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Student filmmakers find diversity in the AMI program

Last Thursday, the AMI program put on the 2019 Student Film Festival in the Rubenstein Arts Center.
Last Thursday, the AMI program put on the 2019 Student Film Festival in the Rubenstein Arts Center.

For anyone looking to parlay their secret TikTok skills into an academic setting, look toward Duke’s Arts of the Moving Image program. The 34-year-old program, which offers a variety of courses, workshops and internships, aims to attract students of all interests. In recent years, the growing diversity of students engaging with the AMI program, alongside the opening of the Rubenstein Arts Center (which houses a 35mm projector, offering students a rare chance to view certain films as intended), has kindled a quasi-renaissance in the study of the filmmaking medium at Duke.

Students who take AMI classes come from majors ranging from history to biomedical engineering, bringing refreshing experiences and perspectives to the filmmaking medium. The variety in the goals and interests of students is an encouraging prospect for Joshua Gibson, director of the AMI program and professor of the practice of art, art history and visual studies.

“Over the last decade, I think both the breadth and type of films that students are making has been changing a lot, mainly because of the democratization of the media,” Gibson said. “It’s sort of exciting; you don’t just have people who want to be the next Steven Spielberg.”

Last Thursday, Sept. 7, at the Rubenstein Arts Center, the AMI program put on the 2019 Student Film Festival, showcasing eight student-produced, short-length films. From an experimental explosion reel in “Bloom” (by Ashley Manigo, Trinity ‘19) to a documentary short about Black political activism at Duke called “The Allen Building Takeover” (by sophomore Saurav Sanjay), the diversity of technique and skill on display was evident. An obvious achievement of the AMI program is its multifaceted promotion of creative and technical expression, in which students of all backgrounds and interests can find a space to skillfully demonstrate their passions.

When talking to Gibson further about why all Duke students should take an AMI course, his point was clear: The ability to communicate is vital in so many different aspects, irrespective of someone’s major or profession. 

“Being able to articulate ideas through moving images is becoming something in the 21st century that’s akin to writing,” Gibson said.

For those looking to invest more deeply into the history, theory and technique of the moving image, the undergraduate program offers students the opportunity to obtain a certificate in the Arts of the Moving Image. Completion of the given course sequence, which includes a capstone seminar, lets students develop the skills needed to pursue graduate studies or a career in the field. Speaking to several seniors pursuing the certificate, the kaleidoscope of interests was again put on display.

“[In high school,] I would come home on Friday and before I’d go back to school on Monday, I’d probably watch 10 to 15 films,” reflected senior Quinten Sansosti, an AMI student majoring in political science. “It’s just continued since I’ve been here.” 

Currently, Sansosti is working on a full-length feature film screenplay for an independent study credit. 

“It’s nice being able to work on scripts with course time instead of during free time,”  Sansosti said.

Josh Yip, who is majoring in environmental sciences and policy, has a somewhat different capstone project in the works. 

“It’s a horror-comedy short film inspired by these feral cats around my house, and it’s a mixture of traditional cinematography and 2-D animation,” Yip said.

Yip’s short “Falling” was screened at the AMI Student Film Festival. His instructor Steve Milligan, a lecturing fellow in the AMI program, commented, “The only thing I can say is that the film Josh is working on now is even more deranged than this one.” 

Zoey Kang is a senior majoring in visual and media studies with both an AMI and Markets and Management Studies certificate. 

“I came into Duke not knowing what I wanted to do. Freshman year, I was looking for another class to take, and I chanced upon AMI 101,” Kang said. “I’ve enjoyed every single one of the AMI courses I’ve taken since. Duke’s a school where kids might forget about exercising their artistic side in an academic setting, but AMI is such a strong community.”

Looking to take an AMI course next semester? These AMI seniors recommend a smorgasbord of classes, including “Film Animation Production,” “Writing the Movie” and “Film Genres.” In addition to production courses, AMI also offers numerous film analysis courses that span a variety of spatial and temporal locations, from modern Chinese cinema to topics like Jewish cinema. 

Ultimately, the AMI program allows students of all backgrounds and pursuits to explore and express themselves through the moving image. In a typical AMI production class, student projects are not graded according to standard academic criteria. 

“If people take risks and they fail and you give them a bad grade, you’re not encouraging creativity,” Sansosti said. 

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