Media Studies

  • Director of documentary on Kenyan AIDS orphanage speaks to UAB students

    Filmmaker Luke Grigg presented his documentary "Our Children - Twana Twitu” to UAB students in March. The film tells the story of brave women in a remote Kenyan village who stepped up to care for children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.

    Watch "Our Children - Twana Twitu" on YouTube

    Filmmaker Luke Grigg presented his documentary "Our Children - Twana Twitu" to UAB students in March. The film tells the story of brave women in the remote village of Mwingi in northeastern Kenya who stepped up to care for children orphaned by HIV/AIDS. When no one else would care for the children due to fear and stigma, the women opened their hearts and held out their hands to take them in. Drawn together in common purpose, they devoted themselves to ending the neglect and misery that are the orphans’ lives, understanding that while poverty can be crippling, it doesn’t have to be. Grigg, along with With My Own 2 Hands Foundation in Laguna Beach, CA, put their story on film. 

    The filmmaker spent the day on campus and gave a class lecture to the Ethnography and Film class taught by Michele Forman. He was on hand for the screening and answered questions from students and community members across a wide range of issues. His talk focused as much on when not to take photos as when to take them. He detailed his philosophy of not taking the camera out of the bag on the first day in a place, and, instead, building a sense of friendship with community members. He also discussed his efforts to provide photos to community members who have never had their photographs taken by bringing a portable printer and taking family photos at no charge for those who want them.

    The documentary has been nominated for a Webby Award. The screening and lecture were hosted by the Department of Social Work in collaboration with the Institute for Human Rights, the Department of Anthropology, the UAB Office of Service Learning, and the Media Studies Program.

    [widgetkit id="46" name="SOCIAL WORK - Our Children Twana Twitu"]

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  • Reframing the Middle East

    Filmmaker Rebecca Hyde illuminates cultures and commonalities
    By Jess Simpson • Photos by Steve Wood and Rebecca Hyde • Videos by Rebecca Hyde

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  • Students, Faculty and Alumni Show at Sidewalk Film Festival

    Films by UAB students, faculty, and alumni shown at the 17th Annual Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham include “The Pursuit of Hippo-ness,” “Feral,” “Coming and Going,” “4th Down,” “10-4 Birmingham,” and “Seizing the Unrecorded.”


    What do “Madagascar,” “Fantasia,” and “George and Martha” have in common? Hippos. But which of those hippos are the real thing? “The Pursuit of Hippo-ness,” by Department of Communication Studies faculty member Alan Franks, is a documentary introducing audiences to the life of hippos and the people who adore them. Franks’ film explores how people can misrepresent an animal in the same way they romanticize a favorite celebrity.

    “Hippos are the kind of animal that you can apply many faces to. Some of these people describe them as sort of this gray blob. And they’re open to interpretation,” said Franks.

    Franks plans to finish a full-length documentary by next year.

    “Feral” by students Matt Henton and Lane McCaig began as a class project. The short film is a documentary illustrating the negative, ecological effects of feral and outdoor cats on Birmingham--one problem being the decimation of the wild songbird population.

    Initially, the film’s premise had been songbird advocates versus cat people, but later conducting additional interviews on a deadline, the film became a narrative of suffering.  Henton says it establishes a connection between the cats’ overpopulation and their health problems, and exposes human negligence as the cause.

    “Coming and Going” by student Kelsey Harrison is an experimental short film delving into the anxieties of a young woman as she waits on a friend.

    “It’s kind of about this push and pull between arriving at places and leaving them,” says Harrison. “And the changes of life in general.”
     
    Harrison, a graduate of the Alabama School of Fine Arts and one-time Memphis resident, says the ideas in the film reflect her own worries about adjusting to a new place and new people.

    “Coming to terms with transformation, this inevitable change, the ephemerality of so many things—in my life and the world,” she says. “They’re themes that have always been close to me.”

    “4th Down” by students Kourtney Cowart and Michael Shikany captures the effects of the discontinuation of UAB football—and its eventual reinstatement—on the local community.

