Posts in: Block 5

A String of Thoughts

“We fixed the education system”, my classmate exclaimed during our group discussion on Tuesday. Later in the week, we found out that our “solution” to the education system in the U.S was closely related to market theory, and that has a lot of issues in and of itself. We have been aggressively looking for answers through debates and questioning. Every day, our class has a new set of discussion leaders. Their job is to lead the class in thoughtful and productive conversation. So far, this is one of my favorite things about the class. Every day, we gain a new perspective on how to question our current system because we have different people every day questioning us.

Today in class, the discussion leaders wanted us to work in a pair to create thought diagrams relating to a theme and set of questions. Their only instructions were to look at the questions and create a visual. The options were endless on how each group wanted to present their set of questions. Through this process, we came up with potential solutions to inequality in schools.

My partner and I focused on collaboration among schools to reach a more unified form of educating. We identified forms of collaboration that are already implemented but could be used in a greater magnitude to be effective in unifying education. Data-based decision making, teacher and administrative conferences that focus on training, and online forums (blogs) could all be used in this manner.

Another group focused their thought diagram on innovation as a way to resolve inequality. An idea this group had was to put more importance of qualitative data in conjunction with quantitative data. An example they gave of qualitative data used in schools was student testimonials.

One group dealt with a difficult question about who has the right to choose a child’s education. Their thought diagram expressed the benefits and consequences of government choice and parent choice. One of the benefits to government choice is standardization, but parents have more “skin in the game”. A consequence to making only parents accountable for choosing their child’s school is that information is power. Families with higher socioeconomic status have more access to information, and this process reproduces inequality.


Because families with higher socioeconomic status are privileged due to their access to information, another group worked on how to get the information about choosing schools to all parents. This group believed that it was essential for the schools to reach out to the parents besides the parents having to seek out information for themselves. Their main categories for getting information to parents included ads/pamphlets, sessions, the internet, public service announcements, and information given in class.


I enjoyed making thought diagrams as a brainstorming process. The activity produced great conversations and debates.

An Open Letter to the U.S Education System

Dear U.S Education System,

Why can’t we fix you? My class has spent a total of nine hours this week talking about how to combat re-segregation alone, and we have not gotten the slightest bit close to an answer. My problem is that I don’t even know where to start. Re-segregation is only one problem among many, but I will start there.

In class this week, we have talked about the aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. After Brown v. Board, the problem switched from de jure segregation to de facto segregation. Basically, after the law tried to fix you, U.S Education System, people were still able to segregate schools based on housing segregation and zoning. Not only were schools re-segregated, but some schools shut down because the whites did not want to integrate. In Prince Edward County, the public schools shut down, and a private school was created for white students only. The public schools were shut down for over five years. When they finally opened up, the public school was predominately for black students, and the private school was predominately white. We watched a video about Prince Edward County in class, and it was powerful to hear students’ stories about not having access to an education for over five years. We talked a bit about the idea of sacrificing an entire generation for a cause, and this concept has stuck with me for the past couple days. That is what happened in Prince Edward County, an entire generation was sacrificed.

The situation that occurred in Prince Edward County also made me question the power of court rulings. Brown v. Board was viewed as a victory for the Civil Rights Movement, but black students in that county went more than five years without an education. Why don’t people follow the laws that apply to you? I believe that is has to do with choice; you give people too much choice. Integration theory says that choice without civil rights considerations will lead to inequality. Maybe, this is why our schools are re-segregating.

I want to say that we need to write up an entire new system because there is so much flaw in you, but I do not think that is a possibility because of your history. Besides, I am learning more and more through this class that it is hard to please everyone with one set plan of action. I believe choice has created issues, and I blame you for that. On the other hand, if you were a different system, there would be a new issue at hand to address. That being said, you’re not off the hook. There are ways to fix de facto segregation. Magnet schools were created in the 1970’s to combat segregation and to provide minority students with a “better” education. Although Magnet and Charter schools come with their own problems, the idea is a step in the right direction. Magnet and Charter schools bring in the question of more choice, but I am personally not against choice alone. I am against choice without civil rights considerations.

