Tag Archives: Film Studies

Mountainfilm travel-study gearing up for another round

In the week leading up to and including Memorial Day weekend, Winona State University’s film studies department will be hosting a travel-study in which students are given an opportunity to visit Telluride, Colorado, and experience the annual Mountainfilm Film Festival.

Not to be confused with the town’s other film festival, the aptly-named Telluride Film Festival, Mountainfilm is documentary-based, curating nonfiction stories that explore topics like the environment, culture, recreation, political and social justice issues and more.

This will be the second year in a row for the travel-study.

The students and professor of the 2018 travel-study to Telluride pose in the town [Photo supplied by J Paul Johnson]
English and film studies professor J Paul Johnson, who is co-leading the travel-study with former director of the Frozen River Film Festival Crystal Hegge, said he hopes students will learn from the festival and the course.

Johnson said a festival like Mountainfilm provides attendees with a chance to see a breadth of career opportunities.

“Novice-level understanding of film is typically predicated on people being aware of … somebody who’s hitting the headlines with big breakout blockbuster films …,” Johnson said. “What many people don’t understand … is that there are thousands and thousands of jobs in this industry at all levels …”

According to Johnson, Mountainfilm teaches people that film jobs burrow deeper than what is displayed on a teaser poster.

“There are people who are deeply invested in and working hard at the production of films,” Johnson said, listing grips, gaffers and sound technicians as examples, while also adding there are jobs in filmmaking that do not “necessarily involve being the director of ‘Avengers: Endgame’ or ‘Black Panther.’”

Another important concept students learn is even the best in the industry start at the bottom.

This concept was amplified during the 2018 travel-study to Mountainfilm when students had a chance-meeting with Barry Jenkins, director of the 2017 Academy Award winner for Best Picture “Moonlight.”

Johnson said Jenkins, like all students of film, started at the bottom and worked his way up.

“He remembered very well being at the start of his career,” Johnson said. “He remembered getting to go to a film festival for the first time, getting to meet a few directors, going up to a couple of others, tapping them on the shoulder, asking if he could have a minute of their time. He was superbly gracious with students and talking about that.”

Johnson said he believes those who attended the 2018 travel-study returned with a greater appreciation for filmmaking.

“I guarantee students came back awed … by that experience and really motivated by it,” Johnson said. “I think if you talk to any of them who went there last year, I’m pretty confident that that is what they’ll say.”

Film student Brynn Artley, a sophomore who took the travel-study in 2018, agreed with Johnson.

“I had a ton of fun, highly recommend the trip,” Artley said. “We saw a ton of different films in the span of three or four days. We wrote up reviews, we made blogs about it. It was just a lot of fun.”

While any student can register for the course, Johnson said film majors and minors are ultimately given precedence over others.

“We have a built-in selection system, in that it requires a 2.5 GPA,” Johnson said. “We do give priority to declared film studies majors and minors.”

Johnson added a vetting process would only take place if the course had more students than necessary.

Twelve are enrolled.

“We rank and evaluate applicants if we have more than 20,” Johnson said. “I would not at all be displeased if we had so many people wishing to go on this program that we had to make those kinds of decisions. That would be a good problem to have. But right now … I’m pretty comfortable with where we’re at.”

A caveat of the travel-study is the price.

Despite her taking the travel-study this year, Brittany Bluhm, a senior double majoring in English writing and film studies, discussed her past financial constraints and how they kept her from taking the course and attending the festival last year.

“I was hung up on rent and a lot of medical bills,” Bluhm said. “I was like, ‘There’s no way I can come up with $500 (the confirmation deposit) to stash toward the trip.’”

Senior Brittany Bluhm prepares for her first visit to Telluride by reading about the town

According to the brochure for 2020’s travel-study to Telluride, the cost fluctuates around $3,000, which includes tuition and student fees for the three credits linked to the program, as well as roundtrip airfare, transportation during the program, lodging, breakfasts and dinners, admission and event fees for all educational activities and the Study Abroad administrative fee.

The price is discounted, as well, as Bluhm said students taking the course will be volunteering with film screenings and other activities.

While she was unable to go last year, Bluhm said she understood the reasoning for the price.

“I think, because our film program is relatively new, I can understand why it’s maybe a little bit more expensive,” Bluhm said. “I anticipate the school will contribute more in the future as long as this trip keeps on going.”

According to Johnson, while more people would logically bring the price down, that would also mean jeopardizing the level of attention he is able to give in his instruction for the course.

“The price—the bottom line for the trip—would go down if we had 20 people instead of 12,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t be opposed to having 16 students or even 20 as the cap … but it would be a different experience for me, a more complex one, and I don’t know if my students would get the individual attention that I know they will get with 12.”