    “This topic was happening and unfolding at the time Michael and I needed a topic to shoot [for ethnographic film],” says Cowart, public relations and digital communication student. “We both love UAB and saw that there was so much more behind the initial story. We wanted to show the real emotion and effect that a decision this dramatic had on so many people.”

    They interviewed former players, coaches, reporters, and others in the UAB community to assure they captured the impact of the decision had on people’s lives and futures.

    “We wanted to keep the focus on the main people involved, the people who were most affected by the decision,” says Cowart. “This way others could see the importance of this issue and why people are so passionate about it.”

    On Sept. 27, the full-length version of the film will premiere at Iron City, and UAB students and faculty will be admitted for free. The doors open at 5 p.m. and the showing will begin at 6 p.m.

    “10-4 Birmingham” by students Piyush Borse and Karan Jani examines the Birmingham Police Department of the 1960s and how it became a nationally recognized model of community police relations.

    “It seemed that there was a new report of police brutality and misconduct every single day,” says Jani. “So, I began to wonder what the climate of policing was here in Birmingham, especially given the BPD’s brutalization of this city’s communities during the Civil Rights Era; I wanted to hear the officers’ stories and just the general police-perspective on the situation.”

    Borse, a neuroscience major, and Jani, a philosophy and pre-med student, took on their first film project as newcomer videographers.

    According to Jani, they tried to create a film with equal parts content and immersive action. “We simply asked questions, received answers, and buckled up for the ride—quite literally, as our ride-along interviews tended to get a bit hectic,” Jani says.

    “We were pleasantly surprised by a spectrum of police activities and operations taking place in Birmingham that clearly contrasted with the negative outlook much of the public holds,” Borse says.

    The pair are producing a second film on the BPD, and they hope to have it ready in October.

    “Seizing the Unrecorded” by biology and anthropology alumna Ingrid Pfau is an autobiographical look at the filmmaker’s career and battle with epilepsy. Pfau’s film explores the question: “How can something you love doing be bad for you?” It has travelled to several locations before Sidewalk, and its next stop will be Hidden Truth’s Art Show for Epilepsy in October.

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  • Home Movies: Film Studies Alums Are Telling Powerful Stories

    Media Studies Program Director Michele Forman on how her students inspire her with their films, work that has been recognized and awarded in many ways.
    By Michele Forman

    I grew up in Birmingham, but never expected that I would work as a filmmaker in Birmingham; that seemed to be a career I had to pursue elsewhere. And sure enough, my first job in the industry was in New York City for director Spike Lee, developing new projects for him to executive produce. The part of the job I enjoyed the most was working with writer-directors, thinking about story and character as we worked to take a script to the screen.

    Michele FormanAfter working on Lee’s film 4 Little Girls, a feature-length documentary about the 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, I knew I wanted to find a way to continue to work in my hometown. The experience of using film to explore a meaningful and often painful history changed my career path profoundly. I was very lucky that this realization occurred at a unique moment in media history, when emerging digital technologies were making documentary film production newly affordable and easily shareable.

    I was also fortunate to find UAB interested in creating a Media Studies Program dedicated to using these new technologies to connect students to issues they cared about in the Greater Birmingham Region. UAB’s commitment to extend the classroom into the community has had a deep impact on students through the years, allowing them the opportunity to master directing, cinematography, editing, and producing skills while engaging with some of the pressing questions facing us all.

    I still make documentary films, working with professionals in the industry on the coasts, but some of my most satisfying work on story and character is happening right now with our undergraduates. They have not shied away from stories about poverty and racial injustice, about environmental threats and the importance of historic preservation and green space, the role of the arts, and the impact of scientific innovation. The students understand the power they wield with the camera, and their diligent work has been awarded and recognized in a myriad of ways.

