Creative Inquiry

Project Spotlights

Sizzlin' on the Southern Circuit

Most movie theaters in towns surrounding Clemson, SC show only the major Hollywood flicks, full of hot lead actresses, 3D explosions, and big-name directors?all this "entertainment" for nearly fifteen bucks. However, one Creative Inquiry, in collaboration with South Arts, has assisted in bringing independent films and documentaries to the campus, and it only costs a walk to McKissick Theatre.

The Southern Circuit is a regional film tour, the only one of its kind in the Southeast. Although it was founded almost 40 years ago, it found its new institutional home about five years ago - right here in Tiger Town. Amy Monaghan, a faculty member in the English Department, has been spearheading the project with a group of dedicated undergraduate students ever since. By integrating Southern Circuit with the Creative Inquiry program, students are afforded unique opportunities to organize events and document the history of the project.

Filmmakers from around the country (and the world) compete for a spot to tour on the Circuit, ranging from Alabama to Tennessee. Because Clemson University is one of the prestigious venues in South Carolina, Monaghan and students invite directors of the films to Clemson, where they engage in lively discussions on the process of cinematography, planning a documentary, or directing a film. After the students host the directors, the directors then attend a showing of their movie on campus, where everyone is invited to view the film. As the Creative Inquiry students lead a discussion, attendees have the opportunity to posit questions to the directors about the movie. In this way, people of the Clemson community are exposed to more diverse forms of cinematography, and are also encouraged to learn more about the directors' process.

Many of the films are documentaries, such as NY Export: Opus Jazz, produced by Ellen Bar, a former professional ballet dancer. Shown at Clemson in February 2012, it captures a modern take on 1950s choreographer Jerome Robbins's "ballet in sneakers." Other films that have passed through include director Anne Makepeace's We Still Live Here, a documentary about the revival of the Wampanoag American Indian language.

However, the students in this Creative Inquiry do more than host filmmakers - they capture oral histories. Learning interview skills from Sam Adams, a professional film writer who has worked for The Onion and L.A. Times, they interview the directors and filmmakers who pass through the circuit. Currently, the students are deciding how to best preserve the history they are recording, which most likely will be through designing an interactive website.

Students have also traveled to other film festivals, such as the Strange Beauty Festival held in Durham, North Carolina. There, they were able to talk one-on-one with the organizers, as well as programmers from the Full Frame Documentary Festival, the largest film festival in North America. Monaghan believes that the Southern Circuit provides a unique opportunity for students, as well as members of the community. In other big-city film festivals, the chances of undergraduate students meeting with filmmakers would be as slim as their 35 mm film reel. However, Clemson students "access film professionals in a way that they never would have, had it not been for the Southern Circuit... Pushing us out into the world that way, it's kind of amazing," Monaghan stated.

Clemson's collaboration with the Southern Circuit continues to provide unique, thought-provoking films to people who regularly do not have exposure to these forms of entertainment. This service, organized by Monaghan and other students, is free to the community, so all can access these films and the directors. It has helped broaden Clemson education and will continue to draw filmmakers from far away.

Next time you're looking to catch a movie at your nearest Regal Cinemas, think about checking out these independent films in McKissick Theatre instead!

By: Zan Isgett (Decipher Issue 1, Fall 2012)