Former UI student to release documentary on current Iowa professor


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When Daniel Kraus walked into his first class as a University of Iowa freshman, he never thought he would find himself in that same lecture hall 15 years later listening to the same man who inspired him years ago.

The teachings of UI religious-studies Professor Jay Holstein sparked Kraus to devote the newest edition of his documentary series to him. The first scene of Professor features the protagonist of the film as someone who defines the profession of teaching, a quality Kraus said he’ll always remember.

“The very first scene in the film precisely mirrors the very first moment of the first class I took as an undergrad here at Iowa, which was Judeo-Christian Tradition with Jay,” Kraus said. “The camera is in the exact same seat that I was in, and the effect is the same that I felt. You’re a new freshman who’s new to everything, and the first thing you experience is Jay Holstein, so you know that this is going to be a different experience.”

Professor is the third documentary Kraus directed, produced, and edited in his Work Series, and the film on Holstein will come out on DVD today. The documentaries center on different people of different jobs; previous work included shadowing a North Carolina sheriff and a Chicago musician.

Kraus feels all his documentary subjects can relate to one another in their roles in society.

“By coincidence, the first four people that I’ve tackled all sort of have a leadership role,” Kraus said. “They’re all used to being in the spotlight and having people looking at them because they are performers in their own way. So that makes me, in a sense, just another face looking at them.”

Kraus felt Holstein was just what he was looking for to showcase the daunting everyday tasks of a college teacher.

“I think Holstein is sort of a professor whom we all kind of want in college,” Kraus said. “When you come out of high school, you tend to have the same types of teachers, and then when you go to college, you find some crazy brilliant professor like Jay, who has this style that’s sort of wild, and he’ll take you places you’ve never been before with education.”

Holstein has been teaching at the UI for more than 40 years, and while he’s been filmed from time to time, he was very hesitant when it came to watching Kraus’s portrait of himself.

“Before the first time I watched it, I sat on it for three days without viewing it,” Holstein said. “Then, with a little help from some Irish whiskey, I finally watched it, and I was able to see that I treat each lecture like it’s the last lecture of my life.”

Kraus’s goal for filming was for his subject to forget that he was there, something he has been able to polish with the more filming experience he gains.

“All I want for my style is to be forgotten,” he said. “The first few days, I don’t push it quite as much and sort of give them a safety buffer by shooting with a long lens. Then, as the days progress, the closer I get … and everyone works out just fine.”

Holstein was impressed by Kraus’s ability to keep a low profile during filming, enabling Holstein to teach without the cameras being a distraction.

“I always forgot that he was there,” Holstein said. “The longer he was here, the more comfortable we became on and off the camera, and in a very short period of time, I trusted him and that he was in this to give an accurate portrayal of what I do for a living.”

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