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Video Reflection: "Standing on Walls"

Hummingbird's picture

When Danielle and I first started envisioning our final project, we were both very drawn to the idea of looking at privilege. Danielle had been thinking about doing a zine on the topic of privilege, but when we discovered our mutual interest in video-making, we thought that might be another way of sharing the thoughts that have come out of our class in an accessible and fun way. We really wanted to look at how Bryn Mawr impacts and is impacted by differences in privilege and one of the places we started our search was the classroom.

In order to avoid stigmatizing a specific professor or set of students, Danielle wrote a script that we used as the basis for our fictional classroom scene. One of the things I’ve really noticed as a result of practicing silence and thinking about how much space my words take up in the classroom – as well as comparing our Bryn Mawr speaking experience with being in the Cannery – was how people’s notice of vocal space (or lack of notice) really impacts the classroom environment.

I’ve been really interested in exploring how I faced privilege through the lens of a camera. As soon as I asked someone to sit behind the camera, the power dynamic shifted. Though I never sat or stood directly behind the camera during interviews – to avoid separation from my interviewee – I could feel the shift in power within our conversation. In some ways, giving people the space to speak freely was empowering for them. With all our practice of silence and awareness, students in our 360 had the opportunity to speak as much as they wished with only an active listener. At the same time, I was very conscious of how I worded my questions or how I pushed the person I spoke to into uncomfortable territory. I knew that only a few words they’d say (without practice or preparation) would be the very things that ended up in our video – and I know for a number of people, that was really nerve-wracking.

Editing held this same inherent power structure, which was exciting, but also worrisome for me. I was acutely aware of how I might be taking words out of context for the benefit of this discussion of privilege. I could place people’s words in the context of what other interviewees said, changing their meaning or weight completely. In order to avoid or break down this power structure in some way, Danielle and I tried very hard to make sure everyone was able to screen the film before it was published or shown in our presentation.

Finally, I’ve been looking closely at this video in the context of silence and have been struck by who speaks and who doesn’t within our video. As one of the filmmakers, I think it’s interesting to note that Danielle speaks within the film and I don’t. In fact, the opening scene – which was originally meant to be a dialogue between Danielle and myself – was edited down by Danielle to be a conversation between herself, her housemate Eva, and her housemate’s friend Shuo. When first watching it, I didn’t even register that the five hours I’d spent speaking with Danielle had been cut down to a dialogue in which I was present but not active. In reviewing the rest of the film, I realized that my place is always outside the lens (or microphone) of the camera. This is not to say that I was silenced. I had a huge role in filming and editing the fictional scene, and in editing the final collection of interviews and Bryn Mawr footage. In that sense, my voice was absolutely represented – just in a different way. Instead of my direct words, my voice was represented by the combination of other voices. The fact that my presence is so invisible, though, both troubles and reassures me. During our final presentation, I realized I was the only member of our 360 who didn’t stand before the audience in some way to present when I met some audience members who didn’t realize I was here as a 360 student and not as a guest because – as they mentioned – I hadn’t spoken.

I’ve spent a lot of the semester struggling to figure out how much space my voice should take in the classroom, and I think the video was very much a way to mediate that problem for me. I don’t have to take vocal space in the context of the video in order to still say something. I think in this sense, it also solves much of the discomfort I felt within the Cannery. During our artwork, I often didn’t speak at all. I appreciated the opportunity to express myself in a way that didn’t involve words and I only really felt disappointed when we didn’t have time in the class to work longer on the art – because I felt my expression then was incomplete. The video was a space of artwork or (my own) wordless expression where I did have the time to flesh out my thoughts. And working with Danielle, I was also able to rely on her speaking when I wanted to express something as a filmmaker that didn’t necessarily get addressed within the interviews we conducted.

I’m excited that so many people (over a hundred!) have viewed our video already on youtube, and I’m excited that since returning home, I’ve had conversations on these same topics of privilege on college campuses with friends from high school. Though the video is somewhat Bryn Mawr specific, I think many of the topics we address are relatable to other liberal arts colleges, so I’m excited for the potential discussions this video might bring up. My final project for my Esem last year was sparked by a comment that involved an accusation of “privilege” on the part of Bryn Mawr students. It’s interested to see that I keep coming back to this topic; privilege is something I think I will continue to think on and sit with for a very long time.