Ultimately, U.S Education System, you’re a mess. I wish I could offer more constructive criticism, but I have tried my best to make sense of you. The further I dig into your policies and trends, the more confused I get. The more questions I try to answer, the more questions I seem to have. I hope my class, the Sociology of Education, continues in this manner. Questions and confusion aren’t bad, but I used to think they were. I thought that the more questions I had meant the less I knew. In fact, the more questions I have means how much I want to fix you.

A concerned student,

Harley Guzman

P.S: On an unrelated note, why didn’t I learn about how to pay taxes in high school. I think that’s important. You should get on that.

Winter Ball Examined Through Theories of Sociology in Education

The ballroom was dim, and the music was loud. All I could see were my peers lumped into one organism, flowing on the floor, spinning like a tornado, and destroying everything in its path. All I could hear was the chatter of students and jazz music. All I could feel was hypocrisy itchy down my spine like a spider full of venom. Not only was I feeling and experiencing hypocrisy, but I was a hypocrite, myself. On Friday night, I attended the Winter Ball: Enchanted Forest at the Antler’s Hotel, and I left more confused and dazed than I have ever felt before.

In light of the Winter Ball this weekend, I would like to take the opportunity to examine what I witnessed and experienced Friday night using the sociological theories of education I learned in class last week. Our class began with the history of public education in the United States, and we moved on later in the week to talk about sociological theories relating to the purpose of education and why inequality exists in terms of education. The Winter Ball can be examined through two macro-level theories of education. First, there is the functionalist theory which focuses on how education helps society run smoothly. Contrastly, there is the conflict theory which focuses on how education serves the needs of the elite class. Both of these theories can be applied to the events I witnessed on Friday. I would like to clarify that I don’t mean to bash the students who attended the Winter Ball through this analysis. I mean to bring to light some problematic social features of the Winter ball. Clearly, I am no expert. Take what I have to say with a grain of salt because I am clueless. Simply, I am trying to make sense of the world around me through the sociological theories SO280 has taught me.

The aftermath of the Winter Ball has made me question why a college would provide its student body with a giant party. If you look at other colleges, especially larger universities, institutions of higher education rarely provide dances that equate to high school homecoming dances or prom. If you do see celebrations like these in college, they are run by student organizations or Greek life. Functionalists would argue that the Winter Ball serves a purpose for the college and for the students, but it is not for the reason you may think. Functionalists view education as a means to equip youth with the tools they need to be successful in society. For example, teaching students physics will equip them with the knowledge to be successful engineers. Functionalists would say that the Winter Ball is a tool used by the college to socialize its student body. Everyone comes together and mingles. Although we don’t view the Winter ball as a ploy to control us as students, perhaps it is. It could just be a fun night for all, but maybe there are hidden intentions. Functionalists say that a part of education is the manifest function of maintaining social order through shared knowledge and national principles. Based on what I have learned this week in class, I would argue that the Winter ball could be used to do just that. We get dressed up in a nice outfit, listen to music (good or bad), and we see all of our friends in a formal setting. An event like the Winter Ball could be used to teach us how to socialize and behave at formal events. Of course, the intention backfires and what I am arguing is a stretch, but events like the Winter Ball could serve this purpose.

I remember sitting at a table near the food in the Jazz room with my two best friends, and we were eating citrus tasting cheesecake bites. The plates from the people before us were piled on the table, and one of the boys helping run the event came over to clear off the table. We looked around us, and we saw plates scattered all over the place. There was food on the floor and lost items littering the tables. The boy who cleared off the table I was sitting at couldn’t have been older than fifteen years old, and it made me wonder what kind of people were working the Winter Ball and what kind of people were attending the Winter Ball. When my friends and I got back on the bus to head back to campus, my friend next to me turned to me and said, “I’m disgusted.” I didn’t say anything for a few seconds thinking about what I had experienced. I turned back to her and said, “Yeah, me too.” Although applying the functionalist theory to the Winter Ball was a stretch, conflict theory is pretty spot on. Collectively, we like to think of ourselves as warriors for social justice, but maybe the Winter Ball has problematic social implications. Conflict theory focuses on how groups compete for resources, power, and status. Education is a resource, and the winners obtain and maintain this resource. In terms of the Winter Ball, we are allowed to go because our institution provides this event. We would not be at this institution if we did not have some sort of intellectual or economic resource to be here. Because we attend CC, we have the privilege of a college education. We have the resources to go to Winter Ball. On the other hand, the workers at the Winter Ball did not, yet they had to clean up our mess which was a big mess. Conflict theory would argue that students from high socioeconomic status families or white students made it to CC because of their elite status in society. It is beneficial to be white and rich. For students who do not fit these categories, conflict theory would argue that you are at CC because you were not tracked in school at an early age.

