April 13, 2006
arts. michigandaily. com
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unveil film series
By Blake Goble
Daily Arts Writer
With a slight uneasiness, the
co-presidents of M-agination
Films sat down for what must have
seemed like an unlikely event: an
Two filmmakers accustomed
the spotlight as
Kind of a
Tonight only at the
front of the lens as heads of the
student film group and presenting
"Kind of a Big Deal," a selection
of nine short films from various
members of the club that will
premiere tonight at 7 p.m. at the
The two were eager to drum
up support for their student film
showcase. With it, they hope to
introduce a new audience to one
of the University's most over-
"We are all about making stu-
dent films as well as high-quality
films," Gehani said. "We're look-
ing to fill a very eclectic grouping
while bringing some reputation to
With these artistic works, M-
agination aims to be seen as
something more than a ragtag
group of students with too much
free time and too much pop-cul-
"We recognize the stigma of
student films not being too avant-
garde and only making fun-ori-
ented work," Shenk said. "But we
are about promoting student film-
making to majors and non-majors.
We like to give students an open
script policy, which gives people
For many students, part of the
appeal of M-agination and its work
is its accessibility. "If you want to
get involved in filmmaking, we'll
get you involved in some way or
another," Gehani said.
University students are able to
enter the group and bring them-
selves into the creative process.
From direction to acting to cater-
ing, the entire gamut is covered.
Included in tonight's lineup
are several dramas, comedies and
even a documentary. The films
showing aren't the typical slew,
but legitimate filmmaking. M-
agination prides itself on using
real studio equipment and tech-
niques. Several of the films have
even won awards in various film
festivals and are currently shop-
ping around for distribution.
Films of note include "Dorm
Room," an awkward yet earnest
observation of residence hall life.
Also noteworthy is "Silent Foot-
steps," an absurdist satirical docu-
mentary chronicling the struggles
of the American ninja.
M-agination doesn't shy away
from lampooning itself. "Cast-
ing Call" is an examination of the
nightmarish process of casting
and starting a movie.
The short films have a spec-
tacular venue in the form of the
historic Michigan Theater, a fact
that Shenk and Gehani hope will
help M-agination break out of
small-time screenings. "We have
this big showcase. ... It goes with
establishing M-agination as a
presence, not just some lecture-
hall features," Gehani said.
"Fight Like Hell," a docu-
mentary digging into the history
Michigamua, will screen as part
of "Kind of a Big Deal" in hopes
of drawing a larger audience.
"We have such a variety of
genres, we can reach more stu-
dents," Shenk said.
Shrek and Gehani said the group
hopes to achieve respect among
the film-loving Ann Arbor com-
munity while avoiding the pre-
tentiousness that can scar student
film. They want to use tonight's
showcase to prove themselves.
"This is our chance to be
viewed not just as students with
cameras, but student filmmak-
ers," Gehani said.
Courtesy of Jamie Shenk
"Fight Like Hell" will screen tonight only as part of M-agination's "Kind of a Big Deal" at 7 p.m. at the Michigan Theater.
A GLIMPSE A
DOCUMENTARY LOOKS AT CONTROVERSIAL STUDENT GROUP
By Imran Syed
Daily Arts Writer
His solemnity bordering on pomp, his curly brown
hair rippling in the wind and with the Washington
Monument looming just over
his shoulder, blogger Rob Good-
speed of goodspeedupdate.com
simply declares "Secrecy is sexy
and exciting." The fewer the
words, the more daunting their
power, and Goodspeed's five
in the new M-agination made
documentary "Fight Like Hell"
Tonight only at the
Through it all, the well-made student film clarifies
only one thing: Michigamua and its opponents still
don't understand each other, and if they disagree so
much about events of the past, how can we expect any
progress in the future?
In outlining the history of Michigamua, from its
founding in 1902 by then-University President James
Angell, the film provides a relatively balanced back-
ground. Disturbing images from the early-to-mid 20th
century depict members dressed in mock Native Ameri-
can garb engaging in pseudo-ritualistic initiation practic-
es. The largely racist attitudes of Michigamua members
of yore, expressed in letters to University President James
Duderstadt in 1989, are not sugarcoated or trivialized.
