Students present documentaries at film series event

Eight students and alumni will show short documentaries focused on identity, art and race.

Sophia You, a sophomore film and media arts major, created the documentary “The Artist,” which will be presented during this year’s Diamond Screen Film Series: Diamond Docs. | KAM GRAY / THE TEMPLE NEWS

As third-year film and media arts graduate student Chike Nwabukwu began preparing for his next documentary, he immediately thought of 60-year-old dancer and vegan soul food restaurant owner Mama Sam’her.

The two met while teaching at the Khepera Charter School, a K-8 school with an African-centric curriculum near the Health Sciences Campus. Nwabukwu was a full-time social studies teacher and Sam’her was a long-term substitute teacher. What began as simple greetings in passing between colleagues, Nwabukwu said, turned into a compelling health and wellness documentary.

Nwabukwu’s film “Ageless Rhythm” is one of eight documentaries selected to be shown at the Film and Media Arts Department’s first Diamond Screen Film Series: Diamond Docs on Wednesday. The films will be screened at the Temple Performing Arts Center at 5 p.m.

The film series was put together by film and media arts professors Chris Cagle and Rea Tajiri, as well as second-year film and media arts graduate student Qiyue Sun. Cagle said pieces were chosen based on their quality, pacing and visuals.

The group accepted submissions by graduate and undergraduate students, as well as alumni who graduated within the past two years. The films were either produced as in-class projects or independent pieces. The films had to have been made while their creators were enrolled as students.

After the eight pieces were chosen, Cagle, Tajiri and Sun looked for their similarities to determine a theme.

“The main focuses we saw were in identity, art and race,” Sun said.

Sun added that they chose pieces offering a new perspective on these broad topics.

“Ageless Rhythm” was one of these films. It tells the story of Mama Sam’her, also known as Theresa Corinaldi, and how she dances with her group Afro-Qi to stay youthful.

Nwabukwu said Sam’her believes dance helps her “age gracefully” and stay active while connecting to her culture. She is the co-owner of The Nile Cafe, a vegan soul food restaurant in Germantown.

“I was inspired by her example,” Nwabukwu said. “[The documentary] is not a stagnant, boring example of exercise and health.”

Sophomore film and media arts major Sophia You also delved into the life of one of her inspirations. Her piece, “The Artist,” documents junior printmaking major Pablo Alarcon Jr.

Alarcon began creating work at age 4 and was inspired by his grandmother, who taught him to draw figures. As a bisexual Latino man and artist, he said he uses his work as a platform to communicate his ideas about his own experiences in a relatable way.

You initially saw Alarcon’s work on Instagram and contacted him to learn more.

She said she is interested in making documentaries not because she wants to address political issues, but rather to share the stories of others.

“There are a lot of people that can relate to his story,” You said. “They can kind of incorporate themselves into his story and his artwork, and I was really drawn to that idea.”

This relatability is something Hansen Bursic, a sophomore film and media arts major, wanted to explore in his film, “The Toothmans.” The documentary examines the experience of a transgender woman named Cooper growing up in rural Pennsylvania, as well as her family’s experiences and opinions. It was funded by the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, a statewide LGTBQ youth advocacy organization.

“This documentary was more special than anything that I’ve ever created because it’s so relatable,” Bursic said. “It’s really about family, and the power of family.”

“Through this piece, I tried to demystify rural areas because it breaks the idea that LGBT people can only live in cities,” Bursic added.

All three artists said storytelling is their main motivation for creating documentaries, and they hope the stories they tell make a difference in the lives of both their subjects and their audience.

Cagle said documentaries are often underrepresented in the film industry. According to a study conducted by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, documentaries comprised about 23 percent of feature films produced globally in 2013.

“Documentary is often overshadowed by fiction films,” Cagle said. “The event will show diversity in documentary through both experimental and traditional pieces.”

Sun hopes the audience will feel inspired after leaving the screening.

“I hope it will be an eye-opening experience for viewers,” Sun said. “These topics are important and not often discussed. This is the time people need to discuss them in America.”

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