On Tour: Shelley Rogers in Oswego, NY

30 Sep

While the climate in Oswego, NY on the shores of beautiful Lake Ontario was by far the coolest air I’ve felt on the tour thus far, the people there were contrastingly warm.

My visit began with a dinner hosted by SUNY-Oswego’s brand new faculty member, Jake Dodd and his wife Kristy. Jake is the new film professor there, hired to teach production courses for the burgeoning, blossoming department. As Jake explained, the production part of the program there was built as a result of student demand. In fact, until Jake and one other professor was hired this year, students were making films with whatever tools they could get their hands on—undaunted and inspired by their tenacity and passion.

I knew it was going to be a place I would like, not only because Jake and Kristy were cool people, but also because it was clear that this film department was founded on three qualities I value and respect: grassroots innovation, a lack of pretentiousness, and full-on chutzpa.

When I met Professor Amy Shore the next morning, my hunch was confirmed: this place is special.  Amy is a rarity in the Cinema Studies world—down-to-earth and honest with a dash of hilarious vulgarity.  As we drank coffee and ate bagels downtown, we traded tales from New York University, where she did her Doctoral work and I did my Masters. We both delighted in our shared admiration for George Stoney and both rolled our eyes equally when remembering the “theorist” folk who like to speak in complicated sentences that make no sense and write papers for people in their “inner circle.”  Indeed, I was in good hands.

Amy then took me to campus where I met a small group of students to talk about filmmaking. I showed them the latest rough cut of a commissioned piece I’ve been working on called The Rye Bread Project. To my delight, they thought it was coherent and mostly that it was good.  They had great suggestions about potential sound design enhancements and moving a clip from the end up to the beginning. They had suggestions for expanding it into a series, ideas for funding sources, and thoughts about how the website could host more video clips for enhancing understanding of “rye issues.” It was a treat to have a focus group of such caliber to offer constructive criticism, sympathetic advice and cogent insights. I was duly impressed.

The crowd at the theater that night was lively and big.  They asked great questions that really pushed beyond the surface.  One question from a student stood out; he said, “With the onslaught of constant advertising from all the unhealthy food establishments, how does organic food have a fighting chance?”

My response was mostly about policy—we have to demand more from our legislators. While it’s great that Michelle Obama put in an organic garden at the White House, her husband’s administration is still in the pockets of the agribusiness and biotech industries.

And while it’s important for us to each do what we can with our own food choices every day, it’s not enough.  What we’re up against is too big and the agribusiness executives have too much at stake—it won’t be easy.  It’s only been 60 years since chemicals were introduced to food production and they’ve done a lot of damage in a short time, but in just the past three decades organic food has come from a fringe, niche market to be 4% of the food and beverage market. Of course there is the other 96% of the market that uses toxins, so we clearly have a lot of work to do, but we can’t do it by ourselves—we need our politicians to hear us and respond.

Following the Q&A session in the theater, I had some wonderful, lingering conversations with students and audience members in the lobby.  I really enjoyed hearing about students’ film projects.  The budding program seems like it’s growing in all the right directions and is providing a vibrant, welcoming, creative environment in which the students will thrive.

My final moments in Oswego were great, too.  The couple who own the Bed & Breakfast where I was staying attended the screening and decided to buy organic beer on the way home and invited me to have a nightcap with them.  They even bought organic English Muffins and bananas for my final breakfast there.  It was satisfying and flattering to know that the film moved them to action right away!

 Post by Shelley Rogers, OSIP Touring Filmmaker


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