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Auteurs in the Rough

Student filmmakers get the chance to tell riveting stories—from an insect-obsessed roommate to a Rubik’s Cube competition.

Dena Seidel, director of Rutgers for Digital Filmmaking works with two students
Dena Seidel, center, director of the Rutgers Center for Digital Filmmaking, works with Tamara N. Jones and Scott Stiefel. Photography by Don Hamerman

Online video is everywhere. But much of it, as we know, is junk. Amidst this wasteland is an oasis at Rutgers for creating engaging short documentaries. These films are the work of students who, within a semester, often go from knowing next to nothing about filmmaking to producing a film that’s far smarter than what’s online. The students do it all: operating cameras, writing scripts, and editing hours of footage. It’s part of a groundbreaking program led by award-winning filmmaker Dena Seidel, director of the Rutgers Center for Digital Filmmaking. The program got its start at Rutgers–New Brunswick’s Writers House (part of the Department of English in the School of Arts and Sciences), and it’s now expanding into the newly created digital filmmaking center, a collaboration between Writers House and Mason Gross School of the Arts, where undergraduates will be able to pursue a certificate in digital filmmaking. The films often draw on Rutgers students, professors, and programs for material, whether it’s a bug-obsessed roommate or an ambitious effort to bring fresh water to a remote community in Thailand.  — Allan Hoffman

RUTGERS VERSUS PRINCETON: In the age of video games, the Rubik’s Cube seems like a throwback—a puzzle that’s all about a quick mind and nimble fingers. Yet the cube’s got devotees, and in Edwin Goes to Princeton, filmmaker Lauren Choinski SAS’11, SC&I’11 follows a Rutgers student to Princeton who is participating in a Rubik’s Cube competition.

MEET THE INSECTS: You never know where you’ll find a fascinating subject for a documentary film. For Scott Lazes SAS’11, SC&I’11, his material was right there in his dorm room. His film, Creationism, delves into his roommate’s devotion to insects (“I take parts of insects and recombine them to have a piece of artwork”). It’s a riveting portrait of one student’s obsession. Lazes has since traveled to Copenhagen and the U.S. Virgin Islands for documentary projects.

FAMILY HISTORY: In Being Balut, Lizette Gesuden SAS’09, SC&I’09 takes the idea of a balut—“a strange little food stuck between being an egg and a duck” (and boiled before it’s fully developed)—as a metaphor for the bicultural experience. The film is a moving mix of personal history and social commentary. Gesuden now creates video for a company in Brooklyn.

WATER FOR THAILAND: Steve Holloway already had summer plans, but then he got an offer he couldn’t refuse—a trip to Thailand to work on a film about Rutgers engineering students bringing water to a remote Thai village. “We were out filming in the rain for three weeks, and we really had to throw things together to ensure that our equipment didn’t get damaged, including tying plastic bags around our camera,” recalls Holloway, a senior. It was challenging—and vastly rewarding.