PROFILE: DR. RACHEL SCHAFF

By Stephanie Tokasz, March 5, 2021
A discussion with Dr. Rachel Schaff, the Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in Screen Studies at Ithaca College and a FLEFF talkback speaker.

The Emerging FLEFF Excitement

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Blog posting written by Stephanie Tokasz, Film, Photography, and Visual Arts ’24, minors in Honors Interdisciplinary Studies and Psychology, FLEFF Intern, Orchard Park, New York.

As Dr. Rachel Schaff and I came to the conclusion of our interview over Zoom, where she was “zooming in” from her new office that she was attempting to get settled into, I asked the rather simplistic question, “What are you looking forward to as FLEFF goes 100% virtual this year?” Without hesitation, she replied, “So much… so much. Write that in all caps.”

SO MUCH.

I think this answer is an excellent way to summarize Dr. Schaff’s excitement for the 24th Annual Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival.

Dr. Schaff is the Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in Screen Studies at Ithaca CollegeHer research broadly focuses on questions of melodrama and how we think about the past. She also focuses on Holocaust memorialization, more specifically how Holocaust memory becomes embedded within cultural and historical memory. Her research too involves East Central European history and culture, specifically cinema from the Czech Republic.

With a background like this, Dr. Schaff was eager to take part in the festival ever since her first year at Ithaca College. In 2019, she moderated an event with two Ithaca College alumni, Sara Corrigan and Harry Greenberger, where they discussed their new feature film, Staring at the Sun.

However, in addition to working as a team member of FLEFF, she thoroughly enjoys seeing films back to back while listening to the engaged insights of those around her. Ever since her first time attending FLEFF, she was especially moved by the silent films that are accompanied by live music events. The festival also gives her new opportunities to learn about specific areas of cinema that she has not previously been exposed to, such as feminist experimental animation, through filmmaker Kelly Gallagher, and Chinese experimental documentary.

Dr. Schaff stated that she’s always enjoyed how FLEFF “opens up new areas of inquiry that you may not immediately gravitate towards… and the festival gives you the opportunity to explore [those areas] in a really accessible way.” This year, she is especially excited about how the “virtual environment has provided the new opportunity to screen even more [accessible] films, as well as have more speakers who are all over the globe.”

Even though some aspects of FLEFF don’t directly align with her areas of study, the festival pushes her to explore those areas. She stated that as an academic, she is always looking to learn more, just as many of the people who attend FLEFF. She said with a laugh, “you don’t become a professor if you don’t like learning.” 

One question she is hoping to further explore this year is the question of virtual cinema. She states how there is a tendency for those who watch films online to treat it as leisure time, so she hopes that we, as festivalgoers, can create an environment for ourselves that encourages active viewing.

Dr. Schaff is especially looking forward to screening Charlatan (Holland, 2020) and discussing the film on a panel at a talkback, especially because the film aligns with her background and research interests. But, she also added that her excitement doesn’t stop there because she “will probably be at every event.”

Dr. Schaff is currently teaching a one-credit mini-course about festivals, which gives students the opportunity to become a Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival Fellow. It is open to students of all majors and years across Ithaca College. She also teaches Fiction Film Theory, Hollywood and American Film, and Introduction to Film Aesthetics and Analysis.