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FLEFF Intern Voices

The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival from the interns' point of view

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Posted by Gena Mangiaratti at 12:10AM
Dr. Tanya Saunders

Blog posting written by Gena Mangiaratti, Journalism '13, FLEFF Intern, Feeding Hills, Massachusetts.

Dr. Tanya Saunders, assistant provost of the college and executive producer of FLEFF, met with me in her office to talk about her role in FLEFF, discuss the definition of sustainability as it relates to the festival, and share her hopes for this year’s festival with its theme of Checkpoints.

Dr. Saunders also talked about how the festival was able to go on last year with its two directors abroad, and how the virtual accommodations made in order to run the festival ended up expanding the online aspect of the festival for future years.

GM: FLEFF began in 1997 out of the Center for the Environment at Cornell University, and moved to Ithaca College in 2005. Can you talk about the transition in bringing FLEFF over from Cornell? How did the festival change?

TS: [In 2004] we did most of FLEFF, but it was still associated with Cornell…Then the next year when the former provost, Peter Bardaglio, announced that sustainability would be a driving force at the college, we saw the benefit of bringing FLEFF to Ithaca College.

We asked Dr. Zimmermann and Dr. Shevory if they would take on the responsibility for putting an Ithaca College stamp on FLEFF so it wasn’t just a continuation of what was happening at Cornell, but more in keeping with what we understood sustainability to mean.

I would say that while FLEFF was at Cornell it was more about the environment in a very narrow sense. When it came to Ithaca College we began to use the UNESCO definition of sustainability which is more comprehensive and more concerned about interrelationships among different systems, meaning: the environmental, the human, the corporate — how all of these considerations impinge on the other and determine how we live.

GM: Can you tell me more about the way FLEFF approaches the definition of sustainability? I’ve noticed a lot of the films at FLEFF have to do with human rights topics.

TS: Exactly. We think that human rights are part of the issue of sustainability and the environment. If you look at which people live in pristine environments, which people live in polluted environments — it all has to do with human rights as well as environmental rights and animal rights. They’re all interrelated; you can’t divorce one from the other, at least in our opinion.

GM: What is your role as executive producer of the festival?

TS: My role is to make things happen that need to happen in order for FLEFF to be successful. I know that that’s a very broad statement, but FLEFF is something that was new to the college as an annual campus-wide experience.

We had to secure funding. We had to secure support from various units of the college. We had to assess what we were doing every year and brainstorm about what we should improve and do the next year – How do you incorporate students so that they feel that they’re a part of FLEFF? How do you involve faculty from five different schools in FLEFF?

All of these were new for the college, this whole notion of interdisciplinarity that wasn’t limited to the vision of any one school.

So my job was to work with the rest of the FLEFF team to make sure that we were always moving forward, always improving upon what we had done the previous year, and then strategizing how to make FLEFF respond as well as it could to the institutional mission. We wanted FLEFF to be not just an interdisciplinary initiative, but an international one as well.

GM: How do you go about making FLEFF an international initiative?

TS: By the films that we show, by the speakers we bring to campus. Frankly, last year with the open space theme that we identified, and the virtual FLEFF that we offered, we became more aware of the greater potential to have FLEFF be as international as it was interdisciplinary.

So in a way, you could say that the Fulbright awards that took Dr. Zimmermann to Singapore and Dr. Shevory to Mongolia forced us to think about FLEFF as more than an on-campus experience. It’s anchored on campus, but it has a broader reach, if you will, that is national and international.

Social media gave us that realization. Now, what we’re trying to do is to build that or expand that international reach even as we strengthen our anchor on campus.

GM: Can you talk about the role social media played in helping to continue FLEFF when both Dr. Zimmermann and Dr. Shevory were abroad?

TS: We use blogging. We used streaming…I remember Tom Torello* sitting with all of us saying that you can’t have a year where there is no FLEFF. We’ve built this momentum, and now just because Dr. Zimmermann and Dr. Shevory are going to be on sabbatical doesn’t mean that we say OK, we’re going to suspend FLEFF for a year.

So we were forced to think about: Well, what would a virtual FLEFF look like? And how could we use the network and the computer to maintain FLEFF’s presence, yet still involve students and faculty in what we were doing?

Even though we had had blogs and things of that sort before, they were not as integral to how we were presenting FLEFF. We were leading with what happened on campus or downtown at Cinemapolis. Now, we realize that virtual FLEFF was just as important to our goals as the physically present FLEFF.

So we had Open Space, and I think Open Space was a metaphor for how we were viewing FLEFF: There’s no horizons, so-to-speak, to limit us in our understanding of what FLEFF could do and how FLEFF could engage the international community in the conversations that we were trying to initiate on the home campus.

I would say that FLEFF became even more interactive in an international sense because blogs allowed voices from overseas to log in and comment and participate.

(*Tom Torello was formerly the director of marketing for FLEFF and the executive director of marketing communications at Ithaca College. He has since taken the position of vice president of university relations at Pace University.)

GM: How do you think this film festival can apply to the interests of everyone at the college, particularly outside of film and communications students?

TS: We’re all citizens of this world, and presumably, we’re all interested in justice. We all have self-interest in protecting the environment. We all have self-interest in protecting human rights — if not for others, at least for ourselves. Therefore, to that extent, we are all involved.

I guess it means, too, that we have to think about FLEFF as more than a film festival. It isn’t just a film festival that only appeals to film majors, because it’s not the medium that is important to us, but the content. The content is the source of dialogue and interaction.

For film majors, the medium may be important to the extent that the message is delivered through film. But remember, we also have art installations. We also have guest lecturers. We have multimedia contests. [Last year] we had “Compose Open Space,” which was about music. The interaction of these different media helps us convey whatever the theme is of FLEFF that particular year.

So I guess you could say: Is this a conflict between form and content? — I would say it’s a false conflict, because we’re leading with the notion sustainability; we’re not leading with the notion of film.

It just so happens that we took the name of the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival, because it already had an established identity. We continued with that name rather than changing it to something else and then having to create a new identity for that new name.

So that also leaves us always having to say: FLEFF is more than a film festival.

GM: What are your hopes for this year’s festival?

TS: I would like to hear people talking about FLEFF and the idea of Checkpoints beyond the week of the festival.

Last year we had one theme. Before, in previous FLEFF programs, we had four themes. Last year, because Patty was in Singapore and Tom was in Mongolia, we chose one theme and decided to explore that in depth.

Then that was so successful we decided to only have one theme this year, and then look at Checkpoints as it is expressed in various aspects of our lives, whether the checkpoint is going though security when you cross the border, or some boundary that limits you — in other words, various interpretations of the notion of Checkpoints as they govern the way we live.

Every year we reflect back on what went well. We try to identify: Well, why did it go well? We also look at what did not go well, and why — What could we do to improve? So it is a continuous assessment and improvement process involved in FLEFF.

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