All of this being said, the Winter Ball made me think of conflict theory relating to education because we like to think that we are at CC because of our merit, but maybe it is because of luck. Maybe, you were born into the right family. Maybe, you were born with the right skin color. Maybe, the people who weren’t born into the right family or with the right skin color were working Friday night at the Antler’s Hotel to clean up after the people who were given the luck to attend CC. We went into the Winter Ball privileged, and we didn’t think about who had the job of cleaning up after us.

For these reasons, that is why I felt like a hypocrite. I like to think of myself as a pretty liberal person, but I participated in Winter Ball. I want to major in Sociology, yet I didn’t think about the underlying implications of Winter Ball until I got on the bus. I didn’t question my participation until after I took advantage of the event provided for me. Seriously, I don’t mean to ruin the fun of Winter Ball, but I think the student body should question these events more. We should question the purpose of college run events and how they might be reproducing inequality in our community. Yes, SO 280 is teaching me a lot of sociological theories, but most importantly, it is teaching me how to question everyday life.  

Let’s Be Clear: The “Dear White People” TV show Is NOT Racist

In the second week of this class, we watched the movie Dear White People. Have you seen it? It came out in 2014 and Netflix ordered a TV version of it, also named “Dear White People” last May. While there was some backlash at the time to a tv series of “Dear White People,” it was nothing to how many (white) people reacted to the trailer that was released yesterday.

The video garnered over 1 million ‘dislikes’ in one day, with many taking to Twitter, denouncing the show for being “racist” and encouraging “white genocide” and cancelling their Netflix subscriptions.

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Let’s be clear. Let’s be super super clear. There is no such thing as reverse racism. You cannot be racist towards white people. All together now: Reverse racism does not exist.

Why is being racist towards white people NOT a thing? Because to be racist you need two things: power and prejudice. Racism connotes a system that disadvantages those based on race. Therefore,people of color cannot be racist– they can be prejudiced– but not racist because they do not hold power in a racist system and thereby cannot benefit from this system.

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When white people argue that people of color are being racist toward them, it is just untrue because this understanding of racism refers more to when someone (usually non-white) makes them feel bad (cue white tears) for their identity. This understanding also completely ignores structural systems of oppression that has and does consistently disenfranchise people of color in obvious and in invisible ways.

In the online article “What is Reverse Racism and Why It Doesn’t Actually Exist in the U.S.,” Phillip Lewis argues “But in reality, the United States has a long legacy of racism that makes it difficult for people of color to receive quality health care, access affordable housing, find stable employment and avoid getting wrapped up in the justice system.” (hyperlinks in original)

Thus when white people cry “racism,” it ignores this legacy of racism that still disenfranchises people of color in concrete and tangible ways.

Let’s say it all together just to make sure the people in the back heard us: REVERSE RACISM DOES NOT EXIST

Rather, these conversations about “reverse racism” or a TV show that questions race has much more to do with whiteness.

In “The Social Construction of Whiteness” Martha R. Mahoney (1995) argues “Whites have difficulty perceiving whiteness, both because of its cultural relevance and because of its cultural dominance. . .like culture, race is something whites notice in themselves only in relation to others. Privileged identity required reinforcement and maintenance, but protection against seeing the mechanisms that socially reproduce and maintain privilege is an important component of privilege itself” (331). And, I would argue, protection against these mechanisms that produce whiteness is an important aspect of whiteness.

When white people operate off the understanding that racism is just when someone of another color is mean to you, it simply reinforces the category and supremacy of whiteness to begin with. Learn your non-white history, read some articles like this one or this, and stop pretending reverse racism is a thing.

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Week Two Reflections: how do layered igneous rocks form?

