Tags » Dispatches

 
 
 

Student Filmmakers Win Top Honors at 24-Hour Film Festival

Categories: Midd Blogosphere, video
Team Middlebury won Best Film at the Sleepless in Burlington Film Festival.

Team Middlebury won “Best Film” and “Audience Choice” at the Sleepless in Burlington Film Festival Oct. 20. Photo: Sleepless in Burlington

A team of five Middlebury College students won “Best Film” and “Audience Choice” awards at this year’s Sleepless in Burlington festival on Oct. 20. The annual competition, tied to the Vermont International Film Festival, pits Vermont college teams against each other to produce finished short films in 24 hours. Befitting the Halloween season, Middlebury’s entry was a short creepy thriller titled “Room for Rent.” Students started casting their films with a pool of professional actors, provided by the film festival, on Saturday morning and submitted their films for screening by noon on Sunday. The teams were also given a couple of props that they were required to incorporate into their stories. In addition to Middlebury, teams from UVM, St. Michael’s, Champlain College, and Burlington College produced films for the competition. The Middlebury crew included Benjamin Kramer ’14, director; James Brown ’15, writer; Joanie Thompson ’14, audio; Ali Salem ’16, editor; and Benjamin Savard ’14, cinematographer.

 

Once-Controversial Sculpture Returns 30 Years Later

Categories: Midd Blogosphere, video

“I’m a patient person,” said Middlebury Museum of Art Director Richard Saunders.

And that’s a good thing, as it’s taken nearly 30 years for the College, with Saunders’ guidance and perseverance, to take care of some unfinished business.

In May of 1985, on the eve of Commencement, a work of art on campus was set on fire and irreparably damaged. The vandals were never identified, and the debris was ultimately removed and placed into storage.

The work was a sculptural installation called “Way Station” that was created in 1983 by the Christian A. Johnson Visiting Artist Vito Acconci, along with a group of students, during a winter term course he taught about public art.  Situated on the northwest edge of campus along the walkway near what is now Bicentennial Hall, the work was meant to intrigue students who passed by between classes.

“The idea was to encourage contemplation. The work had a spectacular view of the Green Mountains to the east and the Adirondacks to the west, ” explained Saunders.

The mostly grey steel structure consisted of a door that opened to reveal on its inside a painted interior of flags, one over the next. The international array included the United States, Soviet Union, People’s Republic of China, Cuba, and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO)—all entities that were very much in the news politically at the time. Two steps led down into a small room with a built-in seat and desk. Opposite the door, three rows of moveable panels spelled out the words “God,” “Man,” and “Dog,” and the panels could be moved to reveal the mountain view. On the other side of the panels, viewed from the outside, were painted playing cards. A mirrored front was one-way glass so you could see out that way as well.

vito_acconci_lecture_110713

The artist Acconci peers through the panels of playing cards that were damaged in the 1985 fire.

“The intention was for people to sit in the structure and reflect on the politics of the time, and their place in relationship to others,” added Saunders, referring to the overlaid flags and the panels of words. “And the playing cards might represent the idea of chance and unpredictability in our lives.”

What should have been a curious conversation piece for a college community turned instead into the center of an acrid debate. For a variety of reasons, people on campus did not take kindly to the placement of the work, or its stark industrial look.

“When it appeared, with no explanation or context, in the middle of winter, on a central pathway, people were surprised and confused,” said Saunders. “There was very little tolerance then for things you didn’t understand. And there was also no history of art on campus back then. Nothing like what we have today. ”

And what we have today is largely due to the issues that were raised by the Acconci piece and its subsequent removal. The creation in 1994 of the Committee for Art in Public Places at Middlebury, known more commonly as CAPP, was a direct result of that time, and has since introduced numerous works of art, mostly sculpture, throughout the campus. “We wanted people to understand that there is a place for art on campus outside of the Johnson Gallery, which was then the main location for the college’s art collections.”

Throughout the 1990s, Saunders and others took up the cause for reinstalling the Acconci work but found little support.

“As a college, aren’t we supposed to teach our students tolerance for other points of view? Expand your horizons and open your mind up to all sorts of things you may not instantly like or understand? So why would we ignore this work?”

Eventually Saunders found growing support over time, and now, 30 years after it was commissioned, Acconci’s “Way Station” is restored on the Middlebury campus, this time near the pond behind the Mahaney Center for the Arts. An ongoing exhibition in the Museum of Art gives context to the artist and his work—both today and from the time of the vandalism.

