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Graduate students screen films

BY TOMMY MORGAN JR. | APRIL 22, 2010 7:30 AM

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When he’s not helping select the movies shown at the Bijou, Executive Director Evan Meaney makes films of his own.

This weekend, both passions will intersect when his master’s thesis project is shown at the cinema.
Meaney and fellow graduate student Carina Johnson will screen their films in the Bijou at 7 p.m. April 25. Following the screenings, the filmmakers will hold a Q&A session about the films. Admission is free.

Meaney began making films with friends in high school.

“I wanted to make the next Star Wars movie,” he said. “I learned After Effects [a visual-effect software] before I learned how to edit. I learned how to make lasers, and light sabers, and monsters before I learned how to construct [films].”

Though he was interested in film, he was originally an English major as an undergraduate at Ithaca College in New York. He later switched to cinema and photography, because he “wanted to make things and also to have a backup field.”

For the his thesis project, Meaney made a documentary, a return to his filmmaking roots. He had made documentaries as an undergrad, he said, and wanted to return to the genre.

“I’ve been knee-deep in experimental work for three years now,” the filmmaker said.

The documentary, Centralia, tells the story of Centralia, Pa., a ghost town on the western side of the state. The once-booming mining town suffered a fire in 1962 that, Meaney said, ignited the coal underneath the city, and most of the residents had to evacuate.

The documentary’s ideas, particularly the focus on the absence of people in the town while the buildings they once inhabited remain, are ones that he has used throughout his filmmaking career, he said.

“A lot of my other work deals with ontology,” Meaney said, citing French philosopher Jacques Derrida’s ideas on being as an inspiration, in particular, the notion that people cannot study the absence of something but rather “presences that mark absences,” as he does in Centralia.

In 2009, Meaney became the Bijou executive director, meaning he oversees the day-to-day operations of the theater. The filmmaker had previously run several film festivals, including Iowa City International Documentary Film Festival, and decided it would be interesting to switch from running a festival to operating a venue.

“He’s been a really strong influence for the theater as a whole,” said Bijou Programming Director Zane Umsted.

Umsted pointed to Meaney’s handling of what he dubbed the “Porn Scandal,” in which Thomas Rocklin, the UI interim vice president for Student Services, prevented the Bijou from screening the ’70s 3D cult send-up Disco Dolls in Hot Skin as an example of Meaney’s positive leadership.

“He took that head on,” Umsted said. “He handled everything and rolled with the punches.”

In addition to his films and work at the Bijou, Meaney has also taught or served as a teaching assistant for classes in film production and history at Ithaca, the UI, and the Senior Center, 28 S. Linn St. Meaney said he plans to continue teaching, and he has accepted a position as an assistant professor at a university that he cannot yet name.

“I think education is a form of artistic expression in and of itself, and all art is a form of education,” he said. “I like the Bijou because I can help others, and I like making my work because I like producing things myself and exploring things creatively. Teaching is putting them together perfectly.”

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