The new film professor talks teaching, film history, and watching washing machines
By: Nick Hawks
What brings you to Cleveland State University?
There’s a couple of things that make teaching at Cleveland State exciting. My background is in Film and Media Studies. I’m a scholar, not as a practitioner. But I really think that there needs to be more dialogue between people who are making a film and a study of it. The great directors of our time are cinephiles, they care about the history of cinema and they want to understand it and that influences their style and you need perspective and their work. And so it’s really exciting for me to be able to teach like a new generation of filmmakers, in whatever capacity that they’re going to do. Some of these students are screenwriters, or you know, have their different emphases. But I want to be someone who can help. You know, if it’s a filmmaker or someone just interested in film, help them have the tools to approach any film, even when they leave my classroom, in a way that allows them to understand what’s happening, and how it’s producing meaning within a historical and cultural context. And even the ability to have a conversation about a film at a party on a very basic level. I want to be a professor who students know is a resource. I’m here to help my students with whatever they need to reach those goals of learning how to analyze a film, historically.
Did you always envision yourself as a college professor?
No, when I graduated from undergrad, I wanted to make film, I wanted to be a documentary filmmaker. And I worked for a PBS show, as a PA and I worked as a, you know, an intern, with a documentary film production company. And I realized that so much of their time was just asking people for money. And I was like, I don’t want to do that. I don’t feel comfortable. Little did I know that as a scholar, you have to ask people for money too, to do your research. But you write grants, but I was young. I was like, “Oh, like, that’s not what I want to do.” So I got into experimental film, and worked at a nonprofit venue showing experimental filament artists made films, and then met some people who were involved in film archiving, and was like, “Oh, that combines my interest in history and cinema.” So then I got a degree in image archiving and preservation. That’s something that still is important to me. The preservation of film and making works available for people in the future. Especially things that are not mainstream Hollywood. We don’t have to worry about that so much. But, you know, works by individuals, independent filmmaking, artists, work, documentaries, all that stuff, has incredible value. I did work in Ghana with our professor and realized I wanted to pursue a Ph.D. and do research. And after doing that, getting into the classroom, as a graduate student, I just loved teaching. I love working with students So that sort of changed my trajectory.
When you wanted to film a documentary, what was something you wanted to do?
There’s this one laundromat in Oakland, where I used to live in Oakland, California, that is aesthetically, perfect. I don’t know how to describe it, except that it just has this light that comes in in the afternoon and just lights up the place. It has this sort of like yellowy, faded wallpaper. And I just find it a very beautiful space. I would love to make a film that is just watching a washing machine go through its cycle for the whole time. Like you, someone puts in their laundry. And it’s just like a still shot of the laundry going around and around and around for like the whole thing. I guess it’s probably inspired by Andy Warhol cinema, slow cinema, and something that like makes you think. It’s also like, when you do your laundry, you put it in, and you leave and you do something else. And so like forced us through the cinema to like, pay attention to this thing that happens all the time that we ignore. And I think something is hypnotizing about the laundry going around in a circle through that you can sort of watch through the glass that would be interesting to look at. So that would be my film.
I have to ask, this was inspired by a laundromat that you’ve been to, was that something that you did when you went to that laundromat? Did you sit there and watch?
No, that’s what I’m saying. It’s like we don’t have time, or we want to read, or it’s boring. But in cinema, like especially something like the documentary or experimental form, a lot of filmmakers take the form of cinema and make you pay attention to things that you would never spend the time to pay attention to.
In a state of not going anywhere or not doing anything, I would think you would have these larger picture thoughts about things you wouldn’t normally consider, just by being mesmerized by watching the laundry going around and around in the same motion.
I think for me, it’s about the way we save time, these tasks, like, we can think about how laundry was done before, where you’d have to do it by hand, right? And so we put it in the machine, and we leave it and we do something else. But like, there’s like something happening there, that we never actually see, we never actually spend the time to know what that is there.