“It’s an opportunity to get something positive out of this phoenix-like experience,” noted Saunders, recalling the way it had been torched so many years ago. “It’s a teachable moment, which college is all about.”

The official opening of “Way Station” will take place Friday, October 18, at 2 p.m., behind the MCFA, where the work is located. The exhibition, “Vito Acconci: Thinking Space,” is open through December 8. And the artist, who has since become an accomplished architect as well, will be on campus to deliver an illustrated lecture on Thursday, November 7, at 7 p.m. in Dana Auditorium.

Sunshine and Foliage Welcome Families

Categories: Midd Blogosphere, video

 

Slide Show from Fall Family Weekend:

Watch Debora Spar’s talk on her book, “Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection”

As sunlight glowed on the reds, yellows, and oranges of Vermont’s fall foliage season, an estimated 1500 family members enjoyed activities, both indoors and out, during Middlebury College’s 2013 Fall Family Weekend, Oct. 10-13. It was a glorious autumn weekend in the Champlain Valley and just about everything went as planned.

A standing-room-only audience came to hear Debora Spar, the president of Barnard College and parent of a current Middlebury student, speak about her new book “Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection.” Parents had a lively give-and-take with President Liebowitz in the McCullough Student Center, and attended panel discussions on study abroad, putting passion into action, and careers in finance for liberal arts graduates. There was a breathtaking contemporary dance performance by faculty member Catherine Cabeen and her company, Hyphen, and a leadership workshop for families conducted by MiddCORE faculty members Jessica Holmes and Mike Kiernan.

There was a host of outdoor activity all weekend including tours and treats at the college’s Organic Farm, the marathon reading of “The Iliad” on the steps of Davis Family Library, and home athletic events in men’s and women’s soccer, football, rugby, volleyball, and field hockey. Also this year there was an open house at the Middlebury College Snow Bowl, which included live music, a barbeque, and chairlift rides to the summit of Worth Mountain where, as expected on this near-perfect weekend, the views in every direction were spectacular.

Angelique Kidjo Dazzling and Thought Provoking in Concert, Lecture

Categories: Midd Blogosphere, video
Singer and songwriter Angelique Kidjo performs at Middlebury College's Nelson Arena
Angelique Kidjo performs at Nelson Recreation Center Oct. 3.
Highlights from Angelique Kidjo’s talk for the John Hamilton Fulton Lecture in the Liberal Arts. The full talk can be seen here 
Concert photos by Brett Simison:

Concert Video Clips from MiddBeat

When she was a young girl, West African singer, songwriter, and social activist Angelique Kidjo wanted to be James Brown. This was probably not the only factor distinguishing Kidjo from other accomplished people invited to give the John Hamilton Lecture in the Liberal Arts at Middlebury.

Kidjo has long been the most recognizable face of contemporary African music, creating from such influences as traditional African sounds, Latin, jazz, rhythm and blues, Ravel, Beethoven, souk, Mozart, Jimi Hendrix, and yes, James Brown. She has eleven albums, international accolades—“The Undisputed Queen of African Music,” “Africa’s premier diva”—and a Grammy Award to show for it. But she also uses her voice to call for justice, to promote action, and to encourage her audiences worldwide to find strength in who they are, no matter who they are.

At her Fulton Lecture on October 2 in McCullough Social Space, Kidjo spoke about her life, her art, the wisdom of her parents, politics, African history, and humanitarian service with Assistant Professor of Music Damascus Kafumbe, a Ugandan ethnomusicologist and musician. Kafumbe wisely prompted Kidjo with selected questions from faculty members and then let the guest be her feisty, hilarious, inspiring self in delivering the answers. Several times during the conversation, recordings of Kidjo’s music filled the McCullough Social Space, giving the audience a chance to hear her distinctive work. As one of those recordings played the classic love song “Malaika,” Kafumbe was heard saying softly, “I first heard that song when I was nine years old.”

Kidjo has been performing professionally since she was a school girl—her father made sure she stayed in school—and had enough of a public profile that when her native Benin was taken over by a Marxist coup in 1972, and the new leaders wanted prominent artists to promote the regime, she exiled herself to Paris. Fourteen years later, she moved to New York City, where she and her family have lived since.

