Reel People

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By Kelly Beggs

In the spring of 2010, Professor of German Maggie McCarthy gave students in her Memory and Film class a choice for their final: write a traditional research paper or make a “memory project,” a creative work that documents a person, a place, or an experience. The creative option was one that McCarthy herself could not resist, so she shifted from professor to student and completed her own assignment by making a film.

She said, “It’s easy to forget what it’s like to be at the end of the line, to be an absolute beginner who learns along with the students.” Though acquiring the technical skills was a challenge, the progression from analytical to creative makes sense to McCarthy.

The tenor of McCarthy’s creative work was more personal than her analytic contributions, as the memories represented in her film were her own.

“At some point it became clear to me that I would make a film about my mother,” said McCarthy, whose mother passed away four days into the semester. “I began the process of mourning her as I taught the course, so I thought hard about how to combine pedagogy with the personal in ways that would enrich the course.”

McCarthy’s mother had a series of strokes that caused her to gradually lose her ability to speak, so McCarthy wanted to reclaim her voice in the film. She used narratives told in voice-over, interviews with both of her parents, still shots of old photos, 40-year-old super- eight sequences, and video footage from recent years. She held a screening of her final product in early December.

Though this was the first foray into filmmaking for the coordinator of Davidson’s Film and Media Concentration, it was far from her first contribution to film studies. McCarthy’s academic specialty is German film, and she’s the coeditor of the book, Light Motives: German Popular Film in Perspective, as well as the author of many film-focused scholarly articles. McCarthy believes that a well-rounded understanding of the analytical, creative, and technical aspects of film will be essential to her pedagogy in the future. “I wanted to begin learning the ropes so I can evolve along the same lines,” she said.

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