Global Media Lab
In spring 2018, IAS Artists in Residence Anida Yoeu Ali and Masahiro Sugano taught Global Media Lab, an intensive 10 credit class on the art of independent filmmaking. Global Media Lab extended an invitation to 22 students to learn, hands-on, the professional, artistic practices Ali and Sugano have developed together in Studio Revolt, their independently-run, collaborative media lab.
“We knew that it would be a pressure cooker of a class, due to the level at which students would have to learn. We told students that they would have to run with their cameras – that was the pacing of the class,” says Ali. Students created a total of fourteen films over the course of the quarter, including one in the very first week of class. (See our student feature to find out what this experience was like.)
Ali and Sugano anticipated that some of their students would bring media production experience into the class, and that others would draw on other areas of knowledge from the IAS curriculum. They structured the class so that students could break out into different ‘departments’ in order to make films: producers, directors, assistant directors, camera crew, sound crew, art department, and editors.
These departments were charged with meeting real-world production challenges. “I was not going to design for stress, but knowing the nature of production, any filming would entail unexpected problems and time crunch. I wanted them to tackle such conditions as a close-knit group,” says Sugano.
Ali and Sugano created opportunities for students to work directly with professional artists in the class, and leveraged their network to bring four artists to campus for brief residencies. In anticipation of these residencies, they asked the class to consider social and personal attitudes towards art and artists that shape their perception and reception. Unpacking “the baggage we bring to the table” is a necessary step before doing the research required to fully engage, says Ali.
An example of this “unpacking” is the preparation students did for the international visit of Tjawangwa “TJ” Dema, a poet from Botswana. Ali and Sugano encouraged them to engage critically with the stereotypes, structures, and discourses that inform ideas about Africa and African artists. They asked students to explore her writings before revealing who that writing belonged to, and to figure out what the poems meant by creating short videos inspired by them in their first studio class. At the end of the course, students created art inspired by TJ’s poetry and mailed it to the artist as a form of creative gratitude.
The class also hosted multi-disciplinary performer Yalini Dream and rapper Jendog Lonewolf, (who collaborate together as Brooklyn Dreamwolf). Students had an hour and a half with each artist to direct, film, and produce a video for each. Students were then responsible for all editing and post production. For Alena Ahren, the student who worked on Jendog’s video Brooklyn Beats, this was her first time editing. “The two video pieces that came out of this are exquisite,” says Ali.
The “Critical Acts” residency of avery r. young, a spoken word artist from Chicago, was hosted by the Alive 2.0 Festival and provided material for both midterm and final projects. The midterm focused on preparing for young’s public performance on campus by studying previous spoken word performances, the contexts that inspired them, and consulting with the artist via video chat sessions. Ali and Sugano tasked their students with producing and staging his on-campus performance. Their challenge, explains Ali, was “to create an environment for him, thinking about the meaning of his work and the context which is required for his works to come alive.”
The live-streamed public event, “de skin off my blk,” transformed the campus’s North Creek Events Center. Students created a runway stage in the form of a paper river to conjure the imagery of water in young’s work. The river, representing redemption, flowed into a memorial of paper bricks with the names of black people killed by police in the United States. “It just changed the space,” recalls Ali, “Watching the students’ faces as they realized that it was possible to change ordinary, everyday space into something special and meaningful… was stunning.”
As part of the artist’s residency, another group of students took responsibility for creating a video of young performing one of his poems. Students competed for the opportunity by creating and making a pitch for the poem of their choice to the class. The class then selected “wattah fo shake,” and Brandon Ko as its director. For the shoot, students transformed an area of Kirkland’s Juanita Beach into a post-Katrina swamp, the setting for young’s poem.
In the project collaborations that made up the class, students rose to creative and situational challenges. “I was not sure if the students were prepared to handle some of the unique pressures that come with execution of productions,” says Sugano. “Many who might have felt challenged made good adjustments, very fast and very often on their own. It was a blessing to see them discover and nurture their own strength to take on problems, feel certain emotions for a moment, then frame problems to develop a creative solution and renew their optimism.”
Ali and Sugano’s pedagogy stressed creative risk-taking and service. Ali concludes: “We asked the class: what are the risks you’re willing to take to create something different, but still in service to the artists and their work? In the end, it was clear that despite the level of intensity, students had this sense of their impact, working with real people, real artists. They had real investment and mindfulness.”
Ali and Sugano will run The Global Media Lab again in Spring 2019.