Kidjo detailed her artistic process—sometimes she wakes in the middle of the night with a song that she records on her iPhone, which she doesn’t remember in the morning. “You don’t know when inspiration comes; you have to grab it.  I’m at the service of my inspiration,” she said.  Artists can’t stay comfortable: “You got to put yourself in question all the time. It’s about learning. If you’re too sure of what you’re doing, you learn nothing anymore.” She finds inspiration everywhere. Her song, “Agolo,” a wake-up call to protect the Earth, was inspired by the frequency and capacity of the garbage truck that came to her house in France. (“Without Mother Earth, there is no humanity. Period.”) She has written songs to bring the stories of refugees and AIDS orphans to public attention. (One of her songs, “You Can Count On Me,” provides a tetanus shot for an African mother every time it’s downloaded.)

Kidjo’s nickname in her village was “When Why How” —no surprise after hearing her forceful opinions of male control over women and of Western control over Africa. Asked by Kafumbe how she felt being one of the most well known people from a continent usually characterized by war, poverty, and corruption, she responded, “Well, people are stupid enough to think that Africa as a continent only has one story to tell. The danger of the single story defines all of us.” She continued, explaining how biblical stories of male dominion still keeps men in power, able to persist in forced marriage and female genital mutilation; how the Western colonizers’ stories of African inferiority allowed them to commit the crimes of slavery. Later she added, “We Africans have to learn to tell our story. We can’t keep blaming other people for telling our story because we don’t do it ourselves.”

As for outsiders’ views of Africa, Kidjo was blunt: “I say every time I’m in front of any leader, ‘I don’t care who you are, if you tell me ever that the leaders of Africa are corrupt, I say “who’s sleeping in the same bed with them?”’  She continued,

“The interest today for the rich countries is to keep Africa the way it is because if we start really developing, they have a problem.”  She invoked several of the African nationalist leaders assassinated in the 1960s by western-led coups. “Kwame Nkrumah [Ghana] was killed for that; Lamumba [Congo] was killed for that.

Many Africans have died because they said ‘We need our money to resist, we need to fix the price of raw materials, we need to be independent…’all those who stood up that way have been killed. And they would do it again.” Widespread rape in the Congo, she said, is ignored because industrialized countries want Congo’s minerals such as coltan for cell phones and other electronics.

Linking her social advocacy to her music comes naturally, she told Kafumbe and the crowd, in part because African history is traditionally oral. And although she has seen terrible suffering since starting her travels as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador a decade ago, what keeps her going is her music and how it connects with others. “Always I feel the resilience and the power of the people,” she said.

When asked her final question, “What should we walk away with,” Kidjo was emphatic. “Be proud of who you are. And whatever you do, do it with your heart. We are capable of moving mountains. Only fear is holding us back from achieving more. Don’t be afraid to be yourself.”

At the concert in Nelson Recreation Center the following night, the Middlebury community got another chance to see what being Angelique Kidjo means. Dynamic and dazzling, perfectly synched with her fellow musicians drawn from New York, Senegal, and Paris, she created a spectrum of vocals while dancing on the stage and through the crowd. In her songs and in between them, this small and powerful woman brought her message to the hundreds dancing and listening: Look for ways to overcome your differences—it’s hard, and it’s worth it. Be yourself. Life is joyful. And when she brought students onstage to dance, and to take solo dance breaks to the drumming of the djembe, you knew she was right.

Midd and MIIS Experts Join Forces for Translation Symposium

Categories: Midd Blogosphere, video

Middlebury students tried their hand at simultaneous interpretation in a booth at the Mahaney Center for the Arts,
with coaching from Monterey faculty.

You’re translating right now. We do it all the time, unconsciously—from visual to oral, from one person’s sensibilities to another’s. Then there are those who do it professionally, across cultures and eras. Without them treaties couldn’t be negotiated, business would hit bottlenecks, and great literature would be fettered to an author’s language.

This year, Middlebury’s Clifford Symposium focused on that complex world of translation and translators. “Translation in A Global Community: Theory and Practice” put a new twist on the fall tradition of the Clifford Symposium by bringing together faculty both from Middlebury’s language programs and from the Monterey Institute of International Studies, which is known worldwide for its translation and interpretation programs. Keynote speaker Professor David Bellos, director of Princeton’s Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication, acknowledged the particular suitability of the topic by noting he was speaking from “the beating heart of language teaching in North America.”

Before Bellos began his talk, audience members were offered headphones to listen to his address interpreted in Chinese—two Monterey graduates were visible onstage in a professional interpretation booth, poised to do the job for both Middlebury and Monterey listeners. The booth and the varied interpreters within were a feature of the three-day symposium, and students conversant in other languages were invited to try their hand interpreting at a special Friday morning session (see video).

