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'In My Mind' synthesizes Monk's

Professor Gary Hawkins and his intermediate documentary filmmaking class never imagined that their Spring 2009 class project would be premiering at the Full Frame Festival. But this weekend, their collective work In My Mind will take center stage alongside documentaries of internationally acclaimed filmmakers.

In My Mind is an on-stage and behind-the-scenes look at celebrated pianist and composer Jason Moran’s revival of jazz icon Thelonious Monk’s now legenderary 1959 concert at New York City’s Town Hall. With the support of the Center for Documentary Studies’ Jazz Loft Project, Moran has helped contribute to the public awareness of the concert. Hawkins, an award-winning documentary filmmaker and self-proclaimed jazz enthusiast, saw the show as a perfect opportunity to offer his students hands-on experience. Along with lecturing fellow Steve Milligan, Hawkins led a series of workshops to prepare his students for the shoot.

Although the students were excited to be going to New York City in February 2009 for Moran’s concert, Hawkins made sure that they realized what was required.

“You get to go to New York,” said Hawkins. “But you go on a mission: to go get footage.”

Once they arrived in Manhattan, the class had to learn on the run. Although equipped with the necessary technical skills, the students had received no training on how to handle an aggravated Monk estate and musicians more concerned with the concert than a student project. But the class embraced the challenge.

“They tore down the wall of tension,” Hawkins said. “They walked right up to the performers. They were not just detached flies on the wall.”

It was this confidence and commitment that allowed Hawkins and Milligan to concentrate on their own responsibilities while trusting the students’ judgment. Hawkins simply advised his students to “just shoot what [they] think is cool.”

Hawkins confessed his expectations and ambition for the footage were humble, that which you would expect of a student project.

“I wanted to come away with one song that proves we were there,” Hawkins said. “Something to add to the Jazz Loft website.”

Back in Durham, Hawkins, Milligan and producer Emily LaDue sat down and watched the footage, hoping for enough raw material to legitimize their trip to those holding the checkbooks. But what they saw was more than anything they would have expected.

“I am astonished by the images. It was a very difficult show to shoot [and] the lighting was very dynamic,” said Milligan, a seasoned cinematographer. “You would be hard-pressed to pick out the angles that were shot by students.”

With a newfound energy for the film coming after looking over the footage, Hawkins and Ladue began cutting together the footage, becoming more and more excited as it came together.

“At some point it became very personal for me and [Emily],” he said.

Alhough they originally had no intention of doing much more with the film, they soon realized that what they had in front of them was no ordinary project. When they saw the final edit, they began looking at film festivals, and the one they felt would be most appropriate was Full Frame.

Now, a year later, Hawkins, Milligan, Ladue, and his intermediate documentary film class will see their small student project become a silver-screen reality.

In My Mind will screen at 10:30 p.m. in Cinema Three April 9.


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