The second week of Igneous Petrology was a whirlwind! We spent most of the week discussing all of the processes that can cause different rocks to form out of the same body of magma. We looked at several major igneous rock formations that are made up of distinct layers with different mineral compositions, even though they formed from a single body of magma. So how does the same magma body produce different rocks? One of the earliest hypotheses is the idea of gravity settling. Gravity settling is the idea that in a magma chamber heavier minerals that contain elements like iron would sink to the bottom of the chamber as they crystallized, while lighter (and less dense) minerals would float towards the top. Gravity settling has been a popular theory since geologists first began to study layered igneous rocks, but many scientists have started to question it in the recent years. Many of our labs this week focused on studying the distribution of minerals in a layered rock and deciding whether or not they formed through gravity settling or a more complex process. We started off studying a body of rock called the Muskox Intrusion, then looked at more complex formations: The Skaergard formation and the Palisades Sill (located in the eastern US). So how can we tell how the minerals settled in a rock? We looked at the mineralogy, textures, and geochemical data of samples from each layer of the different formations we studied in order to build a hypothesis about how they formed. Initially, many of us thought that the layers were the result of gravity settling, but as we progressed in our research we realized that far more complex processes were involved. Magma chambers are influenced by elaborate convection patterns in addition to gravity. The density and temperature of different crystals can affect how they circulate just as much (if not more) than gravity can. Beyond that, magma chambers don’t necessarily have constant temperatures – the edges are likely cooler than the middle. Occam’s razor holds true in many cases, but it certainly didn’t apply to our labs this week. One of the things I love about the geology major is how it forces me to challenge the initial assumptions I make. The more data I encounter, the more I have to change my hypothesis.

What is Whiteness Studies??

When I told some of my white friends that I was taking Critical Whiteness Studies, I was met either with chuckles or furrowed brows and questions like “What even is that?”

Let’s talk about it.

Are you white? If so, how do you know you’re white? Did someone tell you?

Many of us know that race is socially constructed. But not many of us are able to draw the connection that being white is socially constructed also; white is a race.


In “Growing Up White in America?” Bonnie Kae Glover argues, “White is transparent. That’s the point of being the dominant race. Sure the whiteness is there, but you never think of it. If you’re white, you never have to think about it. Sometimes when folks make a point of thinking about it, some (not all) of them run the risk of being either sappy in the eyes of other whites or of being dangerous to nonwhites. And if white folks remind each other about being white, too often the reminder is about threats by outsiders–nonwhites– who steal white entitlements like good jobs, a fine education, nice neighborhoods, and the good life” (34)

From this perspective, whiteness is only visible when in relation to “other” races. It’s there, as Glover states, but it’s not a charged category. Being white is neutral, while other races are abnormal.

For me, I thought I was white for a long time. Growing up speaking only English, I understood most of what my mom would say as she spoke rapidly in Spanish to our relatives, but I never concerned myself with learning the language. I was the light sister, with dark blonde hair as a child. The only indication that I was not totally white were my heavy eyebrows, inherited from my Chicana great-grandmother. It was only until I was in high school and began learning more about my family’s heritage did I begin questioning my whiteness.


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Whiteness is purposefully hard to see and demarcate. Peggy McIntosh  characterizes whiteness as an “invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, assurances, tools,, maps, guides, codebooks, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear, and blank checks”(291). (I bet you’re catching on to why this class is called Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack)

Whiteness is protected and insulated by the very mechanisms that reinforce and reproduce this dominance. In other words, the very fact that white people cannot see or notice the ways in which they may benefit from white privilege is one of the very mechanisms that bolster whiteness as a neutral or invisible category.

Even though I do not identify as white, I pass as white and people treat me like I’m white. I benefit from looking white, but I can also see its detrimental effects especially enacted upon my friends who are people of color.

Peggy McIntosh even writes a list of 46 items she is allowed to do as a white person to illustrate in more concrete terms what her whiteness affords her:

“17. I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color. . . 25. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure that I haven’t been singled out because of my race. . . 40. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places that I have chosen”(293-4)

Being white is not neutral; white is a race. Whatever your race is, in America it constitutes your experience– it decides if you can be putting pussyhats on police officers and taking pictures or if those officers will be charging at you in full riot gear on the street.

*Note I do not own these pictures*


Where does magma come from?

