GSF projects present undergraduate research through the making of documentary films

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The centenary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, and an election year in which more women than ever were running for political office made this fall a great time to study “Women in the Political Process”. To Duke.

But when undergraduates enrolled in the Studies on gender, sexuality and feminism Of course, they had no idea that they would also get a lesson in documentary filmmaking.

“As I put the finishing touches to the program, Documentary Studies Center Director Wesley hogan contacted me to discuss how we could more effectively integrate documentaries into college education, ”said Jocelyn olcott, professor of history and president of the GSF. “What started out as a conversation about watching documentaries quickly turned into a conversation about making them.”

Women in the Political Process is offered each fall of an election year based on a gift from the Ruth Huffman Carr Foundation – funding that allowed Olcott to bring in two additional instructors.

One was Lauren Henschel, a double alumnus of Duke who received her bachelor’s degree in Visual media studies and obtained an MFA in Experimental and documentary arts this spring, culminating in a thesis exhibition who explored physical vulnerability and mortality. She led the production effort while Martha Liliana Espinosa – doctoral student in Story – mentored students and helped ensure their designs were based on sound research.

“(The students) have worked incredibly hard… to produce what is truly an amazing collection of short documentaries,” Olcott said at a virtual film festival for the course in November.

Natalie Murdock takes part in a parade in the Avery Edward film “Natalie Murdock: Gaining Her Seat”.

“We set a rule at the start that no one could follow Kamala Harris… but I was just mesmerized to see the range of races,” she added. “The different types of races from the Soil and Water Commission to the Maine Senate race made it really interesting.”

Students enrolled in the course had varying reactions to the research process and the content they created as a collective.

“As a student who has been taught to be truly objective and do her best to assess fairly, when writing a documentary so heavily influenced by my own biases I found it very difficult.” said Zoe Gezelter. “Solving these issues in a way that I didn’t have in an academic setting was really helpful and helpful and very valuable. “

Several students have noticed that the course readings and their projects have changed the way they view politics and the media.

“I really saw all the obstacles women face when entering politics,” Satya Khurana said. “I had always known that they existed – that there was sexism and, for women of color, there was also racism… the ads. It was pretty amazing just to see how much hate they face in an effort just to try and change.

“I feel like I’ve become such a more critical consumer,” said Avery Edward. “We got to see these stereotypes and stigmas manifest in the real world and how these candidates… fight these inhibiting ideals to challenge norms and push for progress. When I scroll down Instagram and see all the ads for the candidates, I can now see them in such a different light.

For some, the work resulted in a new or deeper understanding of politics, from the importance of local elections to how gender is just one factor influencing how a candidate might govern.

A group of supporters holding signs for Susan Collins
A support campaign group for Susan Collins in “Small State on the National Stage: 2020 Maine Senate Race” by Lizzie Bernstein, Jessica Falbaum, Milla Surjadi, Kathryn Thomas and Talya von Planta Newman.

“I kind of had this naive idea that any woman in politics would be good for women,” said Kathryn Thomas, who followed the race for the US Senate in Maine between incumbent Susan Collins and challenger Sara Gideon. “It’s not always more women equals better representation. This is how they choose to take on that power and responsibility and how other factors – perhaps more specifically religion – play into it. “

Regardless of who they followed and the outcome of a particular race, the lasting impact of the research experience was clear.

“Even the mere existence of women in these spaces is an act of resistance in itself … before getting to the heart of the matter,” said Nii Engmann. “To be there is almost threatening, but threatening in the sense that progress is being made.”

“A lot of these candidates are younger women entering politics to make a difference,” Rachel Washart concluded. “It was very inspiring even though there is a big uphill battle that women face. Now I want to go out there and do some political stuff. “

Complete list of student films and their creators:

  • “Natalie Murdock: Winning Her Seat” by Avery Edward
  • “New Faces” by Merrit Jones and Juliette Clark
  • “Donna Shalala 2020: what has changed? »By Isabel Wood
  • “Small State on the National Stage: 2020 Maine Senate Race” by Lizzie Bernstein, Jessica Falbaum, Milla Surjadi, Kathryn Thomas and Talya von Planta Newman
  • “Party Life: Partisanship in the Indiana Second” by Zoe Gezelter
  • “Cori Bush: Protester to Politician” by Rachel Washart
  • “Black Women and the Politics of Respectability” by Malynda Wollert, Bella Nowroozi, Isabelle Kohn, Satya Khurana and Gareth Kelleher
  • “Lori Trahan: Working for the People” by Brooke Heinsohn
  • “Swing State Battle: Betsy Rader for Ohio” by Lilly Kelemen
  • “The American Dream, Deferred” by Nii Engmann
  • “Climb the Glass Ceiling” by Chloe Beittel, Bryn Lawson and Francesca Maglione

Editor’s Note: Films are not available for viewing due to student agreements with many featured applicants and their campaigns.


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