April 15, 2009

Taking it to the Streets

Print More

“It’s not like any other conference you’ve been to,” promised Prof. Lisa Patti, film, speaking of the film conference held at Cornell this past Friday and Saturday. Indeed, the unique structure of the conference was readily apparent after merely a brief glance at the program of events — unlike other conferences that focus on a keynote speech and subsequent panel discussions, this conference had no keynote speech and was structured around a series of film viewings and group discussions which — though led by a discussion chair and series of panelists — included heavy audience participation. The conference title, Means Streets: Violence and the Cinematic City, reflected the focus on filmic violence, though each set of panel discussions sought to deal with the issues of violence in the cinematic urban landscape in drastically different ways.
The conference organizers Prof. Sabine Haenni, film, and Prof. Mary N. Woods, architecture, sought to create cross-disciplinary events, as evinced by the variety of sponsoring organizations listed on the front page of the program. In creating the event the two organizing professors invited an array of professors — in departments ranging from English to Asian Studies to Architecture, from institutions from the University of Iowa to YouTube to Cornell — and asked each to select a film or film clip to screen and discuss. Woods said, “I have to thank Sabine for taking all these great clips and organizing them into panels.”
Haenni organized the clips into panels of four to five films, chosen for their relevance and the ways they address cinematic violence and the urban landscape. The resulting five groupings were then appropriately titled and assigned Cornell professors to serve as discussion chairs to direct each panel during the screening and subsequent seminar-style discussions. Friday’s events, which took place at Willard Straight Theatre, included a brief welcome and introduction from Haenni and Woods followed by the first panel discussion, entitled “Heterotopias” and led by discussion chair Prof. Katherine Groo. Friday’s events ended with a screening of Manda Bala and a subsequent discussion with the film’s director, Jason Kohn.
Saturday’s program included three panel discussions — “War, Destruction, Ruin” chaired by Prof. Paul Flaig, “Ways of Seeing” chaired by Patti and “Megalopolis” chaired by Prof. Anthony Reed — as well as a screening of New (Improved) Delhi and a discussion with the film’s maker, Vani Subramanian. The film excerpts shown ranged from the obviously violent Gojira — the original 1954 Japanese version of Godzilla — to films such as Gli Italiani Si Voltano, a 1953 Italian film comprised of shots of males turning around to look at females walking through Rome. Although the latter may not seem to address violence in an obvious manner, the film’s presenter, Prof. Jeremy Braddock explained the connection with a discussion of Rome’s geographical urban history in which he said that, “The film’s geography is utterly saturated in violence.”
Louise Mendes ’12, one of the students who attended Kohn’s film and discussion said, “I went to one film called Manda Bala which was about corruption and class in Brazil.” Mendes, noting the unique format of the conference, said, “It was a full-fledged film and then afterwards the director came and just talked about the movie informally.” As promised, the conference’s unique format was what attracted the students the most.
“I really enjoyed it,” Mendes added, “So then I went to another [full-length feature] about India called New (Improved) Delhi which was about how the government removed people from their homes in New Delhi and how they don’t really consider all of the city to be migrants but they are.” She continued, “Both films I went to were pretty political.”
Another student who attended the conference was Stephen Guilbert ’10, who noted that, “The presenters were funny and informative, and the casual feel of the seminar made it quite enjoyable.” He added, “One presenter used the example of parkour to demonstrate violence towards the city, saying, ‘parkous needs the city, as much as it tries to destroy it.’”