By Scott Vignos
Professors of German, Chinese, and art meet at a coffee shop to discuss South African cinema of the early 1900s.
No, this isn’t a New Yorker cartoon; it’s an informal meeting of the University of Minnesota’s Film Collaborative. The collaborative, one of several initiatives funded by the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), draws scholars from a diverse cross section of research fields and includes members from the departments of Asian languages and literature; cultural studies and comparative literature; English; French and Italian; and German, Scandinavian and Dutch. Their goal is simple—promoting the study and practice of film through academic collaboration. One year out, the group’s accomplishments are both promising and exciting.
A conversation with Rembert Hueser, one of the members of the Film Collaborative and an associate professor of German, reveals the collaborative’s influence on his own research, the unique nature of this collaboration, and the example it has set for the future of film studies at the University of Minnesota.
“A new, fundamentally transnational and transdepartmental logic in the humanities is the background for the collaborative," Hueser explains. “Although I am a professor of German, at least half of my research has nothing to do with ‘German’ culture." For example, a current research project of Hueser’s is the design and execution of title sequences in Hollywood and European films. Noting that many of his College of Liberal Arts colleagues share an interest in film, Hueser says, “A tremendous film expertise exists on campus, but so far it is not very visible—it is disseminated throughout at least ten departments. It’s clear how much the University would benefit if we could all finally join forces."
The collaborative operates without a hierarchy, the diverse agendas and aesthetics of its members taking turns. A sampling of the collaborative’s screenings illustrates this model. A program dedicated to silent sword-fight films by Japanese director Ito Daisuke follows a week highlighting the work of American Beat filmmaker Christopher Maclaine. “We are a playground of sorts," Hueser says. “This is the huge advantage of the collaborative. Each of us is permanently confronted with visual materials we have never seen before and would not easily see otherwise. Thanks to generous funding from the IAS, we have the chance to give various ideas a try."
Last February’s Hyperfootage Festival, programmed and moderated by Hueser and Christophe Wall-Romana, associate professor in French and Italian, highlights the type of cooperation the collaborative fosters. The three-day festival, hosted in conjunction with the film and video department at Walker Art Center, brought four internationally acclaimed experimental filmmakers of French-Algerian, German, and Austrian backgrounds to discuss their approaches to the genre of “found footage" film, one of Hueser’s main research interests.
“The opportunity to collaborate with Christophe and the Walker’s film department on this was awesome," says Hueser. “My current research has benefited quite a bit from it." The Hyperfootage program was well received in the Twin Cities and nationwide. The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh replayed parts of the program, and leading film scholars from other universities traveled to Minneapolis for the screenings and discussions. Positive feedback from local attendees was also encouraging to Hueser, who views broader involvement with local film, music, art, and design programs, like those at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and Minnesota Film Arts, as central to the continued success of the collaborative.
Asked to speculate on the future of the collaborative, Hueser emphasizes the establishment of a film center as the primary goal. The center would house production facilities, a venue for public screenings, and a central collection of visual materials to unify the existing collections on campus. For example, he views the Bell Auditorium as an ideal location for such a facility, once the natural history museum moves to St. Paul. “A transdepartmental film studies program is the utopian goal, but for now," Hueser says, chuckling, “we’re very happy to be the new kids on the block."