Johnson said the price of the travel-study is lower than other travel-studies offered by the school.

“Any travel-study is an expense,” Johnson said. “Our travel-study to Mountainfilm is about half the expense or less than any of the international studies … Normally to travel abroad, earn three credits, over a period of one to two weeks, it is going to set a student back probably about $6,000. The price for our students, including the tuition, air travel, lodging, festival expenses, etcetera, is about $2,600.”

Johnson said he and co-leader Hegge do everything they can to keep the expenses as minimal as possible.

“That’s why, for instance, I cook,” Johnson said. “Because it’s a lot cheaper than having people eat-out in what is kind of a Tony-resort town where prices for that kind of thing are expensive.”

Cost aside, Johnson said he was satisfied with last year’s study and said he hopes this year’s is a repeat.

“There’s not really anything that we aim to do differently this coming year than we did last year,” Johnson said. “We just hope to replicate what we’ve done. It is a really nice experience for students to be able to do this … We have a really good partnership with Mountainfilm, and it’s a great destination for people to be at.”

“Resilience & Resistance: The Films of Spike Lee”

With Black History Month underway, Winona State University’s Film Studies will be partnering with the Department of Inclusion and Diversity to sponsor a film series showcasing select films by filmmaker Spike Lee.

The series, titled “Resilience & Resistance: The Films of Spike Lee,” begins at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 14, with the Academy Award-nominated feature for Best Picture and Best Director “BlacKkKlansman”.

Winona State English and film professor J Paul Johnson, whose course “Directors/Stars: Spike Lee” will be curating the series, commented on the reasoning behind choosing specifically Lee for a film series.

Professor J Paul Johnson helped jumpstart and will be overseeing the series throughout its duration.

“We want to celebrate Black History Month by looking at the career and accomplishments of one of the most celebrated, important and influential of all African American filmmakers across the 20th and 21st centuries,” Johnson said. “(Lee’s) work is especially timely given the success of ‘BlacKkKlansman.”

The films selected in addition to “BlacKkKlansman”—“Four Little Girls,” “Crooklyn,” “Do the Right Thing” and “Inside Man”—are, as Johnson describes, meant to showcase the range of Lee’s career, spanning from his political works like “BlacKkKlansman” and “Do the Right Thing,” to his exercise in mainstream thriller filmmaking with “Inside Man.”

“Lee really has a strong body of work,” Johnson said. “And that’s something that can hold up a whole film series.”

Talks for the series began shortly after the hiring of Inclusion and Diversity director Jonathan Locust, who Johnson was interested in partnering on programming for the school upon meeting him.

Regarding his thoughts on the series, Locust expressed excitement at the prospect of Lee being the subject matter of an entire film series.

“Spike Lee (is) one of my favorite directors, he’s also produced some of my favorite movies I grew up with,” Locust said.

Locust expressed excitement in regards to the partnership between Inclusion and Diversity and Film Studies.

“Finding out there was a class being taught (on Lee), and being asked to collaborate, it just made sense,” Locust said. “These are the types of things that Inclusion and Diversity wants to be involved in.”

Locust said the range of the films selected will help identify with a diverse audience.

“No matter who you are, you should be able to find something,” Locust said. “Even though the films are being shown during Black History Month, these aren’t necessarily Black History Month films.”

In regards to the purpose of the series, Johnson commented on the lack of showings for Spike Lee films in Winona.

“I think it would be great if our community could have the opportunity to take a look at once again and celebrate the incredible work he has done over his career,” Johnson said.

Locust himself voiced a lesson audiences should take away from the series as whole.

“I think there is a common perception that everybody in the industry is just white,” Locust said. “… it’s important for people to see that there are films being made by under-represented groups.”

Even though this series is the only planned partnership between the two groups, both Johnson and Locust expressed interest for Inclusion and Diversity and Film Studies to collaborate again in the future.

“I hope Film Studies can keep partnering with Inclusion and Diversity on either Black History Month programming or Women’s History Month programming in the future,” Johnson said. “That could be a pretty exciting avenue for us.”

As for Locust, he referred to one of the objectives of Inclusion and Diversity as the compass for a future partnership.

“The goal is you want to try to meet as many people and engulf yourself in different cultures,” Locust said. “We want to continue having the film series and working with Dr. Johnson and other faculty and asking, ‘Who are other directors we need to be looking at?”

In addition to “BlacKkKlansman,” the subsequent films in “Resilience & Resistance: The Films of Spike Lee” will be showing every Monday and Thursday at 7 p.m., respectively, until the end of February in the auditorium of Winona State’s Science Laboratory Center. All film admissions are free and open to the public.