Guest speakers in Janice Ahn’s class

As I mentioned in my last post, Janice Ahn has had a couple of her filmmaking collaborators visit her Reading, Writing, and Thinking class at SVA, as a way to broaden the scope of the course and give her students exposure to how professional artists operate outside academia. Today’s post is about these meetings between Janice’s students and her colleagues.

Back in early October, Janice and her class went to see musician Jason Moran perform with his group Jason Moran and the Bandwagon at the Village Vanguard in New York. The following day, Moran came to speak with Janice’s class about his life as an artist.

Jason Moran (left) during the score recording session for Janice Ahn's film Stutter, with bassist Tarus Mateen and guitarist Marvin Sewell.

In addition to being a pianist, bandleader, and recording artist with the renowned jazz label Blue Note Records, Moran is a composer who has received critical acclaim and various awards for his work in a variety of fields. Earlier this year, he received the rare honor of a MacArthur Fellowship.

Moran’s diversity of interests and influences made him a perfect candidate to be a guest speaker in VCS. Throughout his career he has sought musical inspiration in the visual arts; he has cited various painters as influential to his work, including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Egon Schiele, and Robert Rauschenberg. This openness to interdisciplinary dialogue seems to have shaped Moran’s ability to work collaboratively across a wide range of fields. In addition to writing film and ballet scores, he has also collaborated on video pieces with contemporary artists Glenn Ligon and Kara Walker, and has worked with visual/performance artists Joan Jonas and Adrian Piper.

Mateen and Moran in action.

Moran also collaborated with Ahn, scoring her short film Stutter. Several of the images in this post are from the recording sessions for the Stutter score; they provide a glimpse into the collaborative process in action, as well as a good example of what a recording studio environment looks like. (As with my last post, all of the images in today’s piece are courtesy of Ahn, who once again proved very generous with her time and assistance.)

To hear the final result of these sessions in their intended context, check out Stutter at this link.

Ahn and Moran in the recording studio.

Discussing the score for Stutter.

In early November, another of Ahn’s associates visited her class to give her students a glimpse into the working life of a professional artist. This time, the students met with Sam Pollard, an Emmy Award-winning, Academy Award-nominated film producer & editor who has worked with Ahn on a number of film projects, including some that are still in process.

Pollard’s resume includes an impressive range of projects. His editing credits include documentaries and television programs like Nova, Pete Seeger: the Power of Song, Style Wars, and Chisholm ’72: Unbought & Unbossed, and he has also worked on several films for director Spike Lee, including Bamboozled, Mo’ Better Blues, Clockers, and Jungle Fever. Two of his most important extended projects are HBO documentary miniseries directed by Lee covering Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath: When the Levees Broke: A requiem in Four Acts (2006) , and its recent sequel If God Is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise (2010).

Pollard’s producing credits are equally diverse, and include titles like The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow, American Masters, and The American Experience. Pollard is also a professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he teaches classes in the school’s Kanbar Institute of Film & Television.

A shot of Sam Pollard speaking during his visit to Janice Ahn's class.

While visiting Ahn’s class and speaking about his work in the film industry, Pollard engaged the class in a conversation about The Sweet Smell of Success (1957), which the class had watched, read an early draft of, and written about. In addition, he made the point that the posture of learning about cinema involves keen observation. It’s an important insight, and it applies to areas well beyond the study of film. (In fact, I would argue that slowing down one’s thoughts and observing things closely is crucial to the sort of deep cultural analysis that the VCS program is all about, whether the subject is visual art, literature, philosophy, or the world as a whole.) In having a chance to see a talented and very passionate member of the film industry speak about his craft, the students also experienced the way in which a deep commitment to one’s art can enrich one’s whole life, whatever form that art might take.

I’ll be back again soon with a recap of a couple special events at VCS, including the recent Peter Hristoff lecture, and last week’s panel discussion.

Visual & Critical Studies