    Just last night, I watched CAS student Kelsey Harrison (English) walk across the stage at the Sidewalk Film Festival to receive the Jury Prize for Best Student Film. Harrison won for the film “Coming and Going” she made in a Fall 2014 course I team-taught with Dr. Kerry Madden-Lunsford in the Department of English. Harrison is in a long line of film festival winners, starting with a 2004 film by Bo Hughins and Neil Kirkpatrick, both Art & Art History students at the time. Their film “Benching: The Art of Watching Trains” has had a surprising impact on Birmingham’s landscape, serving as an inspiration for the California landscape architect Tom Leader, who designed Railroad Park. He asked for permission to post “Benching” on his firm’s website to give the students credit for their vision.

    I have now been around long enough to watch students develop into professional filmmakers, building impressive careers. Ingrid Pfau (Individually Designed Major in Environmental Science Filmmaking) garnered the 2014 National Science and Media Award, presented by Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival and WGBH in Boston for her film on epilepsy, “Seizing the Unrecorded.”

    In an era when the Internet has increased the reliance on visual and multimedia communication from all industries, alumni from the UAB Media Studies program have reported using filmmaking in ways that continue to surprise me. From Fulbright research in Australia to the the Glen Iris Elementary School garden, in hospitals and art galleries, corporate suites and police departments, our graduates continue to inspire me with the transformative power of their films.

    Michele Forman is the Director of Media Studies and Board Chair of the 2015 Sidewalk Film Festival.

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  • UAB English Major Wins Best Student Film at Sidewalk 2015

    If you’re not making discoveries, something is wrong, says UAB English major Kelsey Harrison, winner of the 17th Annual Sidewalk Film Festival's “Best Student Film” for her work “Coming and Going.”
    If you’re not making discoveries, something is wrong, says UAB English major Kelsey Harrison, winner of the 17th Annual Sidewalk Film Festival's “Best Student Film” for her work “Coming and Going.” The award was announced Aug. 30 at the festival.

    “Coming and Going” is an experimental short-film delving into the anxieties of a young woman as she waits on a friend at a bus stop. It’s Harrison’s first film.

    Kelsey Harrison (Photo courtesy of Kelsey Harrison)“It’s kind of about this push and pull between arriving places and leaving,” says Harrison. “And the character herself is in this weird limbo waiting for somebody to arrive.”

    “She’s in the place she used to live, but she doesn't live there anymore,” Harrison says. “And she’s waiting at the bus stop and thinking about the places she’s left. The places she’s come. And kind of the changes of life in general.”

    Harrison, a graduate of the Alabama School of Fine Arts, says the film mirrors her own life. She isn’t new to packing up her life and moving on, since she’s previously lived in New York and Memphis before coming to Birmingham.

    “Coming to terms with transformation, this inevitable change, the ephemerality of so many things in my life and the world— these are the themes that have always been really close to me,” she says.

    Harrison knew two things going into the project. One, the story would focus on the fear of change. The film features  many images related to transportation, transition, and nature that, according to Harrison, emphasize a connection between deterioration, new life, and opportunity.

    “There’s a kind of beauty in that not knowing and in that change and decay because there’s life that comes out of it as well,” she says.

    Two, the film would be heavily edited with overlapping and fragmented frames, but as a first-time filmmaker, Harrison struggled with finding music, collecting audio, directing, and translating her ideas to the screen.

    “There’s some footage I used that is candid, but then there’s some footage that was directed,” said Harrison.  “You have an idea in your head and you think, ‘This is going to translate really well, and the other person is going to know exactly what I’m talking about.’ That was something I kind of had to work with.”

    Harrison filmed the project for the interdisciplinary class “Memoir in Writing and Film,” taught by Kerry Madden, associate professor in the Department of English and Michele Forman, director of the Media Studies program in the Department of History.

    Anyone interested in seeing the film can contact Harrison at kelseygh@uab.edu.
    Kayla McLaughlin is a 2015-2016 UAB Digital Media fellow and an English and Communications student with a concentration in creative writing.

