Hi! My name is Melanie Pantano. I am going into my senior year and pursing Film and Media Studies major, Philosophy major, and a Museum Studies minor. Recently I discovered that my calling is to make documentaries. I have found that they have the ability to be one of the most free form and expressive modes of filmmaking. In tandem with my own expressivity, I find it is conducive to communicating my thoughts and emotions outwardly in a manner that mirrors the way that they appear in my mind. My favorite documentarians are those who got their start during the French New Wave, such as Chris Marker and Agnes Varda. I really enjoy all eras of film however and generally have always been curious about the past.
My Project – Remembering Acadie
My project will be a documentary about my grandmother. She has Alzheimer’s which has been a challenge my family has had to manage for the past few years. I always enjoyed my grandmother’s colorful stories about her upbringing in rural Northern Maine as well as her general perspective on life. However as time goes on, I have forgotten many of these stories, as well as the general feeling of having a conversation with her. The theory behind the film is that it can be used as a tool of remembrance– as in– I can reassemble her persona through the utilization of the spoken word, introspective thought, archival footage and photographs, and different visual textures such as 8mm, tape, and digital. Furthermore, I would call upon my mother and her four siblings to help share my grandmother’s stories and likeness.
Another exciting factor that blossoms from utilizing my grandmother’s footage, my mother’s footage, and my own is that fact I can explore the cinematic eye of three different women across different points of history. I have noticed throughout my time of watching films is that the relationship between mothers and daughters is not heavily explored and defined. I would like to learn more about this in general and discover films that actually do this and try to represent the female experience through film. My grandmother is a source of inspiration to me as she defied the expectations that her time placed on her.
Another aspect of this film is about tracing my family’s heritage as Acadians. Acadians are a group of settlers from France who arrived in Nova-Scotia and the upper reaches of Maine in the 1600s. They were deported from their land in 1764 to Louisiana and became the ethnic group that we know today as Cajuns. Not everyone was deported and families like my own still remain in the Northern area and preserve Acadian culture. In mainstream American culture little is known about Acadians, so it is important to represent my heritage through film especially since it played an important role in my life growing up.
One of Acadia’s biggest claims to fame is the epic poem Evangeline written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It tells the story of a woman named Evangeline whose love, Gabriel, was taken from her during the deportation of the Acadians to Louisiana. Evangeline then spends the rest of her life searching for him across America. She becomes a nurse and eventually finds Gabriel as she is treating wounded soldiers in Philadelphia. He dies in her arms. Somehow I feel connected to Evangeline as I too am searching for the person I love in my own way.
In the same vein, this research is important because not only does this tell my family’s story and connect voices across generations and can be something looked at by generations to come. It can also be a cultural film for other Acadian people and widespread representation of a culture that has not been heavily documented on film. The film may also be a source of solace to those who have also been affected by Alzheimer’s and can reveal an interconnectivity that binds caretakers together. Finally the film would explore the feminie experience across history and the relationship between mothers and daughters which is seldom on film.
My mentor for this project is Robert Clift. He is a documentarian and just made a documentary called Making Montgomery Clift about his uncle Montgomery Clift. Dr. Clift has had to undertake a similar task, as he is telling a story about his family in a new light, as well as reassembling his uncle’s story in a new light. Throughout this process he will be a good resource to have as I work with different cameras, archival film, and interviews since he has experience with all of this.
Professionally I would like to continue to make documentaries. I think this film is a really great opportunity because this will be my first full length/long form project. My goal is to get it to a point where I can submit it to film festivals and make my debut as a filmmaker. Furthermore I will be able to purchase professional equipment which has been something I have never been able to afford. I can then use it to make other documentaries I have been itching to start.
After I graduate in the fall I would like to take a little break from school for a while and work and pay off my loans and the bills and establish my independence. In a few years, speaking in the long term, I aspire to get into some of the top film programs in the country for my masters degree. My absolute dream would be to get into Stanford, which has a program completely devoted to documentary which is very unique. Although I am confident in my skills, I think I need to grow a lot more technically before I would even consider myself a professional. But truly I want to commit to my dream and pursue what I think is my purpose in life.