially useful institutions; they may or may not be such, but assumptions around the "obviousness" of their value to society serve to hold critique back about how things could be different, or transformations could be made in the role they play in society.
These presentations were followed by a lively discussion session and lunch that grappled with the complicity of scholars, academics, and artists working in institutions deeply involved in the colonial project. Several attendees highlighted how uncomfortable such institutional complicity is, and in response others spoke of the need to live with and in this discomfort rather than dismiss it: Institutional repair requires work, and part of that work can be done by laying claim to institutional spaces in the way we speak, move, and gather, and in so doing carve out spaces for other voices and other histories. Following this discussion, other smaller discussions occurred around repatriating photography, the question of archival and imagery ownership, and the revolutionary histories embedded within objects that we are obligated to preserve though we may not yet be able to hear them.
Join us December 8, 2019 at the Penn Museum for sound installations beginning in the Mosaic Hall at 2pm. These installations take you through gardens in New Jersey, a historic Philadelphia prison, Hong Kong social movements, the Schukyill river and environs, a downtown mall, two Penn laboratory spaces, and other sites.
These projects are brought to you by the following creators and students in Ernst Karel's Audio Ethnography course.
PENN MUSEUM 336
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