The Cinephile: Film 30 Student Documentaries on Vimeo

By Katie Kilkenny, The Dartmouth Staff | 1/30/12 11:41am











Though it may not be as visible as other departments, the film and media studies department delivers vital culture to campus with its offerings in both analytical and creative study.

Students who take "Documentary Videomaking" (Film and Media Studies 30) have a chance to contribute to film dialogue on campus by exploring causes that inspire them in 10-minute final projects. Documentaries students created for last fall’s class are now available viaVimeo.

“Some of my best days of the Fall term were climbing around that heating plant and being there in an industrial environment that’s so different [from] the rest of campus," August Oddleifson ’13, who collaborated on the film "Steam: A Story of the Dartmouth College Heating Plant," said.

Watching the films recently, I was blown away by the depth of research and aesthetic technique exhibited in each narrative. So take this opportunity to be inspired by fellow classmates’ creative endeavors: Below find the three films offered on the Vimeo website (a fourth about the fall theater production "Breaking Eden" is currently unavailable) and my reviews of them. Enjoy!

1) "Food Sustainability at Dartmouth College:"

Filmed by Delainey Ackerman ’15 and Haley Moulton ’15, this activist film explores the efforts of Dartmouth’s Sustainability Office to promote conscientious food production and disposal. Its narrative particularly focuses on Dartmouth Dining Services and offers an impressive array of interviews from leading advocates for sustainability on campus. Having heard nothing but criticism of DDS since the establishment of the new meal plan, you, like me, may be pleasantly surprised by its efforts to support locally-produced food and to diminish needless waste.

While I found the film’s rosy portrayal of the Sustainability Office a bit prosaic, the documentary’s dynamic filmmaking technique held my attention with consistently appealing shots. While photographing stationary foods, for instance, tracking shots portray the enormity of the selection at mealtimes. Even as the camera stays still, the movement within a shot characterizes the visual storytelling at work. One particularly fine scene shows a single plate’s journey on the carousel towards the dishwasher. And don’t miss the clever final shot, which I won’t spoil here.

2) "Ghost Stories at the Native American House:"

Beginning with legends of phantoms in the Native American House (NAD House) and widening its breadth to explore the timeless psychological appeal of ghost lore, "Ghost Stories at the Native American House" by Ihab Basri ’13, Jenny Jaurez ’12 and Kaila Cauthron ’15 captivates with the depth with which it addresses our inherent, collective need to express fear.

From the film’s opening, when psychology professor John Pfister’s eloquently explains the places where ghost stories appear, to its unsettling tracking shots of Dartmouth’s rain-soaked campus at night the documentary promises both creepy lore and judicious reflection, and does not disappoint. As individual students recount their own supernatural experiences, the camera follows the empty spaces they describe (for you film geeks, the technique recalls Hitchcock’s famous confession scene in "Rebecca"). While the final plug for the NAD House appears a bit disjoint from the rest of the narrative, it drives home the point that ghost stories reinforce community bonds more than individual nightmares.

3) "Steam: A Story of the Dartmouth College Heating Plant:"

My personal favorite, "Steam," filmed by Aidan Nelson ’12, Oddleifson and Rena Sapon-White ’14 restored my faith in the profound creative capabilities of Dartmouth students. This incisive and personal portrait of the heating plant not only communicates just how Dartmouth gets its heating and electricity but also records the day-to-day interactions and friendship of a group of men tasked with one of the most important yet dangerous jobs at the College.

Narrated almost exclusively by plant manager Bill Riehl, the film exhibits the easy camaraderie between coworkers, including a humorous Army-Navy rivalry that permeates many of Bill’s introductions.

Oddleifson said of this aspect of the film, “[Bill] would introduce the workers one-by-one, though we didn’t ask him to. The fact that he was doing that shows there’s such a tight-knit community there in the first place, it’s what he’s most comfortable doing, very natural.”

Unique shot angles of radiators, valves and labyrinthine corridors and capitalization on the iconic symbol of the heating plant’s smoke stack looming over the campus augment the pleasure of watching this fantastic documentary. Don’t miss it.


Katie Kilkenny, The Dartmouth Staff