Skip to Main Site Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Footer
Back To Top

Students Put Film to Poetry in Interclass Collaboration

Published on May 06, 2020

Students Put Film to Poetry in Interclass Collaboration

Poetry Films

Undergraduate filmmakers and poets at Eastern Connecticut State University have teamed up for an interdisciplinary collaboration that combines video and poetry. Students from the course “Filmmaking II” and the workshop “Advanced Poetry Writing” produced short poetry films this spring semester that grapple with such issues as climate change, homelessness and apathy in the face of tragedy.

The concept for the project emerged years ago when Assistant Professor of Theatre Brian Day saw a poetry film about prisoners. “It made me realize what a beautiful combination poetry and film can be,” he said. “It really takes both art forms to another level. It challenges students in new ways and creates new paths for collaboration.”

Day pitched the idea to English Professor Dan Donaghy, who agreed to pilot the collaboration with his advanced poetry workshop. Donaghy directed his students to focus on issues of importance to them, which allowed the poets and filmmakers to bond over common interests.

Poetry students wrote and revised poems prior to spring break in March. The professors had planned for the two groups to meet and add another layer to the collaboration. “Nature got in the way, of course,” said Donaghy, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic and campus shutdown.

The move to online instruction forced the filmmakers to work remotely, casting family members as actors and filming in their homes and neighborhoods with whatever equipment they had access to. While this put limits on what could be filmed, Day said, “Sometimes when you have less, you are forced to find ways to be more creative. I was really impressed with the outcome.  These are film festival competition-worthy films.”

The poem “Lost Love” by Elizabeth Liquori is about a romantic relationship that is consumed by competition. The poet writes, “What prize did you win? An inflated ego? The acceptance of your peers? Was the outcome worth the fee? We played a game, you lost me.”

Filmmaker Erik Brenner relates the poem to his own experience. “I’ve spent too much time playing (video) games to the detriment of past relationships. It’s something I’ve had to work on and grow as a person.” Brenner’s film flashes among scenes of feverish gaming, simultaneously as a cell phone rings nearby and goes unanswered.

“Home(less),” written by Lauren O’Neil, Kaitlyn Rasmussen and Liz Keefe, is about a teenage girl dealing with the perils of homelessness. Filmmaker Naja Davis-Drew interprets the additional theme of being a teenager: “They did a great job of highlighting these two aspects,” she said. “Dealing with bullying, being self-conscious… not wanting to be dependent on anybody. The poem touches on vulnerability.”

Davis-Drew’s film depicts a teenage girl speaking with her therapist about being hungry, living at a shelter and missing school because she can’t afford bus fare. In the final scene, the poem reads, “I saw myself in the mirror. Looked at myself for the first time in a while. To my reflection, I promised, we will pull through.”

To filmmaker Drew Ellison, the poem “Dismissal,” also by Liquori, is about denying climate change. “One aspect I like is the focus on the fossil fuel company,” he said. “We need to look at the evidence and make the long-term investment instead of short-term profits.” His film depicts an industry executive in a dark-lit room laughing as he counts money, spliced with scenes showing a young man staring pensively upon the sea and into the sunset.

Liquori writes, “What’s the point in hoping when we know the problem won’t go away? Pretending an issue isn’t an issue is not the right answer. When researchers can’t calculate a way to fix the messes we’ve made, is it too late?”

The film for “Matters of National Security” depicts an ordinary work routine, cycling among shots of an alarm clock, coffee cups and a car backing out of a driveway. Poet Lauren O’Neil writes of her father’s career: “I have no idea what he does… He never talks about it. ‘Matters of national security’ at Electric Boat… His work is something I can never see.”

Filmmaker Karla Pacheco says of the theme, “We only know people for as long as we know them, under the context we know them and the capacity in which we know them… There’s an entire timeline of decisions and circumstances that led that person to be the parent and person they are.”

The film fondly pans over to a father as the poem reads, “He doesn’t have to tell me what he does, because I already know.”

In “Unprocessable, My Mind is Processed Veggies,” filmmaker Paul Lucenti interprets the poem to be about society’s reaction to mass shootings and other humanitarian crises. “The poem is about giving up on humanity and feeling numb to all the hate in the world, at least, that’s what it means to me.”

The film shows a disheartened young man scrolling through social media and TV channels, viewing the news of the day’s latest tragedy with apathy. The door to his bedroom shuts as the poem by Ethan Hamm reads, “What I do know is there’s a difference between knowledge and truth… Knowledge doesn’t commit itself to action. The truth is that we do absolutely nothing. So there is no point in trying fix the state of the world any longer.”

“Two Devices Between Our Hearts” by poets Yvonne Picard, Elizabeth Liquori, Ethan Hamm and Christine Luckhoo is about the troubles of digital communication. It stood out to filmmaker Jennifer Zuniga as relevant to her “tech” generation and the social distancing society must endure due to the current coronavirus pandemic. “We need each other’s presence, but the online world restricts us from connecting in an intimate way,” said Zuniga. “Especially right now… something we all took for granted is being in the presence of our loved ones.”

With somber piano music, the film shows a night sky and two individuals having difficulty communicating. The poem reads, “It’s ironic, isn’t it, in an age in which we’ve never been more connected, there’s never been such a disconnect… Are you real, or a fragment of my imagination? … I can’t hug you or hold your hand. How can we exist without each other’s presence?”

Professors Day and Donaghy look forward to continuing this collaboration in semesters to come. Day has also met with Adriane Jefferson, director of cultural affairs for the City of New Haven, in hopes of expanding the program and securing grant funding and other opportunities for Eastern students.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Categories: New Media, English, Theatre