Bellos, an Englishman who also teaches French and comparative literature at Princeton, and who won the first Man Booker International Prize for translation in 2005, gave an often-humorous account of the judgment calls good translators must make for the sake of an author, a work, and readers. In the course of translating Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret detective novelettes from French to English, Bellos knew he wanted to keep the page-turning dynamics of the originals while helping current readers move smoothly through some of the extinct conventions of the author’s 1931 France. For example, Simenon’s view of Eastern Europe approximated the famous 1976 New Yorker cover “View of the World from Ninth Avenue,” in which the Pacific Ocean washes onto Kansas, about two blocks from New Jersey. This isolationism was common in Simenon’s France; with today’s travel and communication, conflating Latvia and Lithuania would be considered ignorant, and Detective Maigret was not. Likewise, the foods, fabrics, technologies, and police hierarchies have changed. Bellos explained, “A translation is an invention of something. There’s no one right solution. But you have to be consistent.” Using experience, an ear for tone, and sources such as old French dictionaries and trademark records to make his decisions, Bellos still expects e-mails from “persnickety readers,” and said, “If I get attacked for a clumsy translation, at least I’d have a learned answer.”

Translation involves art, Bellos suggested, and other sessions throughout the symposium looked at additional angles: whether everything is translatable, whether translation is a political act, and how interested students could find careers using their language skills. For those who choose to follow that path, Kawashima Professor of Japanese Studies Stephen Snyder, one of the symposium’s organizers, shared his view: “Translation is one of the fundamental underpinnings of [global relations], to think about how languages are learned, to think about who provides communication between cultural spheres.”

The annual Clifford Symposium is named after College Professor of History Emeritus Nicholas R. Clifford, who taught history at the college from 1966 to 1993 and who in his many years as a member of the faculty and administration cultivated critical inquiry.

Gandhi Now or Not?

Categories: Midd Blogosphere
Photo: pinkiwinkitinki / Foter / CC BY-SA

Photo: Foter / CC BY-SA

It’s hard to imagine how Adolf Hitler would have responded to the letter Mahatma Gandhi wrote to him from his jail cell in 1939, imploring him not to wage war—had he received it. “Dear friend,” Gandhi wrote. “Friends have been urging me to write to you for the sake of humanity. But I have resisted their request, because of the feeling that any letter from me would be an impertinence.” Ian Barrow, professor of history and Gandhi authority, shared this letter along with other examples of Gandhi’s life and work during a “dessert talk and discussion” about Gandhi and Civic Engagement last week. The talk, sponsored by the Office of Community Engagement, asked the audience to consider whether Gandhi’s ideas for combatting the scourges of poverty, discrimination, and violence would work today, or are they rooted in a certain time and place in history?

An audience of students, faculty, and staff filled an Axinn Center classroom to hear Barrow describe Gandhi’s evolution from the young middle-class man receiving his education in Britain, to the attorney working for Indian rights in South Africa, to the abstemious and charismatic individual who helped propel India to independence in the late 1940s.

Barrow explained that when Gandhi returned from South Africa at the age of 46, he had come to the realization that traditional techniques for changing the status quo were not going to work, and the alternative would be violence, which Gandhi abhorred. “Gandhi fought against violence his whole life,” Barrow said. “He had been schooled from a very young age that nonviolence was preferable to violence.” For Gandhi, agitating for change without violence was accomplished “through the idea of loving the person who is hurting you and engaging in activities that will force that person to rethink and withdraw power.”

Gandhi believed, said Barrow, that people gained salvation by gaining complete control over themselves—their appetites, passions, and desires—to achieve “non-attachment.” This meant not being attached to anything material, including the fruits of their labors; eating only for nourishment, not enjoyment (Gandhi, for example, only allowed himself seven grains of salt per meal); and avoiding sexual activity. Once individuals mastered non-attachment and self-control, Barrow said, they would have “perfect equanimity,” would not be swayed by emotions, and could focus on loving those who are hurting them. He believed that these principles had to be implemented on the individual level, then become established in communities, then in nations.

Gandhi set up two ashrams in India, “spiritual communities, designed to overcome problems of poverty, discrimination, and violence,” said Barrow. Joining was completely voluntary. And life there was regimented in such a way to help the members develop the high degree of non-attachment Gandhi advocated. For example, members rose at four in the morning, and began the day in prayer. The day’s activities were scripted till bedtime at nine.

