The Art of Experimental Cinema – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

The Art of Experimental Cinema

In a new course, students explored the theories and histories of experimental film with short films of their own.

In “The Art of Experimental Cinema,” a new course taught by Visiting Assistant Professor of Media and Society Jiangtao Harry Gu ’13, students created short films embodying their visions as filmmakers.

As they studied the theories and histories of experimental film and video in a series of unique production projects, Gu challenged them to produce their own films for a hypothetical festival. As Gu explains, the assignment is not only intended for students to develop their production skills, but also to articulate their identity as filmmakers to a typical festival audience.

The selection of films, titled “Flip the Script,” can be viewed here.

“The Art of Experimental Cinema” introduces students to the philosophies and techniques of experimental and avant-garde cinema. Through practice, students explore alternative forms of storytelling, cinematography and editing techniques. The intersections between film/video and other art forms, such as painting, dance and photography, are part of this introduction. Students also examine major movements in experimental/avant-garde cinema, such as structuralism, post-structuralism, feminist, queer, and radical Black trends to approach the art of filmmaking as a socially and critically informed practice.

Gu says that the students’ films respond to two of the course’s central themes. First, they answer artist Hito Steyerl’s call to defend “poor images.” By fully exploiting the potential of easily accessible technologies such as smart phone cameras and free editing softwares, students show how films can be produced without the costly Hollywood model. The “poor images” are consequently freed from the ideological restrictions of commercial filmmaking as well, Gu says.

Students also learned to manipulate found footages and to give new meaning to materials they find on the internet. What was originally proposed as a method to evade certain filming restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic became a site of adaptive learning.