BY MIRANDA WHEELER ’19
Pre-professional opportunities for Five College film students are expanding with the revival of award-winning indie director Jay Craven’s unique film-intensive program, Cinema Sarah Lawrence. Last Thursday, film director and Sarah Lawrence professor Jay Craven, who runs the program, hosted an information session about the intensive semester. The information session included a Q&A and a film screening of the program’s latest production, “Wetware,” in the Mount Holyoke Art Building. The production, which began as a partnership with Marlboro College, included work from Mount Holyoke students, and was led by professional mentors and faculty.
Mount Holyoke film studies majors have participated in the last three Cinema Sarah Lawrence intensives. Each year, the setup allows 34 students from multiple colleges and universities to collaborate with 24 professional mentors and film faculty. The program consists of a full term of transferable course credits, a short residency at a major independent film festival, full-time participation on a live film set and professional mentoring experiences. Mount Holyoke Film Studies Professor Bernadine Mellis said, “Mount Holyoke students who participated last year were transformed, inspired and technically trained,” after their time in the program. According to Mellis, students who participate benefit from the experience “in ways I can’t imagine they would in any other context.”
In spring 2019, the Cinema Sarah Lawrence project will produce a film adaptation of Jack London’s autobiographical novel “Martin Eden” with a budget of $1 million. The semester will start in January 2019, when students will have the opportunity to attend and network at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah before moving onto the “Martin Eden” filming location in Nantucket, Massachusetts. In addition to real-world filmmaking experience, practical knowledge and on-the-job training gained during the intensive, students benefit from workshops in a variety of film specialties, opportunities to collaborate on their own short film projects with fellow students and a professional IMDb credit (which can only be earned after working on credited films). Students can specialize in camera, lights, sound, production management, production design, costume design or post-production.
Though the format of the program may sound nontraditional, students take part in classes based on the industrystandard filming and production process. Courses in 2019 will include a cinema studies seminar intended to contextualize their project’s source text, a literature studies class designed to thematically link Jack London’s literary contemporaries, a screenwriting and directing masterclass and a film production practicum shaped by participants’ jobs on set.
As director of the program and the film, Craven spoke of his goals for the intensive: “We work to provide film production skills — and professional connections — that students can use to advance their careers.”
The program can also offer more traditional transferable skills like “collaboration, critical thinking, decision-making, problem-solving, evidence-based inquiry, creative interpretation, risk-taking in the process of creative discovery, openness to new ideas, flexibility in the face of new information,” said Craven. Most important, however, is that the program provides a space “where students own a piece of a production and learning narrative that is larger than any of us,” he said.
Craven described “Wetware” as a genre hybrid “near-future film noir” and a cautionary tale about the role of technology and power. Based on the novel of the same name by Craig Nova, the movie is set in a corrupt and dystopian society, and tells the story of genetic programmer Hal Briggs as he is forced to face the consequences of his own rogue experimentation. That said, because the program’s films are produced from a constantly evolving script, students also have the opportunity to influence the story they tell, as they workshop the film through each phase of its production.
According to Craven, the script was inspired by his own fears and the questions posed by politically and socially aware students in his screenwriting workshops. During the Q&A, Craven noted that the film’s final form was a product of the growing threat of the American surveillance state, the existential dangers of climate change and the possible misuse of genetic technology designed to reduce U.S. soldiers’ susceptibility to trauma responses and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Wetware” featured program alumna Ali Pugh ’17’s work in sound production. “This program has been so much more immersive than anything else I have experienced in school... Not only did I get a solid base education in a field that interests me, but I was able to observe in depth the inner workings of other departments,” said Pugh of the experience. “It is such a great program to explore your varied interests in film and to begin to discover yourself as an artist,” she added. Cinema Sarah Lawrence will be accepting applications from interested students until Nov. 1.