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Transnational Filmmaking Project

“Working with filmmakers from the other side of the world with language barriers and cultural differences was easier than I thought, and the love for our craft connected us over these differences.”                                                                 -Aidan Kaye (Purchase College), Benin 2018

Co-director Chad Hilton and crew on the set of Livin' in the Rain (Cotonou, Benin)Co-director Chad Hilton and crew on the set of Livin' in the Rain (Cotonou, Benin)

Purchase College’s Transnational Filmmaking Project is a partnership with the Institut Supérieur des Métiers de l’Audiovisuel (ISMA) in Cotonou, Benin and the Artists Institute in Jacmel, Haiti.

The program, launched in 2017, challenges students from three countries and film schools to explore the potential of filmmaking as a collaborative creative process across cultures. The resulting short films include documentaries and works of fiction, focusing on such powerful topics as deportation, climate change, and racial injustice.

The Project aims to inspire students to question their artistic practices by comparing different realities, seeing other ways of writing, working or thinking about the world. An opportunity to work independently will allow students to confront the difficulties inherent in transnational co-productions, to understand, learn and share first-hand the methods of work that might encourage professional collaboration in the future.

In the first year of the program, led by Film Professor Iris Cahn and Cinema Studies Professor Anne Kern, 25 Purchase students engaged with 30 students from France and 15 students from Africa in cross-cultural filmmaking. In 2018 and 2019 student filmmakers traveled to Haiti, Benin and the US. Over the years professors John G. Young, Michéle Stephenson, Lawrence O’Neil, Michael Borowiec, Agustin Zarzosa and Victoria DeMartin have also provided faculty oversight for the 150+ students who have participated in the project to date.  

The Process

Through social media, group chats and video conferencing students work together to write and plan for their films, which reflect the cultures that surround them. To develop their film ideas Purchase students spend several months studying the history, culture and cinema of the other students, and engaging with those students online to share ideas. Student filmmakers then travel to host countries for three weeks of shooting.  Each crew is comprised of students from all three countries. The director of each film can only propose an idea about a place s/he is not from, while the producer/assistant director with whom s/he works closely must be from the host country. A subsequent phase of postproduction and editing for all films takes place in New York.

Above all, the program is structured to encourage young filmmakers to support the ideas of others. American crew members who stay in New York, for example, work to support and realize the creative vision of the Haitian and Beninese directors about the U.S. Likewise, in West Africa, Beninese producers work to help Haitian and American directors make films in a place they have never been before. Their work is filled with small acts of generosity and humility as they guide and try to understand one another.

In making these films together, these students are living out a microcosm of the world as it could be.

FACT: The films made in 2018 were directed largely by young women and entirely by filmmakers of color. As these directors were chosen by their peers to take the helm, we see both a reflection of the world as it actually is – truly diverse, led by strong and talented women as well as men— and the world as a new generation resolutely insists it will be.

Access for All

One of the distinctions of this project is that Purchase College and generous donors have joined forces to fully fund all students, opening the way for film students of all three countries and economic backgrounds to participate. The program is supported through the Purchase College Foundation’s Eugene and Emily Grant Incentive Fund, Luc and Mary Hardy, Sagax International, Pat Jacobs, Pat Klingenstein, and Doris Kempner.