• English Class Enjoys Special Film Screening

    It’s not every day that GSA students chat with L.A. filmmakers. It was a Friday in January in Erin McCormick’s Reading Across the Curriculum class, and the chat was about a movie screened just for them the day before.

         Earlier in the semester, after participating in online events with a pair of filmmakers for her own enrichment, Erin appreciated what the filmmakers were doing “both artistically and for mental health promotion,” so she asked if she could bring a few students to an online screening.

         The movie she wanted them to see, and which she called “genre-bending,” is A Place Among the Dead. This film about the making of a documentary about vampires, or maybe about catching a serial killer, was written and produced by Juliet Landau, perhaps best known for portraying Drusilla in the Buffy and Angel TV series, and her cinematographer husband Deverill Weekes. The pair appear in the film as themselves, joined by a veritable who’s who from the vampire genre, including Gary Oldman, Ron Perlman, Robert Patrick, Joss Whedon, Anne Rice, and many others.

         Juliet, who also directed the movie, countered the English teacher's request by suggesting a special screening for the entire class in which students could “read” the film, which Erin describes as the analysis “of camera angles, lighting, music, and blocking to express symbolism and meaning,” and then discuss it the following day.

         In the course, Erin said, students look at sociological and psychological concepts “and how they affect individuals in real-life group settings.” A movie that looks at the vampire genre and explores, according to its IMDB entry, “the repercussions of growing up under the sway of narcissism and evil” was a natural complement to the final book students would read, one with a main character that the teachers said “clearly has narcissistic personality disorder.”

         To make a film about this disorder, Erin said the filmmakers “purposefully used metaphor and symbolism, and both blended and subverted the genre and film rules of autobiography, drama, CSI crime thriller, and Gothic horror. Their goal was to produce an unusual film that got audiences thinking but also helped start conversations about promoting mental health.”

         With those conversations in mind, Erin invited Hector Sapien, a counselor at GSA, to watch the movie and participate in the chat. The movie, Hector wrote in an email, “deals with such heady psychological concepts” and includes “an intense psychological twist.”

         “[It] makes a strong case for how our toxic thoughts,” he said, often conflict with reality and can be “obstacles in achieving our maximum potential,” obstacles that come from within and can be “rendered powerless” through close examination.

         “We really loved meeting Hector,” Juliet wrote in an email. “Everything he shared and talked about resonated deeply with us as well.”

         “Dev and I say that if we’d seen a movie like this when we were teenagers, it might have changed the course and journey of our lives."

         “Our mission,” she said, “was to make an entertaining movie and to give voice to what has affected so many, and to open up a dialogue. The discussion with the students was powerful, and it was really fun. Dev and I loved talking with such incredible young people.”

         One of those students, senior Gadrielle Samperi, wrote in an email that A Place Among the Dead “kept you curious about the main antagonist. It really drew you in.” She said she “had a really good experience with the Q&A,” asking questions about camera tricks and filmmaking techniques. And the filmmakers “were both really nice.”

         Erin agrees with her student. “Juliet and Dev are just remarkably generous people. They have agreed to join my Brit Lit Honors class when their schedule opens up to connect their work to our Gothic unit and the study of characters in Frankenstein and Richard III.”

         The filmmakers were equally impressed with Erin. “[She] is a rock-star teacher!” Landau said, “You can see and feel how engaged and excited her students are. She ignited a fire within them. She created an inspiring, safe, accepting, beautiful, thought-provoking teaching environment.”

         For more on the movie, visit www.modernfilms.com/aplaceamongthedead.