Johns Hopkins Gazette: September 3, 1996

On The Arts:
Student Film To
Premiere At
Senator Theatre

Leslie Rice
News and Information
It's a story that may ring true for many American singles: Boy meets Girl. Boy gives Girl his phone number. Girl misplaces Boy's number. Boy and Girl never meet again.

Josh Siegel follows such an encounter and all the what ifs? that play over and over again in the minds of just such a Boy and Girl in his first film, The Spot. With red carpet rolling and strobe lights flashing, the 1996 Hopkins Writing Seminars graduate will premiere his 45-minute comedy-drama Sept. 4 at Baltimore's historic Senator Theatre. The Sun movie critic Stephen Hunter will introduce the 6:30 p.m. screening. The film also will be shown at 9:30 p.m.

The screening of The Spot marks the end of a frustrating, grueling, exciting, wonderful two years for Siegel since he first began this project. In that time, he raised a shoestring budget through grants--the largest from Hopkins' Young Alumni Fund-- rewrote his script six or seven times, arranged for locations like the interior of Camden Yards, the Baltimore Brewing Company, Penn Station and Towson Town Center and found a handful of actors willing to play their parts for free.

But despite all his meticulous preparations for its filming, The Spot still gave Siegel plenty of unexpected nail-biting, ulcer-causing crises, he says.

"The cameraman fell ill a month before shooting, forcing me to spend my whole spring break on the phone searching for a new one. The male lead got a $10,000 job for a commercial in Spain one week before filming. The sound tapes and equipment got stolen out of the sound recordist's car in the middle of filming. It was all pretty endless," he says.

Even so, Siegel says, when it was all over, he realized that filmmaking is exactly what he wants to do with his life. And these days at Hopkins, he is not alone.

Not since horror film director Wes Craven was a Hopkins student in the 1960s has the Homewood campus seen such an explosion of student-made films. Also being shown at the Sept. 4 screening will be the 30-minute film Mardi Gras, Baltimore, a comedy written, produced and directed last year by then-seniors Gil Jawetz and Matt Gross. Senior Chris Boone's docudrama about rape and a TV pilot based on the Saturday Night Live format are both in the works.

This surge of film production can be traced to the ground broken by Jawetz and Gross and to the support of Jerome Christensen. Although primarily a professor of 18th-century and romantic literature, Christensen's interest in cinema studies led to the development of the Film and Media Studies Program in 1993. Since then, it has expanded from a loose confederation of multidisciplinary film courses to a minor and, this fall, to an academic major. As director of the program--and chairman of the English Department--Christensen has worked closely with his film studies students, counseling and encouraging them through much of the process of making a film.

"It takes a lot of perseverance to raise the money and find all the right people to work together on films likes these," Christ-ensen says. "These students have shown an enormous commitment." As has the university, he says, which has provided seed money grants for both The Spot and Mardi Gras, Baltimore.

"I think the university has been very encouraging to these students partly because it is looking ahead to when it builds the student arts center," he adds. "One of the things planned for the center is a state-of-the-art workshop integrating digital, film and video production art. Nonetheless, I expect that more and more students will be encouraged to go out and raise all the money on their own for their films. After all, creative financing is part of the educational process of making a film."

For the first time this fall, Hopkins will offer students a filmmaking course. As The Gazette went to press, more than 40 students had registered for the course--which will be taught by documentary filmmaker Exsul VanHelden--far more than the course is designed to accommodate.

Christensen believes that The Spot and Mardi Gras, Baltimore are only the tip of an iceberg. Within a few years there will probably be a handful of student-made films released each year.

"As an art form, it's a natural fit for many Hopkins students," Christensen explains. "It's a research-oriented creative art. There are a lot of very technical aspects to it that you have to learn before you start. And it requires a strong, ambitious person to bring his or her personal vision to the screen."

The Spot and Mardi Gras, Baltimore will be screened on Sept 4 at The Senator Theater, 5904 York Rd. Admission is $4. To reserve tickets, call Homewood Alumni Programs, which is sponsoring the premiere event, at (410)516-8722, or stop by the Owen House on Wednesday, Sept. 4, to purchase the tickets in person. Tickets will also be sold at the door.

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