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Busy Semester at UW-Milwaukee

Film department sponsors research center for Indian director

Apr. 2, 2013
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Adoor Gopalakrishnan
The last few years have been busy at UW-Milwaukee’s Department of Film, Video, Animation & New Genres, still better known simply—and for good reason—as the film department. During the chairmanship of Rob Yeo, the Hollywood Reporter named UWM one of the top 25 schools for film. Perhaps the evidence for the department’s ranking comes from its alumni. Films by two UWM graduates, Chris Thompson’s The Jeffrey Dahmer Files and Christine Khalafian’s The Powerbroker, were favorably reviewed recently in the New York Times; a third grad, Robyn Braun, is editor for the Nicktoons’ series “Alien Dawn.”

In addition, three current undergrads earned internships at the Cannes Film Festival; work by faculty and students has been accepted—and awarded prizes—at festivals in recent years. Graduates and interns are working in Milwaukee’s growing video production industry in a variety of venues, including Robert W. Baird, Medical College of Wisconsin and even a YouTube video for John Henson from the Milwaukee Bucks.

And now, the department widens its scope by establishing an archive and research center for an important Indian filmmaker, Adoor Gopalakrishnan. UWM will be the depository for 35mm prints from nine of his 11 feature films as well as many of his 30 documentaries and short subjects. There will also be an Adoor Gopalakrishnan scholarship for UWM film students researching his work or making movies in his spirit on social justice. “He’s had a very full career,” Yeo says. “He has a strong connection to the culture and history of his area in India. He has a remarkable ability to bring the landscape alive.”

India, not America, is the world’s most prolific film-producing nation, and is best known for Mumbai’s “Bollywood” productions, whose characteristic style involves colorful song-and-dance numbers and motifs from Hindu mythology. But regional film also flourishes in India, whose many populous states with distinctive cultural identities can support local directors. Gopalakrishnan comes from the state of Kerala on the Malabar coast, whose distinctive features include an indigenous Oriental Orthodox Christian church and a democratically elected Communist government.

“Adoor came from a theater background and attended the premier film school of India,” says Daniel Kelly, a lecturer in the film department working on the Gopalakrishnan project. “He returned home to Kerala and established film societies and a filmmaking network in opposition to Bollywood. He is an interdisciplinary artist and very much like what UWM is all about.”

Lajwanti Waghray, a Milwaukee filmmaker of Indian heritage, adds that India and its cinema are almost bewilderingly diverse. Gopalakrishnan’s films “exposed me to realities I was not aware of,” she says, praising him for portraying women as “thoughtful and complex,” unlike the female characters in most Bollywood productions.

Gopalakrishnan will come to Milwaukee to inaugurate his archive and to screen one of his most admired movies, Rat-Trap (Elippathayam), honored by the British Film Institute as “the most original and imaginative film” of 1982. Rat-Trap will be shown at the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Lubar Auditorium at 7 p.m., April 15. Admission is free.


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