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Students of Michele Fleming: From the Chicago Classroom to Global Audiences

December 26, 2010 | By | Add a Comment

“Best of Chicago DIY Film” series. Originally appeared on the site 11/02/2010

Robin Dluzen

Ugandan Boy from Red Dust series, by Michele Fleming

At SAIC, I sat in on a film class about the influence of the Beat writers on film, taught by established filmmaker, teacher and lecturer, Michele Fleming. Recalling her incredible knowledge, experience and enthusiasm, Shellie immediately came to my mind as an ideal resource for us here at DIY-Film, as we highlight those who challenge and continuously redefine filmmaking in and from Chicago. Though Shellie was quick to point out to me that her current practice has shifted from filmmaking to a practice of installation, photography and writing, she explains that her dedication to the dialogue of film has been ever refreshed by the students she teaches: “It’s my students…the ones half my age that spin me around…turn me inside out…and teach me to stay alive.”

I discovered, however, that this admiration of her students wasn’t the typical sort of fondness that teachers generally have for those they teach, but that her “first generations of students” are having tremendous impact on the world of filmmaking, both here in Chicago and around the world.

Though it seemed almost to pain Shellie to limit this conversation to only three filmmakers, she offered up these former SAIC students:

Still from James Sweetbaums' On Divan

Apichatpong Weerasethakul—The Thai director received his MFA in Filmmaking in 1997. Past films include Tropical Malady (2004 jury prize winner at Cannes Film Festival); Blissfully Yours (2002 top prize winner, the Un Certain Regard program at Cannes); Syndromes and a Century (the first Thai film to compete at the 63rd Venice Film Festival). In 1999, he helped found Kick the Machine Films, and his latest film, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives received the 2010 Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or prize, is up for an Academy Award this year, and also sold out here at this year’s Chicago International Film Festival. Shellie explains that “The piece is stunning in its insights into living and death…and the potential of an understanding toward living that embraces the dead with humor, imagination and respect.”

Danièle Wilmouth- Received her MFA in 1999, and is a faculty member in Film, Video and New Media departments at Columbia College and SAIC. Wilmouth helped found Hairless Films during her six-year residency in Osaka, Japan in 1993, where she also studied and performed contemporary Japanese Butoh. Her past films include A Heretic’s Primer on Love and Exertion, Curtain of Eyes, Tracing a Vein, and Eleanore and the Timekeeper; the latter is a documentary film that Shellie describes as “offer[ing] the viewer insights into [Wilmouth’s uncle and grandmother’s] world with such ease that one feels she made the film about folks you have known all your life.”

Still from Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

James Sweetbaum- Has an MFA in Film, Video and New Media from 2006, and traveled to Morocco as a Fulbright Scholar from 2006-2007. Also, from 2007-2008, Sweetbaum was chosen for the LUX Associate Artist Program at the LUX film centre in London. Sweetbaum also works with AgentSmith LTD (which helps independent filmmakers find financing for their work) and his films include The Surrogate, my grandmother and i, Monde Sarir, and On Divan. Shellie explains that 2009’s On Divan deals with “the complexities of cultures and language and erotic currents between men (in both homoerotic and homosocial bonds),” and that according to her estimation, the film has been shown much more often in Europe and Morocco, because it sadly often gets “lost in our desire to ‘pigeonhole” works” here in the US. And in addition to the content, Shellie lauds Sweetbaum’s aesthetics and storytelling in On Divan: “The cinematography is stunning and the story to keep an eye on is the one “between the lines.”

A Heretic’s Primer on Love & Exertion: 29 incidents of dual consequence from Danièle Wilmouth on Vimeo.

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