Post-Socialist Film Series Brings Documentary Filmmakers to Campus

Chang and Kelly Host Filmmakers on Campus

by CHSS Staff

During the spring 2009 semester, Mason professors Michael Chang and T. Mills Kelly from the Department of History and Art History created a Post-Socialist Film Series that focused on the end of the Cold War and what has come afterwards.

The series featured prominent documentary filmmakers who showed their films and then answered questions from students, faculty, staff, and members of the community.

“We were aiming to use film and filmmaking as avenues of emotional and intellectual engagement with the experiences of people living in areas that are often labeled "post-socialist space," said Chang. “I think we hoped to get beyond the headlines through the medium of cinematic storytelling.”

The first interactive discussion took place during the conference 1989: Looking Back, Looking Forward and featured two award-winning filmmakers: Elvira Dones and Carma Hinton.

Dones, Albania’s best-known writer and filmmaker, presented scenes from her film Stuck about the reappearance of the blood feud in post-communist Albania. Hinton, one of Mason’s Robinson Professors, presented scenes from her film The Gate of Heavenly Peace.

“I think we hoped, once again, to get behind the silver screen and wanted to invite students and members of the Mason community to think about the process of filmmaking itself and what the act of representing other people's lives entails more generally,” Chang said .

 Audience members were treated to the sight of two filmmakers sharing their work and discussing the editorial decisions that go into turning hundreds of hours of film into just an hour or two of final product. Both women also described the difficulties they faced in shooting their films—everything from hostile criminal gangs to hostile government officials.

The second interactive discussion took placein mid-April when James Tusty, co-director of the film The Singing Revolution, came to Mason to present his work. The film, which deals with the struggle of the Estonian people to break free from the Soviet Union in the 1980s and 1990s, recently won the highest award the Estonian state can give for cultural achievement.

Like Hinton and Dones before him, Tusty emphasized the many challenges he and his co-director faced in creating the film, including long searches in film archives for footage from earlier decades, problems of translation from Estonian to English, and how one might find funding for a project like theirs.

All told the Post-Socialist Film Series, which was supported by Mason’s Center for Global Studies, presented more than a dozen films during the semester.

“Not always, but all too often, discussions of China, Russia, and/or Eastern Europe, and many other parts of the world, tend focus on geo-strategic and/or international political issues,” Chang said. “This is quite understandable, but much of the impetus behind organizing this film series was to provide other perspectives on the emotional and political complexities of quotidian life in these places.”