The Hidden Treasure at the Center for the Arts
By Jéan-Claude Quintyne
At the far end of a corridor, in room 122, often passed by students entering the Center for the Arts 1P building, lies a space where filmmakers and other artists share their ideas for upcoming projects.
Upon seeing it, the space doesn’t quite look as its namesake suggests, but it holds a collection of C.S.I’s most expensive equipment—state of the art digital cameras, mono-pods, lighting and sound gear, available to students enrolled in production classes. Assistants there are a colorful collection of students and faculty under the direction of John Szeluga, the senior College Lab Technician, who take pride in having the opportunity to be a part of the atmosphere.
“The Cage is where I started my filmmaking”, said College Assistant Artem Golub, who helps students reserve equipment and troubleshoots issues students may have. “It’s where I took out a DV tape camera that I used to film my terrible Batman Begins re-creation scene and learned how much goes into filming.”
The equipment sits in open-faced sections, tightly secured in bags appropriate to their size and accessories, which are constantly serenaded by air conditioning and the ringing of the offices’ busy telephone. Students and faculty can come to reserve and retrieve film equipment and can call the office if they need help.
Students can edit their films by making an appointment in one of the editing suites, where they’d have access to Adobe Premiere Pro and Final Cut, which they can use to bring their content to life or request help to be tutored on how to do so.
“I like to think of the ‘Cage’ as a kind of portal, which it is to the classrooms and edit rooms here in the Performing Arts building,” writes College Lab Technician Lori Hiris, who has been with the Department of Media Culture for one year and who bikes to campus each day from St. George, “but it is also a place to meet other filmmakers, to get information, to find support.”
Not just a hub to reserve equipment, the Cage is also a place where film students can inquire about internships, discover film festivals to submit their work, and obtain the latest information about degree requirements.
The Department of Media Culture has existed since the 1970s, around the time C.S.I opened, and has given film students across the decades an opportunity to share their unique visions of the world with classmates and colleagues.
Over the course of a week in June Ms. Hiris, Mr. Golub, and other college assistants helped put together “Then and Now”, a film exhibition featured at the annual “Art by the Ferry” art show, in which a collection of student films from 1970 to 2014 were screened on a loop.
One short film, Letter to a Lady in Paris, shot in the 1970s, documents a man composing disturbing pleas to a mystery woman, but is thwarted each time he reaches an emotional breaking point by vomiting a rabbit. Films the nature of Letter to a Lady express that the Cage isn’t simply a pit stop for information and equipment, but a place where art is made.
“Art and filming are interchangeable,” Mr. Golub explains. “You create something out of nothing and see the many steps that occur before it’s complete.”
There’s a bountiful educational experience that the Cage offers, but not many students know about it. Ms. Hiris plans to get the word out in the fall to those interested.
She is new to Staten Island but has worked at several other colleges in New York City as an equipment tech and adjunct professor.
“There are so many great locations for shooting film, including the campus of C.S.I.”, Ms. Hiris giddily said as she smiled, pointing to a large bird strolling by, “this is kind of unique for New York City; there are even wild turkeys wandering the walkways at the campus.”
She speaks fondly of her experience on both the technical and aesthetic sides of film-making, stressing it as a collaborative form.
“The Cage, when it is running well, honors this notion of collaboration. An artist can easily get caught up in her own ego so it is refreshing to work on a film shoot where everyone contributes to the production.”