Enid Somogyi is the director of production for the Intercollegiate Media Studies program at Pitzer College. Somogyi makes paintings, experimental films and plays music.
Her work has been presented at the Smithsonian, Location One, Orange County Museum of Art, The Arnolfini, Sundance, the Director’s Guild of America, Women in the Director’s Chair, and Aurora Picture Show. Her films have been written about in the New York Times, ArtForum, ArtReview and others. Somogyi has won several grants, including the Durfee Foundation and Kodak Film. She received her BFA from Cooper Union in 1996 and her MFA from Claremont Graduate University in 2002. She completed a fellowship at Yale University in 1995.
Question: What is it like working with students on their projects?
Answer: Students will spend all night working on their projects and emerge bleary-eyed into their critiques. Their projects mean so much to them because for the most part they are personal documentary projects, exploring themselves, not just who they are but their relationship to images. They become really important to them. I worked with Hillary Baker ’04 organizing her projects. One day Hillary and I went for a long walk to discuss her documentary and we walked all around the campuses and kept talking out what it meant and by the time we got done walking she finally felt like she could write an outline. It’s really a great way to work with students to have this kind of one-on-one with them.
Q: Is this a normal part of the process?
A: At Pitzer it is, yes. The larger the school the harder it is to make these connections. We generally know what everyone is working on. There is lots of hands-on work for us, and we are available 13 hours per day. We work with each other and the students know they can turn to us. We can teach them the technical stuff they need to know to get their work done for class. Eddie Gonzalez ’04 and I handle most of the really technical education that happens on the five campuses.
Q: What are your other roles in the program?
A: I am teaching two independent studies this semester and Intro to Film in the spring, which is a production class that includes reading, writing and critique. All of the Pitzer classes have a reading, writing and theoretical element and we talk about creating media contextualized in theory and in history. It’s not interesting otherwise.
Q: What is the message of the dominant media? And what do you see coming from student projects?
A: The experience of watching TV is the feeling of being told you have a kind of emptiness. It’s an isolating act and you become passive while watching it and you become aware of some kind of void within you. Instead of connecting with people you are watching people connect. Instead of having an exciting life you are watching an exciting life. And you’re being given ideas of products that will fulfill the emptiness within you. To me that’s the experience of watching the media. When you watch the news there’s this apocalyptic series of events being presented that make you, again, inactive because it’s so overwhelming and it’s so terrifying that you are frozen and there’s this inactivity. What the students make here is intended to create an active audience, a thoughtful audience, an audience that is thinking about the work and making connections within the work as they watch it. And maybe losing their patience and then regaining it and finding some new experience with imagery that way. They also activate audiences, more subtly, by using different kinds of forms, a different language of images. Another way they activate viewers is through social responsibility. Students here are engaging in communities and they are talking about ways that we can connect with each other and feel complete, rather than evoking isolation and longing for something.
Q: With the news media, for instance, do you think that they set out to say, “We are going to cover these sorts of things and present them this certain way,” or do you think they have devolved this way because going out and covering crime, etc. is just easier?
A: Now you are touching on my thing that I like to talk about. I think that it’s an American sensibility. The Puritan founding of this country was as an apocalyptic society. They were going to build this city on the hill and then these things would happen. Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) kept track of bad events in history that foretold the realization of God’s city on Earth. If you look back at the history of the U.S., that current, that apocalyptic sensibility, it just runs through our culture. It is manifested on the news.
Q: How can Pitzer Media Studies cut through the dominant media chatter?
A: Most of the movies made are sequels, about toys or video games. Some of our students have gone on to work in documentary films and they are much wider known now thanks to Michael Moore. On the other hand there is a really strong network of micro-cinemas in this country. There are small theaters like Echo Park Film Center in Echo Park in L.A. and Aurora Picture Show in Houston, Texas, and cinemas in San Francisco. Micro-cinemas really engage their communities. I recently toured rural micro-cinemas in East Texas with my work. I want to show my work in rural working-class communities similar to the one I grew up in because I think that people are ready for that and that there is a desire for it. Our students are engaged in that network.
Q: How do you avoid preaching to the choir in these venues?
A: I don’t think that’s what we’re doing. Some of our students did a documentary on the Echo Park Film Center and they interviewed the guys in the machine shop across the street and these were like older machinists who said, “Yeah, I really like going there and I see some really funky things there.” I did a screening at this little coffeehouse in rural Texas. The first film to screen after me was about WWII and the audience was all WWII veterans and some young hipster kids. I showed my films, which are really challenging and out there, and most of the hipster kids left and all these vets stayed. One of my films was based on Kiss Me Deadly by Robert Aldrich (1955), which was based on a Mickey Spillane book. The first question I got was from this man that knew the book and recognized the scenes. It was the best question-and-answer session I have ever had. One of the things I talked about in my lecture was Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and at the end of the lecture this man in a wheelchair came up to me and said, “I just want to thank you for mentioning Capote’s In Cold Blood. To me that’s a very important book. I was his editor and I traveled with him when he wrote that book.” That moment defied the notion of preaching to the choir.
Q: Final thoughts?
A: What’s been amazing is seeing the transformation of our department. Pitzer invested in changing our space. In the past two years we have upgraded all our computers, bought new software, built new offices, built a new screening room, gotten a new editing room, had tons of film equipment donated, started student clubs, completely changed the culture of the department. There is always food and coffee and there’s always people. Alumni constantly visit. It is a real happy spot. The students are really proud of it. Eddie and I are really proud of it. It was really striking this year when summer vacation was coming to an end and just about every kid came in to say hi. It made me feel really good. This is a good place. It helps the students do great work feeling that way about the program.