But, in addition to non-attachment and self-control, how could Gandhi go up against the most  powerful empire in the world?  “He devised a technique that reversed traditional orders,” Barrow explained. “He chose every attribute that the British said was a weakness in Indians, and he made that a powerful attribute.” He lived a simple life and wore peasant attire. He adopted customs of women—spinning, serving tea, involving women in discussion (“he was a protofeminist”). He became a vegetarian, which, to the British, meant weakness. “It meant you couldn’t fight,” explained Barrow. He basically said to the least powerful in society, I am one of you. “It was an extraordinary reversal,” Barrow said. “He electrified Indian society.”

And his protests embodied issues of symbolic significance. Gandhi’s trek to the sea to make salt, which was illegal, is a well-known example. “He’d wanted to plead guilty, because he wanted to show the bankruptcy of British law,” said Barrow. The British decided not to prosecute, knowing how it would look. “But Gandhi made his point.”

When Gandhi was assassinated, he was viewed as nearly a god and a martyr by many in India. “Today, he’s become a tourist curiosity,” said Barrow. And the results of some of his efforts have clearly failed the test of time. For example, he went to the Noakhali district of Bangladesh in 1946 to help quell violence between Hindus and Muslims,  Hindus comprised about 36 percent of the population at the time. Today they are down to about 10 percent, having been killed or moved.

Barrow concluded his talk by asking, “Would these principles work in today’s world?” Despite the discussion that ensued, this answer remains a tantalizing unknown.

The letter to Hitler, only 134 words long, was still projected on the screen. “You are the one person in the world  who can prevent a war which may reduce humanity to the savage state. . . . Any way [sic] I anticipate your forgiveness, if I have erred in writing to you.” It is signed, “I remain your sincere friend. M. K. Gandhi.” The letter was never mailed. His British jailors would not send it. And so Barrow’s question, would Gandhi’s principles be effective in today’s world, begs another, would they have been effective in Hitler’s?

Student Urges Action on Nuclear Sub Proliferation

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

nate_sans_r-lNate Sans ’14 thinks the U.S. Navy should redesign its nuclear submarines. And his opinion earned an impressive audience last month when an essay he wrote was published in the “Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.” While interning this summer at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), Sans won the Bulletin’s monthly contest for young people called “Voices of Tomorrow.”

“I think what they’re trying to do is figure out what people my age are thinking about,” said Sans. ”I can’t tell you how many times I heard at CNS that the perspective of younger people is particularly important to them. They came into the business in the cold war, and the perspective of someone who didn’t grow up during the cold war is valuable to them.”

A political science major with a minor in Russian, Sans argued in his essay that the kind of technology used in American nuclear submarines, which use highly enriched uranium, could offer countries like Iran a “back door” route to building nuclear weapons. He notes that a loophole in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty allows military nuclear reactors like those on submarines to bypass guidelines that civilian reactors must follow.

“What I was pushing at was, let’s reconsider this: maybe the priority of nonproliferation could supersede the priority of having the best submarines. Maybe we can still have a satisfactory submarine and also do work on this nonproliferation priority.”

Sans, who has a strong interest in national security and international studies, happened on the topic while doing research for CNS. ”They were really good about offering us free rein on what we wanted to work on,” he said. “They had a bunch of projects and we could pick and choose based on what we thought was interesting.”

Sans landed the CNS internship as a result of his semester at the Monterey Institute of International Studies last spring. He happened to ask his Russian politics professor for suggestions about internships the day before the CNS deadline. She suggested he hurry up and apply.

He says the Monterey experience was an ideal complement to his Middlebury studies, in part because of the diversity of his classmates, many of whom had worked in fields he cares about. He also says he left Monterey with a better understanding of how foreign policy happens in the massive U.S. government bureaucracy. “You get a good understanding of who the players are and what they do, which helped me figure out what interested me and narrowed my focus.

Jon Wolfsthal, deputy director of CNS, says an experience like this can really pay off for students. “The summer fellowship provided Nate a chance to shine and to share his passion and expertise with his peers, many from other top schools,” said Wolfsthal. “His writing and participation were terrific and we’d welcome more Middlebury students for the fellowship and course work in the future.”

As far as submarines are concerned, Sans says he’s always been fascinated with them, but he’s not about to become a submariner. He’s more interested in the nonproliferation policy implications and how they’ll play out politically. ”Any sort of contribution I made to the debate was that the administration could do more.”