Michelle Handelman FDGA 2016

2015 Report on Faculty Development Grant, Center for Excellence in Teaching

Dear Faculty Development grant administrators and committee members,

I would like to thank the Faculty Development Grants Committee and the office of Academic Affairs for supporting the development and research of my multi-platform project Irma Vep, The Last Breath, based on Jeanne Roques aka Musidora, the French silent film actress and the character she is best known for, Irma Vep from the silent film Les Vampires (dir. Louis Feuillade 1915). I have been working on this project for several years, and through my research I became particularly interested in Musidora’s little known contributions to French cinema, as well as her relationships with other female artists; in particular, her lifelong relationship with the renowned writer Colette.

With the support of a Faculty Development grant in the amount of $1500 I was able to work with a translator to complete the translation from French to English of Un Bien Grand Amour – Lettres de Colette a Musidora a definitive collection of letters Colette wrote to Musidora over the span of their forty year friendship, and Musidora’s play La Vie Sentimentale de George Sand. My project consists of two phases and this grant helped support the second phase of project, which was to create a performative text and reading that combined the letters of Colette with the writings of Musidora, intertwined with stories from my own life. Getting the works fully translated allowed me to see the rich relationship these two women had throughout their adult lives. The texts illuminated how these women influenced each other’s works, and as they spanned two wars – WWI and WWII – it made palpable the experience of survival and creation during times of collective trauma. Through Colette’s intensely personal letters I was able to expand my knowledge of Musidora; it was as if these letters molded her life in absentia. These translations became the material for my work that I use to build the performance and enhance my knowledge on the subject.

With the completed translations in hand I was able to workshop the material that summer at The Henry Art Gallery, Seattle where the first phase of the project, Irma Vep, The Last Breath, a four-channel film was on view. The Henry Art Gallery connected me to four local writers and performers, including one film historian whose thesis was on Musidora. We spent three days reading over the letters, extracting and sequencing the stories based on topic and time frame. This took place summer 2015, allowing me to workshop in advance of the Fall 2015 events I planned in New York City to honor the 100-year anniversary of Les Vampires.

The 2015 series 100 YEARS OF IRMA VEP in New York City were as follows:

  • Anthology Film Archives: 4-day film festival with nightly readings/lectures by FIT faculty Michelle Handelman.
  • Participant, Inc: Performance and reading by FIT faculty Michelle Handelman and invited guests Jack Doroshow, Marti Domination, Nicola Tyson, Katie Hubbard, Jack Waters, and Everett Quinton.
  • Fashion Institute of Technology: Lecture by FIT faculty Michelle Handelman and Kate Saccone from the Women Film Pioneers Project, Columbia University.
  • Microscope Gallery: Live music and film performance by FIT faculty Michelle Handelman and MV Carbon.

FIT and the Faculty Development Grant, Center for Excellence in Teaching was acknowledged at all events and is now listed as a supporter of my project Irma Vep, The Last Breath in all its future iterations.

Sexuality in Cinema, one of the courses I teach at FIT, features work by early female directors and this grant helped contribute to my scholarship on the subject. Musidora was an early 20th century feminist who became one of the first female feature film directors, and now with a greater understanding of her past I am able to bring her important contributions to an American audience.

2016 Report on Faculty Development Grant and Awards
November 30, 2016

I would like to thank the Faculty Development Grants and Awards Committee and the Office of Academic Affairs for supporting the research and production for my new film project Hustlers and Empires, a feature-length film project inspired by three historic works: Federico Fellini's 1968 film Toby Dammit; Marguerite Duras' 1984 novel The Lover and Iceberg Slim' s 1967 novel Trick Baby. Hustlers and Empires looks at class, colonization, race and sexuality in three very different worlds: Roman Catholic Italy, circa 1968; French-occupied Saigon, circa 1930, and the African-American community of Chicago, circa 1940.

With the support of this Faculty Development grant in the amount of $1500 I was able to travel to Rome and work on the portion of my film connected to Federico Fellini's 1968 film Toby Dammit, a Faustian tale of a washed up Shakespearean actor who reluctantly travels to Rome to receive a free Ferrari, and is destroyed by his own greed, in collaboration with the church and the media. Several film historians, in addition to the executive director of the American Academy in Rome, connected me to archives that house costumes and original scripts from the film. With the support of this grant I was able to go to Rome and view these materials in person. I was also able to work with a crew to recreate the final driving scene from Toby Dammit. I contacted a film historian who was able to track the exact path Fellini used in the original film, then worked with a film production crew to map the roads from 1968 onto the landscape of contemporary Rome. We were able to shoot the path Toby Dammit drove to his death in the original film - a shot by shot recreation from a camera rigged to a car. This footage will be used as green screen material for my film.

I received a 2015 Art Matters grant to begin this project (which supported a prior shoot in Vietnam) and am grateful to receive this support, allowing me to continue my production. Renowned New York performer John Kelly (Obie Award winner, Guggenheim Fellow) is cast in one of the leading roles, and Icelandic producer Hrafnhildur Gunnarsdottir is on board for the scenes to be shot in Iceland. In Jan 2016 I traveled to Vietnam and shot scenes for the Marguerite Duras section. This project is currently in production and has been invited to premiere at SFMOMA Spring 2018.

This trip was invaluable in allowing me to get a feel for Fellini's Rome. and bring that spirit into my film. I am thrilled to be able to include FIT and the Faculty Development Grant and Award as a supporter of my project Hustlers and Empires. Thank you for this generous support!

Kind regards,
Michelle Handelman
Associate Professor, Film, Media and Performing Arts