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  • Student-made Documentaries Will Screen at Sidewalk Film Festival

    Documentary shorts produced by six University of Alabama at Birmingham students and an alumnus will be screened during the 2014 Sidewalk Film Festival.
    Documentary shorts produced by six University of Alabama at Birmingham students and an alumnus will be screened during the 2014 Sidewalk Film Festival.

    Three of the four films were made by students in the spring 2014 UAB College of Arts and Sciences Ethnographic Filmmaking class, taught by Michele Forman. The fourth film was made by alumnus Nick Price while he was a fellow in the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Southern Exposure film program in 2013.

    The festival will be Aug. 21-24 in Birmingham, with documentary shorts screening in two sessions. Check the Sidewalk Film Festival website for the full schedule.

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  • Red Carpet Entrance

    Sidewalk Film Festival has accepted three films produced by six College of Arts and Sciences students in the documentary shorts category.

    College of Arts and Sciences Students have Documentaries Accepted at the Upcoming Sidewalk Film Festival


    Sidewalk Film Festival has accepted three films produced by six College of Arts and Sciences students in the documentary shorts category. In addition, one College alumnus, who produced a film as part of a summer environmental filmmaking fellowship, was accepted into the prestigious, Birmingham-based festival.

    The students were all part of Michele Forman’s Ethnographic Filmmaking class in Spring 2014. Forman says she couldn’t be happier for her students. "I am so proud of our students for this wonderful honor," she says. "Having their films accepted in competition is a real accomplishment, a testament to their hard work in the spring learning the craft of filmmaking. They learn to shoot and edit, spending long hours in the field and in the editing room. Their dedication to research these tough topics and work with their community partners really shines through these three stories.  I feel like their reporting keeps me up-to-date on all that is happening in Birmingham — they have their finger on the pulse of the city."
     
    All of the students’ films will be shown at the Alabama School of Fine Arts (ASFA), either in the Dorothy Jemison Day Theatre or in the Recital Hall. Details on the films are below.
     
    Congratulations to these College students for such an impressive accomplishment!
     

    Rebecca Graber and Harsh Shah: "Across the Tracks" in Alabama Documentary Shorts Block 1

    When: Saturday August 23, 2014, 4:05 p.m. - 5:55 p.m.
    Where:Dorothy Jemison Day Theatre (ASFA)
    About the film: The Avondale neighborhood is changing. Will there be winners and losers in this change?
     

    Hollie Parrish and Samantha Richardson: "Another Day in the Neighborhood" in Alabama Documentary Shorts Block 2

    When: Sunday August 24, 2014, 4:40 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.
    Where:Recital Hall (ASFA)
    About the film: A deadly gas explosion in Gate City leads the students to investigate the conditions of Birmingham’s public housing.
     

    Stephanie Lockhart and Taylor Tincher: "Biophilia" in Alabama Documentary Shorts Block 2

    When: Sunday August 24, 2014 4:40pm - 6:30pm
    Where:Recital Hall (ASFA)
    About the film: Glen Iris Elementary School introduces a nature-based curriculum through a new community garden program.
     

    Alumni film: Nick Price: "From the Ash" in Alabama Documentary Shorts Block 1

    When: Saturday August 23, 2014 4:05pm - 5:55pm
    Where:Dorothy Jemison Day Theatre (ASFA)

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  • Witness to History: Student Film Preserves a Unique Birmingham Story

    Clarence Lockett started out as a theatre student focusing on screenwriting. But it was a true-life story that pulled him into filmmaking and changed his college and career goals.
    Clarence Lockett started out as a theatre student focusing on screenwriting. But it was a true-life story that pulled him into filmmaking and changed his college and career goals.

    He has always been a good storyteller, he says, and naturally took to screenwriting, but after transferring to UAB from Miles College, he began taking filmmaking classes in UAB’s College of Arts and Sciences to try to capture real stories.

    "Films can ignite discussion," says Lockett, who graduated in December 2013 with a degree in Film and Media Studies. "They may not change things immediately, but they can get people on the paths to helping in a positive way."