In explaining such actions, which would obviously
be considered racially demeaning today, Michigamua
Pride of 2006 members Sam Woll and Neal Pancho-
li, unfortunately offer no especially useful insights.
Woll, for example, dismisses the practices by refer-
ence to a "modern lens" applied to historical events.
But while it may be unfair to criticize actions from the
early 1900s, is a modern lens really inappropriate for
events that took place only five to 10 years ago? How
does the group explain the photograph with a "peace
pipe" dated 1996 and the headdresses, armbands and
other Native American artifacts SCC claims to have
found lying on tables in Michigamua's quarters in the
tower of the Union in 2000?
Of course, Michigamua denies the objects were found
in the room. Woll claims SCC dug the artifacts out of
an attic and "sensationalized" the whole event. Possibly
that's true, but if it is, shouldn't the two sides get together
and iron out such falsehoods in perceiving the other?
Examples of disagreement litter the film from begin-
ning to end: Woll and Pancholi stress Michigamua's
core value of humility, while Joe Reilly of SCC and
NASA's Brittany Marino point to its traditionally closed
character and disregard for values of Native Americans.
Woll says the word Michigamua is completely fictional,
yet Marino claims it is an Ojibwa word.
While the film is a serviceable primer on the con-
troversial organization, what is said in it by both sides
is old news to anyone familiar with Michigamua and
largely insignificant to those who know nothing about
it. University spokesperson Julie Peterson, though puz-
zlingly naive on many other aspects of the debate, is
absolutely right in saying that the two sides still don't
understand each other. But doesn't the University, and
Michigamua itself, have some role to play in facilitating
this understanding? As Goodspeed declares, "(Students
are) part of Michigan too."
Don't we have a right to know exactly what the orga-
Michigamua may well serve the University, but ser-
vice is service only when desirably accepted. As Univer-
sity director of student activities and leadership Susan
Wilson says, "Perhaps the thing that the group wants to
give, the gift of time and talent, isn't what the University
needs:" But then again perhaps it is. We can't know until
the society's doings are made public.
certainly make that point. Michigamua, the Universi-
ty's traditionally secretive, selective and at times racist
senior honor society, has remained so closed over the
years because, without secrecy, its mystique is lost.
But does a service organization, as Michigamua
claims to be, have the right to exist if many of those
it serves "wish it would die?" That question is among
the core arguments that fuel the ongoing debate over
Michigamua. In "Fight Like Hell," some Michigamua
members seek to clarify the organization's purpose
and intentions, while members of the Student of Color
Coalition and the Native American Student Association
counter with their own reasons why the society should
not be accepted on campus.
U profs. talk violence
'Fight' takes look at American wars
By Jack Russo
Daily Arts Writer
Taking on modern violence in a wide
range of contexts from Venezuela to
the University's Fernando
own Fernando Coronil and
Coronil and Julie Julie Skurski
sors in the history Friday at 4 p.m.
and anthropology At Shaman Drum
celebrate the release of their new book,
- "States of Violence" - at a book-
signing event at Shaman Drum Book-
shop Friday at 4 p.m.
Fernando Coronil, a Venezuelan
citizen, is also the director of Latin
American and Caribbean Studies, while
Skurski is also an associate director of
the doctoral program in anthropology
and history. Clearly, the two make quite
the anthropological and historical pair.
"States of Violence" is a fresh approach
to structural violence undulated by a
pride of their favored disciplines.
Coronil and Skurski use history and
interpretation to understand contem-
porary structural violence - violence
connected to the state and linked with
social realities like racism, marginal-
ization and impoverishment of peoples
around the globe. The two faculty
members also participated in a Univer-
sity conference on structural violence
after doing work on social unrest in
Venezuela. Their article, "Dismember-
ing and Remembering the Nation: The
Semantics of Political Violence in Ven-
ezuela," was published in 1991.
"There is a significant connection
with the role of Venezuela and the book
(States of Violence)," Coronil said.
