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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 Lea Troutman at 4:14PM
Lea Troutman

Written by Lea Troutman, Film, Photography, & Visual Arts, '21, FLEFF Intern, Baltimore, MD 

Between the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building, I spent two months in the summer heat of DC’s mall, immersed in creating content for the Smithsonian Center of Folklife and Heritage. 


As a photography intern for the Smithsonian, I attend the Folklife Festival and participated in a cultural exchange with artists from West Bengal. With the title of “documenter,” I assumed I would be somewhat disassociated from the other interns, who would interact with guests in their roles as guides. 


My job was to document the Bengali Artist’s performances in locations such as, The Library of Congress, The Hirschhorn, and the Freer Sackler. The Bengali’s performances were unlike anything I had ever experienced, but even so, my biggest takeaways were the one-on-one connections I shared with each of them.  


During our down time in between selling instruments and scroll paintings in the Market Place and attending Armenian arts workshops, jam-sessions with Girish, Rabi, and the other interns were my favorite. I sat on woven cots with Girish and Rabi under the white staff tents, trying to escape the heat and make the best of the situation. They taught me how to play their instruments the Ektara and the Dotara. The interns and I sang “This Land is your Land,” while they used Baul instruments to create the rhythm. 


Girish was happy, lively, and loved to dance. He wore traditional Baul clothing in bright orange, or a patchwork print, which represented “the pieces of him stitched together.” Rabi was a quieter, but an appreciative and reflective person, who wore muted red or green colors. Mamoni wore elaborate colorful scarves and she was always ready to tell the story of her Patachittra scrolls. 


At first, I thought the language barrier meant we wouldn’t be able to communicate, the Bengali’s didn’t speak much English and I didn’t speak Bangla at all. Despite the barriers, we bonded and appreciated each other’s company over the 3 weeks spent together.  


We talked about their homes and their children. I also gained insight on cultures I have never encountered before, I learned about the Baul way of life and the background of Patachittra storytelling.  


Festivals are environments of collaboration and education. I spent long days with the Bengali artists. Through my memories of the friends I made during my internship, I gained a new appreciation for festival life and I am so happy to be able to continue this with FLEFF.  


I hope to make valuable connections with the people I will encounter in FLEFF. The discussion and activeness of the festival environment is what made my experience at the Smithsonian with the Bengali’s so enriching and memorable.  


FLEFF will be a different environment than the celebratory nature of the Folklife Festival, but I hope it challenge my ideals and preconceptions, similarly to how the Bengali’s disrupted my way of thinking. 



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