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  • Revisiting and Remixing Black Cinema
  • Patricia Zimmermann (bio)

The goal of Within Our Gates: Revisited and Remixed was to create a new way to critically read Oscar Micheaux's film, a way that refused the arbitrary divide between the past and the present, between the analog and the digital. Our creative collaborative was a combination of academics and community-based musicians, artists and scholars who sought to use musical improvisation and spoken word performance to rethink the exhibition of silent film. Within an institutional context of interdisciplinary cooperation, we brought to life theories of artistic collaboration, critical historiography, and multimedia exhibition in order to rescore this historically important film in a new reception context. Sociologists, film theorists, media historians, filmmakers, and local musicians worked together to mobilize public space and new media forms in order to reanimate a politically important film for a contemporary, heterogeneous audience.1

Within Our Gates Revisited and Remixed was a historical first for Ithaca College: a commission to a local composer to score and accompany a silent film for live performance. Founded in 1892 as a music conservatory, Ithaca College houses a preeminent school of music. It also has the well-known Roy H. Park School of Communications, which includes a film school that has existed for over thirty years. As a comprehensive college that mixes the liberal arts with professional schools such as music, communications, health sciences and human performance, and business, Ithaca College is not the typical small, liberal arts college. Rather, for most of its existence, Ithaca College has had high barriers among the six different schools and divisions, each of which is distinctive in its own educational mission and national reputation.

Five years ago, a new Institutional Plan was instituted under President Peggy Williams that determined that the insularity of the schools was not stimulating intellectual and creative growth, creating a campus with high walls and divisions. To remedy this situation, the Institutional Plan advanced interdisciplinary and joint projects across schools, providing new incentives and financial resources to stimulate projects that involved more than one school or division. Within Our Gates Revisited and Remixed, then, was produced within the context of a larger institutional plan that supported work between and across schools that would have been inhibited by lack of administrative support and resources only five years before.

During my sabbatical, I had an appointment as a visiting professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, an internationally recognized engineering school. In the School of Communication and Information where I was appointed to teach, course projects and final-year projects were done in groups, not individually, as is the case in most American film schools. I observed the emphasis on collaboration, team building, generation of ideas, and quality of product that this structure enabled. I also observed that faculty was involved in a variety of joint research projects and research groups, not only doing their own writing but also working with others. This model of horizontal structure, of course, is congruent with the way that the new economy and new media organizations are structured to promote innovation and invention. I observed firsthand how a deemphasis on the individual pushed ideas further, much faster, often with more rigor and vivacity, and how it also increased focus on ideas and concepts. I was also struck by how this model was entirely different from my own academic experience in the United States. Needless to say, this model of working on a collaborative project with others who have different academic ranks and experience inspired me to think about how to enact a similar think-tank model at my home institution.

Despite two internationally recognized arts programs in music and cinema, Ithaca College had, oddly, never undertaken the project of scoring a silent film. Revisited and Remixed evolved from a joint partnership between the Office of Multicultural Affairs on campus and a curatorial collective called Cinema on the Edge, which is composed of a group of senior and junior faculty in cinema and television/radio. For over five years, this partnership had successfully programmed film and video screenings [End Page 119] for Black History Month. In fall 2003, the assistant director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs...


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