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  • Standing Up for Social Justice

    UAB alum Brendan Rice: "My interest in social justice is grounded in the profound belief that my generation must and will play a central role in fixing the broken systems of our world."
    By Brendan Rice

    My interest in social justice is grounded in the profound belief that my generation must and will play a central role in fixing the broken systems of our world. For me, this translates to the broken global food system that leaves nearly a billion people without enough to eat. Based on this core value, I have structured my college experience around acquiring the knowledge and skills needed to be a leader in the global effort to eliminate hunger and poverty.

    As a high-school student, I attended a leadership camp through the Alabama Poverty Project, where I learned about social-justice issues affecting Alabama and the nation. After receiving a letter from Dr. Bob Corley, then director of the Global and Community Leadership (GCL) Honors Program, I visited the UAB campus and sat in on a class with Rosie O’Beirne, co-director of the media studies program. At that point, I knew that UAB would be the place where I would have the nurturing support to pursue my goals. I saw the GCL program as a curriculum path for me and other students to develop our desire to make a difference in the world as wellgrounded leaders in our chosen fields. We use the phrase “passion to action” a great deal in the program. This has characterized my time at UAB, as I seek experiences that translate my genuine interest into a well-grounded leadership.

    Huge Energy for Ending Hunger

    Through GCL, I worked on service projects with Jones Valley Urban Farm and Alabama Possible. Service is incredibly important for college students. It helps us meet community needs, and, perhaps even more important, starts to build our framework for understanding complex societal issues.

    When I attended the Universities Fighting World Hunger (UFWH) summit at Auburn University my freshman year, my interest in food security and previous experience in service suddenly made sense in the larger context of the global phenomenon of hunger, an issue that affects nearly one out of seven people on this planet.

    The UFWH movement now includes more than 300 colleges and universities where students have taken the initiative to make fighting hunger a core value of their institutions. The magnitude and energy of this effort was made real at the summit, where equally passionate students were coalescing around the common goal of ending hunger.

    When I returned to campus, I helped start the UAB chapter of the organization, which is growing in members and visibility. This past year, the group organized a number of events, including a World Food Day potluck conversation and a refugee camp simulation, which shared the stories of the world’s most marginalized in context of UAB. The World Food Day potluck combined a celebration of food with a discussion on our broken global food system—one that allows for hunger in a world of plenty.

    The issue of hunger and the growing movement of people who care about it will be reflected in the work UFWH continues to do on campus. Universities Fighting World Hunger at UAB provides a space for students to see how their stories and interests fit in with the broader narrative of a world moving toward the ability to ensure that everyone has enough to eat.

    In the spirit of shameless self-promotion, if you are a student, I urge you to get involved in this important work and join the UFWH. My story is woven into the work of ensuring that the scourge of hunger does not persist in a world with as much exhilarating possibility as ours. What is your story? My bet is that your narrative, in all of its uniqueness and vitality, is not only compatible with but absolutely essential in the broader work of all of us working together to end hunger.

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  • Forman Honored by The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham

    Michele Forman, Director of the College of Arts and Sciences' Media Studies Program, will be honored by The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham.
    Michele Forman, Director of the College of Arts and Sciences' Media Studies Program, will be honored by The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham. She is one of 10 women being recognized at the second annual Smart Party on October 10 at Iron City Birmingham from 5:30 to 8:00 p.m.

    The Smart Party is a high-tech cocktail party and fundraiser benefitting The Women’s Fund and Michele’s work will be showcased as part of the event and featured on the Smart Birmingham Facebook page before the party.

    The Women's Fund is a philanthropic collaboration that fuels positive social change in the lives of women and girls. Rather than providing direct services, it channels its efforts to researching, raising funds, and advocating systemic change for those who do. From sex trafficking and domestic abuse to wage inequality and access to affordable care, The Women's Fund strategically targets issues that affect the Birmingham community, and in so doing, helps the women of our city realize the value of their philanthropic strength.

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