Hi! My name is Grace, and I’m a senior geology major here at CC. This block I’ll be sharing my experience in Igneous Petrology. I fell in love with geology because of how differently it makes me see the world. One of my favourite authors, John McPhee, says it well “A million years is a short time – the shortest worth messing with for most problems. You begin tuning your mind to a time scale that is the planet’s time scale. For me, it is almost unconscious now and is a kind of companionship with the earth.” Like every geology class I’ve taken, I know that studying igneous petrology will further shift my perspective of our planet.

Igneous petrology is the study of the origin, composition, and chemical structure of igneous rocks. Igneous rocks are rocks that are formed by cooling magma. Rocks like granite form when magma cools below the surface, and volcanic rocks like basalt cool at the surface during volcanic eruptions. We spent our first day of class discussing how and where magma bodies are formed, and how they reach the surface to cool and form rocks. Magma can be generated in both the mantle in the crust. The specifics of these processes can be complex, but there are essentially only three ways to melt a rock and create magma: you can raise the temperature, lower the pressure, or change the rock’s melting temperature by adding volatiles such as water. It’s fascinating to think about the fact that every igneous rock started out this way, hundred to thousands of kilometers below our feet. The mighty Pikes Peak that towers over our campus today was once a liquid that slowly cooled and crystallized, then got uplifted to the surface, to become the iconic granite mountain that it is today.

On our second day of class we went from talking about massive bodies of magma to the microscopic properties of igneous rocks. One of the things I have always enjoyed about geology is the wide range of spatial and temporal scales that it covers, and this class is certainly no exception. We started the day with a lecture on optics and discussed what some common minerals look like under the microscope, then jumped into looking at thin sections for our lab. A thin section is an ultra thin (usually 30 microns) slice of rock that has been cut with a diamond saw and then sanded down until it is perfectly flat. The rock slice is then mounted onto a clear glass slide that can be studied under a petrographic microscope. Here is a photo of what one of our thin sections looks like under the microscope:

A thin section from GY310

A thin section from GY310

The bright colors you see here aren’t the true colors of the minerals in this rock. Instead, they’re interference colors that are caused by the light from the microscope breaking up as it passes through the crystals in the thin section. If you’ve ever shined a light through a prism and created a rainbow, you’ve seen interference colors! The interference colors that we see in thin sections can help us identify what minerals we’re looking at, since the physical properties of different minerals cause them to produce different colors. The first time I ever looked at a thin section, I was blown away by how much detail a thin section can reveal about the history of the rock. The proportions of different minerals, the shapes of their crystals, and the boundaries between crystals can all provide valuable clues about the rock’s crystallization history.

Festival Recap

It’s snowing in Park City. There’s at least a foot and a half on the ground right now. The sun peeks through a blanket of fog, but it’s not bright enough to rouse the rest of the house this morning. This is the first day in a long week that we have nothing to dash off to. With the festival over, I wonder what the town will feel like once we do meander into a few of the coffee shops. Over the last five days it has been a moving machine – with about two hour intervals between the movies we saw every day (from 2-6 of them) we only had time to send text reviews to each other and stop for coffee on the main street before sitting still for another 2 ½ hours in a dark theater. I’ve cried and laughed at the most amazing stories and spoken to some incredible filmmakers here, and barely have had time to process those feelings before I am running to the next thing. I’ll try to process them in smaller tidbits here.


Day 1 – Ticket mania, ticket “fomo,” I can’t find the right theatre, WOW I’M AT SUNDANCE, an intense historical fiction film about pregnant nuns and a French Red Cross doctor, a bad documentary about a film buff, and a new wave girlhood film about a 12 year old who turns from boxer to dancer. (Agnus Dei, Film Hawk, and The Fits.) Agnus Dei and The Fits were directed by women, and I babbled through an incomprehensive conversation (on my part) with Fits director Anna Rose Holmer to find out that most of her department heads were women as well. Encouragement!

