Patricia Zimmermann

Patricia Zimmermann

Professor, Media Arts, Sciences and Studies
Faculty, Culture and Communication
Faculty, Cinema and Photography
Faculty, Documentary Studies and Production

Flaherty Stories

Flaherty Stories

Voices from the Robert Flaherty Film Seminar

Tagged as “Digital Salon”

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Posted by Patricia Zimmermann at 10:54AM   |  Add a comment

Perhaps the struggle to recover fading memories, what St. Augustine would call remembering forgetfulness, is more useful than having access to perfect memories.

Or so I thought as I sat to write this remembrance of events from two decades ago. The truth is at first I remembered little about my involvement with the Flaherty Seminar in 1997, which is ironic given that the theme was “Exploration in Memory and Modernity.”

There is a somewhat valid excuse for my forgetfulness. At the time, I was holding down a full time job producing video advertisements for the cable company, studying full-time in a masters program at Ithaca College, and working as research/project assistant for Patty Zimmermann, an Ithaca College screen studies professor who was one of the programmers for the mini-Flaherty Seminar—Michelle Materre was the other.

I remember getting up at 4:30 AM on weekdays to do school work before going to my job, and then attending graduate classes in the evening. I often share this tale with my students struggling to balance work and school, which I am sure they find annoying.

In any event, the point is that I was busy, probably too busy to fully appreciate the impact of what I was involved in.

So it is only now, as I collect the isolated memories floating around my head and “curate” them into a meaningful experience, that I realize the impact that the Flaherty had on my development as a scholar.

What I actually remember from that October are little snippets of life as a student assistant.

I remember stuffing envelopes with invitations (this was before e-vites). I remember running to and fro making sure programs were distributed, chairs were available, signs were posted, and speakers were escorted to the right classrooms. I remember helping to fix projectors and setting up snacks; in short, getting done the things everyone just expects should be done when putting together an event. I do remember the artists and scholars: Daniel Reeves, Anne-Marie Duguet, Reginald Woolery...  Or rather, I definitely remember the names and some of the work, even if I don’t always remember the faces.

I remember the parties and get-togethers and being a bit intimidated about interacting with the kind of folks whose work I previously encountered only in the classroom and who were now standing in front of me. 

Most of all, I remember the Digital Salon, a room full of computers featuring websites and CD-ROM content by artists like Muntadas.

I provided technical assistance in putting the room together. I remember getting the sense even then that this was something new and exciting that redefined modes of spectatorship and interaction.

Of course, by today’s standards it seems quaint that we would have to get all this digital content into one room in order for people to experience it. But it is precisely because consumption of digital content has become so atomized and individualistic that the idea of the Salon seems endowed with a sense of collectivity that is now missing.

As I put all these memories together, I realize that the Flaherty was a key moment in my education as a scholar.

Yes, I was taking graduate classes at the time, reading and writing and working on research projects.

But the experience of helping to organize that weekend Flaherty gave me a sense—for the first time, I think—of belonging to an intellectual community, of being able not just to watch or read thought-provoking work, but to interact with the people who created it, and be able to have a discussion about it. In other words, as a student I had done scholarship, but now I started to feel like a scholar.

I eventually went on to do my doctorate at Columbia University and have been teaching at SUNY Oswego for almost a decade.

Many years from now, I know my students will probably not remember the details of everything they are learning. They are just as busy as I was.

But hopefully some of them will have similar opportunities to reflect on and organize their memories, to realize that they did find a community and a purpose in the midst of all that activity.

And hopefully they will also remember the sense of excitement about their discovery, as I do when I think about my involvement with the Flaherty in 1997.

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