The idea of the conference and
the book was promoted by Raymond
Grew, professor emeritus of history. He
is also the former editor of the inter-
national quarterly, Comparative Stud-
ies in Society and History. "States of
Violence" is part of a series of books
by CSSH and is dedicated to Grew.
A collection of essays, "States of
Violence" covers a wide range of time
and geographic regions. The essays
are detailed case studies and many
concern colonial and early post-inde-
pendence eras. The reader can also
expect to find recurring themes like
the clash between so-called "civiliza-
tion" and "barbarization."
"They are interpretative kinds of
essays that give attention to language
and how people are categorized,"
One essay that inspects this idea of
interpretation comes from feminist
professor Veena Das of John Hop-
kins University. She writes of Indian
laws regarding rape in "Sexual Vio-
lence, Discursive Formations, and
the State." More specifically, Das
examined legal definitions that clas-
sify certain cases not as rape, but as
normal impulses of man.
Also noteworthy are University
contributors Charles Bright of the
Residential College and the history
department, Juan Cole of the history
department and former University pro-
fessor E. Valentine Daniel, now in the
anthropology department at Columbia
University. The book includes an arti-
cle from each of them, covering topics'
on violence in Jackson State Prison,
Afro-Asian uprisings and Sri Lankan
In tackling the book, both Coronil
and Skurski sought new truth in light
of historical perspective. This well-
grounded approach to their subject
brings an interdisciplinary strength
that is the book's hallmark.
"In our contemporary world, we
hope people can learn and understand
the historical origins that lead up to
today's events," Skursi said. "People,
then, can draw a lot of conclusions."
"The University of Michigan is
known nationally for its support of
interdisciplinary work and this book is
a good example," Coronil added.
By Michelle Zellers
Daily Arts Writer
Just when you think "Saturday Night Live" skits and
the production of George W. Bush bobble-heads are the
only ways Americans know how to voice dissatisfaction
with their government, someone decides to make a seri-
ous, no-punches-pulled political film.
It's an anti-Iraq war film, actually, which aims to keep
audience attention for an hour and 40
minutes without the use of caricature.
Taking its title from a series of govern- Why We
ment-commissioned propaganda films Fight
shown to soldiers during World War II, At the Michigan
"Why We Fight" examines the same Theater
issue as its namesakes: reasons for going Sony Pictures Classics
to war. But as it scrutinizes America's
extraordinary defense budget as well as
links between politicians and corporations, it urges viewers to
draw a dramatically different conclusion.
To the politically cognizant individual, the documentary
may not be very enlightening. Many of the issues it discuss-
es, from Dick Cheney's ties with Halliburton to questions
of imperialism in U.S. foreign policy, have been debated ad
nauseam by TV pundits since the war began. But "Why We
Fight" presents a richer viewpoint than day-to-day media
coverage by taking the Iraq war out of its Bush administra-
tion context and paralleling its possible economic motiva-
tions with those of past wars. It offers a refreshing historical
perspective for what one interviewee calls "the United
States of Amnesia, (where) no one remembers anything
before Monday morning."
With a wide range of interviews and a collage of war-
time TV and film clips from past decades, "Why We
Fight" sticks to issues without getting too fact-heavy and
remains visually stimulating throughout. The farewell
address of Dwight D. Eisenhower, in which he warned
the public about the newly forming "military-industrial
Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classic
Surprise, surprise. Old white guys cause most wars.
complex," becomes the focal point of the film.
While the documentary makes some compelling argu-
ments about the economic causes of war, a few sweep-
ing and unelaborated statements and lack of attention to
opposing arguments make it easy for those in support of
the war in Iraq to write off the film as merely a vehicle
for a leftist agenda.
Filmmaker Eugene Jarecki includes a few interviews
with politicians who back Bush's foreign policy, but these
scenes are cut to a few seconds each, allowing only a few
superficial remarks from the opposition to surface.
But regardless of viewpoints on the war, most will
at least find "Why We Fight" respectable for its mature
approach to a serious topic. When considering the Amer-
ican people's position in another troubling state of war, it
lays aside mockery and scapegoating of public figures in
favor of the more important issues: how we got there and
where we're going.