Still from The Fits, directed by Anna Rose Holmer

Still from The Fits, directed by Anna Rose Holmer

Day 2 – I am sitting here watching a movie about a doctor from the 30s who put goat testicles into impotent human male testicles. The documentary director is a spunky, screamingly intelligent woman who grew up on a ranch in the middle of the country and is screening a film that collaborated with seven different animators at the Sundance Festival. Later in the afternoon I see a film called Cameraperson – a meditation of visuals collected from one cinematographer’s portfolio. I think about death and life and sometimes I need to remember to breathe evenly while I’m watching it. Then we see a collection of documentary shorts that none of us are very impressed with. (NUTS!, Cameraperson)


Day 3 – I am seeing 5 films today, and I can barely keep my eyes open from yesterday. The first has a strong script, but I feel more engaged in my twenty-minute conversation with a senior from USC beforehand. We talked about theory versus practice while her mom interjected every once in a while to exclaim that this movie was her pick. Next I see a Columbian film that would go on to win the Audience Award for World Dramatic Cinema. The older man beside me ended up gripping my arm halfway through as we both tried to play it cool and stop sobbing. Afterwards the filmmakers spoke beautifully about their relationship with their audience and arts for arts sake, not commercial benefit. Too soon after the film is over, we are filed back into the same theatre for the Dramatic Shorts program. A policeman who dances at his mother’s funeral in Thunder Road makes us keel over with laughter, a great cure for my blotchy face. After a quick dinner I move on to a film about prostitutes in Mexico City. I’ve fallen in love with at least four of the women by the end. Much later we go to the midnight screening of an Indian film satirizing the class system, following 4 teenagers trying to get laid. It is not one for my 11 year old brother to see. (Mi Amiga Del Parque, Between Sea and Land, Dramatic Shorts Program, Plaza de la Soledad, and Brahman Naman.)

The Director, Writer, and two lead actors of Brahman  Naman.

The Director, Writer, and two lead actors of Brahman Naman.

Day 4 – Snow is dumping today, and though I’m a Colorado native I have completely failed to prepare for this weather. Walmart shoes falling apart, I make my way to three films today. The first, a contemporary Romeo and Juliet love story between two women that makes me cry at 8:30am. The second, a hilarious, Little Miss Sunshine-esque family road trip featuring Aragorn from Lord of the Rings. The third is the Animation Spotlight collection. I am amazed at what people are able to imagine and make tangible… our technology is truly limitless. (Lovesong, Captain Fantastic, Animation Spotlight)


Day 5 – I only am able to get one ticket today because it’s the last day of the festival. I get into the World Documentary Grand Jury screening of Sonita. An Afghanistan teenage girl raps about the arranged marriage culture of Iran which she may be forced back into if she cannot escape her family. When I get out of this film, we see that there is already about six inches of snow on the ground, and a massive blizzard is predicted to blow up from Colorado Springs through Wyoming and Utah in the next two days…so we decide to stay in Park City. We all celebrate with a huge dinner in town, laughing and toasting to the amazing week we’ve had.

Bella Egizi, Emelia Whitmer, and Esther Chan

Bella Egizi, Emelia Whitmer, and Esther ChanTom Crandall

Tom Crandall

 Now there is two feet outside the window I’m sitting next to. The class is huddled around me in our cozy kitchen. Someone made tea for everyone, and our professor brought back bagels this morning after we took a class photo in front of the Sundance sign. We’ve got two snow days ahead of us, and I couldn’t ask to be surrounded by a better group of people for it.


Colorado College and the Sundance Kids

We’ve made it to the end of first week in the Film and Media Studies Sundance class and already it feels like we’re running a marathon! As part of our preparation for heading to the festival next week, we’ve had screenings of past years’ Sundance winners and in-class discussions on what makes indie films unique. So far we’ve been unable to come up with any concrete conclusion on that, but it seems that’s the whole point of Indie films ‘breaking the mold’ and transcending traditional storytelling conventions, isn’t it?

So far we’ve watched Steven Soderbergh’s 1989 film Sex, Lies, and Videotape; Damian Szifron’s 2014 shorts anthology film Wild Tales; Kimberly Pierce’s 1999 Boys Don’t Cry; and Craig Brewer’s 2005 Hustle and Flow.

What a roller coaster ride. In all these films covering such diverse subject matter, cinematic style, release dates, and production budgets, we have found common threads that may be able to help us narrow down what makes a Sundance movie a “Sundance Movie” .

