Some days I have the best job in the world. Some days, not so much. Oh, did I mention that in addition to being an elitistacademic, I am also an administrator. No? So what that means is that when I am not lazing about with summers off as an EA, I am lazing about doing nothing as an administrator. In other words, I have two cush jobs that involve standing around sipping wine with other inflated egos as we congratulate ourselves on our superiority and devise new ways to throw away tax payer money. [Crickets laughing.]
What lies behind the curtain of administration is a post for another time. Suffice it to say, most days I am surprised to find myself in the role because no one says, “When I grow up I want to be an administrator.” At least, I didn’t. I do, however, get to work with incredible students and an amazing staff that make me look good. I also have the opportunity to meet leading scholars, activists, and, relative to the popular culture angle of elitistacademic.com, other creative types. This semester was a boon. First, I would like to take a moment to thank the students, faculty, staff, and volunteers for their planning and participation. I also would like to thank these artists, again, for donating their time and energy and for sharing their work with us. We appreciate your thoughtful insights and critical reflections on music, immigration, filmmaking, human rights, identity politics, activism, and industry.
I have discussed his visit in a previous post, but it bears repeating: Chingo Bling is a remarkably thoughtful person. Of all of the people I met this semester, he made the biggest impression on me, mostly because he is so incredibly savvy about what he is doing. Admittedly, he is not without controversy; however, much of it he has cultivated deliberately as a way of stirring up conversations about gender, sexuality, immigration, identity politics, stereotypes, and labor. Thank you Señor Bling for taking this EA to school.
I’m not going to lie. I was soooooo nervous about having a sit down with her. I fretted about everything from what I was going to ask to what I was going to wear. The night before I couldn’t sleep. I thought about the million things that could go wrong because that’s what I do. I run scenarios and problem solve. It is both my gift and my curse. Throw into the mix that on the previous day my associate director knocked her sit down with Chingo Bling out of the park and you have a recipe for some crazy mixed metaphor that includes the words control issues, hyperdrive, and pukey.
Although most of it is a blur, two moments from that day stand out: 1.) the holla’ that my boots received, which buoyed my confidence, when I walked on stage.
2.) The sickening feeling in my stomach when my microphone died. I have a good pair of lungs and lecturing to an auditorium full of people ain’t no thang, but how to do that while interviewing Eva Longoria was one too many variables and my brain froze. From the back row, someone shouted that he couldn’t hear, at which point, Ms. Longoria showed her professional chops. She leaned forward, smiling broadly, and pushed her lapel mic toward me, stating, “Here, you can borrow mine.” The crowd roared, and I am fairly certain that half the audience would have traded places with me.
My nervousness was for naught. She was absolutely lovely. Warm, generous, funny, passionate, smart, Ms. Longoria has an all-business handshake that makes an impression. She is an individual who has made the decision to put her celebrity to use, calling attention to issues of social justice, human rights, health, and labor, to name a few.
The first thing that struck me about Robert Rodriguez is that he is an imposing figure, dressed all in black, tall, and yes, striking. On this particular occasion [I say this because he has visited campus a few times], he was sharing with us ideas for his new television station El Rey, which will be based in Austin, Texas. In terms of programming, he is going off grid, rethinking what television can do and say. He has plans. He has famous friends. He’s excited. They’re excited. We were excited by the time he was done.
As a film scholar, one of the things I try to do is to look to the edges of an image. Bear with me for a moment. Everything that’s up on the screen, the composition of the frame, the mise en scène, the exact location of a lamp, all of it is done to move our eyes in a specific direction. I understand the manipulation and its purpose. But I also like to challenge that contrivance by looking where I should not, for it is in the corners that I find the most interesting details, ones that are overlooked but that yield fascinating possibilities.
Listening to Robert Rodriguez theorize his own approaches to film and filmmaking was remarkable. He offered students both practical advice and words of inspiration. He reminded us of the importance of surrounding ourselves with people who are often more gifted than we in order to better ourselves. He shared his realization that “sometimes you don’t have to finish the race. What’s important is that you run and get other people running.” From my vantage point, I could see him reading his prepared speech, but I could also see that as he talked, he made notes or wrote furiously in response to his own thoughts; he edited and revised as he went along; he interjected into his own conversation; he improvised; and he reached clarity on several ongoing ideas. More than what he said, what he showed me was that success and visioning are always in process and must be attended to, refuted, revised, and reimagined simultaneously. Finally, a lesson that I could understand.
Meeting an Oscar-nominated filmmaker is not something that happens everyday, at least not to me. Lourdes Portillo is a powerfully impacting auteur who has worked in a variety of forms ranging from television documentary to satirical video-film collage. Portillo’s films have been screened internationally and shed light on human rights abuses in Mexico and South America. Her work Señorita Extraviada has brought to the national stage the plight of families who are seeking justice for the missing and murdered young women of Juárez. It was an absolute honor to have her present for the screening of her film La Ofrenda. Her candor was refreshing particularly as she discussed her personal history and filmography. Here is an individual who has sacrificed much for her art, vision, and activism.
I had the opportunity to host her at a dinner following the screening and master class. She demonstrated powerfully the rare art of radical listening. She attended to each person in our party, asking questions and practicing engaged listening. The best part of the evening, aside from hearing her throaty laughter, occurred near the end, when we were asking her about future projects. She said she had nothing specific in the works, but then rattled off a list of ideas related to topics or conversations that took place over dinner. In other words, she gifted us with film ideas based on her interactions with each of us, making everyone feel like the smartest, most creative people in the world. A true artist, indeed.