Alums in the Cinema World Illuminate Obies’ Futures

Sarp Yavuz, Arts Editor

While Oberlin certainly has a historical connection to the world of cinema, especially with regards to the Apollo Theatre, one does not think of Oberlin when considering career in the field. This past weekend’s Illuminate events saw four alumni — Micha Hillyard, OC ‘11, Jennifer Malkowski, OC ‘04, Ry Russo-Young, OC ‘03, and Stefan Grube, OC ‘03 — sharing their experiences and success stories dealing with cinema in various fields in a panel held in the newly renovated Apollo Theatre.

Malkowski is a McPherson post-doctoral fellow in film and new media at Smith College. After Oberlin, she pursued a Ph.D in film and media from UC Berkeley. She was also a pre-school student portrait photographer for some time, describing the experience as part of the unpredictable path that studying the arts at Oberlin can lead to.

“If I had to do it all over again, I would be born 15 years earlier so the academic job market would be better,” she joked.

Grube, whom Oberlin College Professor of Cinema Studies Geoff Pingree introduced as “The man!,” cuts trailers for Paramount. An Oberlin native, Grube “met [his] wife when he was … in eighth grade … and had a baby while in college.” This unusual life path did not keep him from success; he decided to move to California, where Lisa Churgin, OC ’77, served as the president of the Motion Picture Editors Guild. After phoning her and ending up talking to her husband several times, Grube finally met Churgin who offered him a job. Although there was a time in California when his family lived off of government support, “We’re no longer on WIC!” he joked, in reference to the program that provides food for low-income families. Grube has cut the trailers for blockbusters such as Mission: Impossible IV: Ghost Protocol and Paranormal Activity. He mentioned that often in the movie industry, the marketing budget of a film exceeds the film’s budget itself, with a lot riding on the trailer. He also referred to the kinds of compromises involved with the process, saying “in the end, you’re always pleasing someone.”

Micha Hillyard makes documentaries. After graduating in 2011, he was asked by two Conservatory graduates to document their concert tour in the Middle East. On becoming familiar with many street merchants in Jordan he said, “This camera around my neck, it can build relations.” His journeys also led him to Rwanda, where he documented HIV-positive children. His timid yet engaging voiceover of a 2-minute clip from his trip to Mongolia, as well as the cinematic visuals of the everyday life, left the viewers in the audience longing for more. Hillyard also expressed that a seminar he took his senior year “defined [his] approach to cinematography.”

Ry Russo-Young, whose feature film Nobody Walks was in the Sundance Film Festival this past January, spoke about her transition from shooting a film in a cabin in the woods with a six person crew to creating more professional works. Her first year out of college, she wrote a movie while working at a vintage clothing store, “watching a lot of Ingmar Bergman.” She applied to the Sundance Screenwriters Lab twice and stressed it as a vital part of her development as a cinematographer, encouraging the audience to “keep applying.”

Nobody Walks was a breathtaking film, co-written by Lena Dunham, OC ‘08. Set in California, it revolves around a magnetically beautiful girl who visits a family to work on her film ends up disrupting their lives. Depending on whether or not you connect with her, and it is difficult not to, the way she seduces the husband as well as the husband’s assistant could be deemed inadvertent or intentional. Regardless, she has a powerful impact on the family in a very brief period of time. The film highlights the intricacies of making film as well as the blurring of professional conduct and intimacy in a delightfully engaging way. Tight and warm-colored shots of the exchanges between the main characters caused several audience members to squeal or pull on their seats’ edges in frustration and excitement throughout the movie. One of the best films to have been screened in the Apollo in recent memory, Nobody Walks is one for your DVD collection. And if someone asks, you can say you went to the same school as the director.

That the director was available for current students, community members and guests at the Apollo this past Saturday night, accompanied by other exemplary alumni, goes to show that the incorporation of the Apollo to an already powerful Cinema Studies Department is bound to be fruitful.