Like any independently produced material, an indie film is going to either suffer or benefit from its financial limitations. Yes, an independent filmmaker may have to sell her soul to come up with the funds just to get the project on its feet, accepting from the beginning that she will likely make no profit from it should the thing ever be completed. But with this terrifying investment in self-expression comes a certain kind of freedom that filmmakers can’t always get working under the wing of a Hollywood studio. Because of this, the kinds of films that make it to Sundance exist because of the filmmakers’ determination to stretch the limitations of their own minds and, sometimes even out of desperation, create something out of nothing.

The “aesthetic” of Sundance, if we were to assign one, would be one of daring and sometimes even subversive storytelling methods. While not all Sundance films are devoid of happy endings or satisfying and expected ‘movie tropes’, many of them do test the best known formulas of script-writing and cinematic presentation.

As a class we have taken it upon ourselves to write a ‘Sundance’ anthology feature. Following a helpful 7-beat formula laid out by Clay Haskell, we have structured our scripts to align with recognizable story progression bullet points – or as Clay calls them– beats. The trick now is how to experiment with the beats in unexpected ways. The most liberating part of learning and understanding the rules to a formula is then knowing how to break them.

Hopefully after editing the last draft of our script this weekend, heading off to Sundance for a week to watch film after film until our brains are mush, and eventually returning to crash and burn in a final 48-hr film project, we will have succeeded in breaking just a few rules in recognizably ‘innovative and original’ Sundance ways.


More to come soon!
Thanks for reading.

Sundance Film

The Sundance class. A test of faith in today’s film industry. Will it do justice to our world’s best storytellers? What has the Sundance Festival become over the years… is is a portal to project new filmmakers into the blockbuster world? Will it toss anyone into that fray other than baseball cap wearing white men? (“No!” says the release of the late Jurassic World.) Or is the festival an end goal for independent filmmakers? Is it both a cannon and a finish line? What defines a Sundance film – what topics to they cover and how? Who is making the movie and where do they come from? How do these films compare to the Hollywood world? Around 2300 films were submitted to the Dramatic Features category in 2015. The Festival accepted 79. Is the scope of the indie world too massive to conquer these days, and what has that competitive nature done for the filmmakers vying for one of those spots? ALSO we get to go to this thing – did I forget to mention that? Who knows, this time next week I could be sharing a cheese plate with John Krasinski, foolishly reminding him of the best Office gags he pulled off.

The many many many questions we have asked ourselves within the first week of this class. My brain is exploding with tangents. Perhaps I’ve alluded to some of those answers by asking the questions…I hope so, because I hardly have definitive answers for any of them. In summary, yes, the festival has evolved into more than a screening festival, which is what we would call the Telluride Film Festival. Sundance is prestigious and selective, but does a much better job at supporting a variety of subjects and filmmakers than the Oscar/Hollywood worlds do. Today, 1.9% of Hollywood directors are women. At the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, 29.9% of directors are women. Still an appalling number when you say “only 29.9% of women are directing Sundance films,” but it makes me feel a lot better than that dismal attempt at a 2%. It’s one of my goals to see as many films by female directors next week as possible and bombard them my intellect so they hire me instantly. (This is very unlikely, as I sweat a lot when I try to talk to people after performances and end up exhibiting my elementary vocabulary well. “That was sooooooooo good, you are sooooooo good at stuff.”)

After watching four films this week and discussing them with my peers, it still seems there isn’t a formula for a perfect movie. Duh, right? We followed one structure to write our own 15 page screenplays (in one night – hello block plan), but still had an incredible variety of structures pop up in the results. We spent hours talking about the how the tiniest detail in a screenplay makes the entire film’s theme resonate perfectly. Hours of digging through taboo topics in the films we watched contemplating their successes and failures.


Filmmaking is a push and pull that you have to get a grasp on just long enough to connect with an audience so they’ll pay attention to you for an hour. Or even 30 seconds. It’s an overwhelming business at the same time that it’s an overwhelmingly beautiful art. In this class we are edging towards finding a balance between the two. We watch, write, talk, learn, yell, process, and start again.  We keep trudging down this path of doing, doing, doing until we can end up making something we admire. I hope to observe this admiration in the people I meet and the films I see next week, so I can be reminded again to keep doing (and stop staring at blank Word documents).

More to come! Thanks for reading.