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In Focus: Harvard's Film Students

Earlier this month, the department of visual and environmental studies organized its semesterly student film screenings to showcase a series of short fictional, documentary, and animated films that are produced in Harvard’s film making/video making classes. The Crimson talked to several participants about their works and their experiences.


Benjamin D. Sorscher ’18 - Miss Sandy (VES 151BR: Nonfiction Video Projects)

With no dialogue, the short documentary follows fishermen Al and Joe as they bring in the daily haul.

The Harvard Crimson: How did you decide to make this film, and has your focus changed over time?

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Benjamin D. Sorscher: This film is actually a smaller part of a larger film I’m working on. I was just reading news about some fishermen in New England. They’ve been faced with a difficult situation recently—some combination of overfishing and climate change—and fish population have gone way down. So the government steps in and puts quotas on the number of fish they are allowed to catch. It seems like a tough situation, because on one hand fishing is deeply rooted in the tradition of New England and many fishermen are losing their jobs. On the other hand you have to do something to protect the environment. So I was interested in that.

I got in touch with some fishermen. It took a long time to get them to be comfortable with me coming to film. I actually spent a day scooping red fish soup for them, and I think that helped them to know me better. So they let me come on their boat with them, and that was just such a completely alienating experience. We got up at 2 A.M. It was pitch black. We drove for three hours out to the middle of water. They dropped their nets in it, dragged them for an hour, and then pulled in this absurd amount of fish. I’d never seen any of this before, and I was with my camera, so I just tried to capture as much as I could. So [the focus of this project] kind of has changed. I was more interested in the plight they were facing, but at some point I just became very interested in their work and wanted to capture what exactly this experience is like.

THC: How did you recreate this particular experience on screen?

BDS: One of the strongest feelings I felt was the sense of total isolation. You really feel there’s nothing around. The fog was surrounding us. You couldn’t see more than 50 feet, but you knew that even if you could, there wouldn’t be anything to see. I really tried to just lock the camera down and have these composed frames, long shots. It kind of felt like the fish and the sea were infinite. I wanted to compose the frame so that the fish spill off the frame, [to show] this infinite pile of fish, this infinite mass of water.

THC: After filming, how did you structure the movie during the editing process?

BDS: I just wanted to cut it together so that it conveys what exactly this experience is like. When I was talking to this woman Angela [who is a fisherman’s wife], she got kind of emotional and she was like, “Ben, you know, this is all we’ve ever done. We’ve been doing this for centuries and we are not going to be able to do it anymore. We’re the last fishermen in New England, so we need you to come and capture what this experience is like.” When I heard that, I was like, now I know what to do.


Joule P. Voelz ’17 - Deliver as Addressed (VES 150A: Narrative Tactilities: Intermediate Film Production)

In a post office where employees work all day to cut letters into pieces, a girl finds a letter full of hatred and is unsure what to do with it.

THC: Did the project start with a concept, a character, or a story?

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