Lights, Camera, Action
Assistant Professor of Film Studies David Roberberg takes a practical, team-oriented approach to teaching students the art of filmmaking.
By: Meghan Kita
Friday, April 1, 2022, 8:28 am
Assistant Professor of Film Studies David Romberg. Photos by Ryan Hulvat
Last fall, Assistant Professor of Film Studies David Roberberg taught a specialty course, Cinema, as well as Advanced Video Production for Advanced Film Degrees. He had taught each lesson separately in the past. this time, he brought the two classes together. The idea was to “persuade students to experience the creation of cinema in a way that reflects the way films are actually made outside of school, in the real world.”
In the real world, it takes a crew to make a movie, so Roberg divides the students into four groups. Each group had one or two Advanced Video Production students performing a producer / director role plus a “crew” of four or five Film students. The producers / directors had attended Romberg’s other courses (on topics such as screenplay and pre-production), so they already had sophisticated scripts for their teams to look at and some understanding of what such a project would need. These students led their groups and handled tasks such as raising money, locating, securing releases for actors, and editing.
Film students were responsible for creating lists of shots and stories, going to locations to try out the lighting and essentially shooting the films. In the process, they learned how to use the state-of-the-art cameras, lights and other tools provided to their students by the Media & Communication Department.
“Building their own communities, working together outside the classroom; that’s a big part of what filmmaking is,” says Romberg. “Throughout this collaboration, students also learn about the terms of cinema and the theory of cinema. “They do not just study the theory of cinema – they practice it.”
Assistant Professor of Film Studies David Romberg (center) teaching Cinema in Autumn 2019
Romberg joined Muhlenberg in 2019 after teaching his alma mater at Temple University. Temple offers an entirely production-focused approach, which is why he used to work with student groups on the practical process of making films. Working as a crew can increase the value of producing a film, he says. We can approach the same with the intention of creating something that can be submitted to film festivals and shown to the public.
“When you make films that you know will be distributed or seen by other people, there is a greater responsibility in that,” he says. “One of the things I wanted to do in Muhlenberg was persuade students to start thinking about their work not just in their institution or classrooms, but how it relates to the world.”
And in 2021, he was able to guide two of his students as they successfully submitted their work to festivals. Amira F. Jackson ’24 won the Pittsburgh Anti-Racist Film Festival with its short film Pittsburgh: The peopleand Joe Romano ’23 had his short film Hemetophobia was shown at the 33rd Girona Film Festival in Girona, Spain and the BJX Bajío International Film Festival in Guanajuato, Mexico.
Both Jackson and Romano attended Roberg’s special course on hybrid documentary / fiction in the spring of 2021 and submitted both documentaries to their respective festivals. A documentary film is one that combines elements of both genres, and Romberg is part of such a mix in his own work. He makes films that tell “stories that meditate on the concept of home or shelter in the context of immigration, political unrest and displacement.” The most recent feature film of the documentary, Man of the Monkey, completed in 2020, takes place on a remote Brazilian island, Ilha Grande. His father was an artist who was forced to flee Argentina in the 1970s because of the dictatorship, so the Romberg family split their time between Israel and Ilha Grande, where they lived in a house without electricity or running water. The house in Brazil was a “shelter — a house on an island that was very isolated and in the rainforest,” says Romberg. “[In Man of the Monkey]I was exploring why my family built this place and why other people ended up on the same island. ” Man of the Monkey has made its way through film festivals, including winning the best feature-length documentary at NewFilmmakers Los Angeles, and Romberg is currently looking for ways to distribute it.
This semester, he teaches Site-Specific Documentary Practice in Dublin, Ireland, where 16 multimedia, communication and film students are studying abroad. His students make documentaries about historic sites in the city that are of contemporary importance, exploring not only the sites but also what it means for students, as visitors, to make films for the community. Romberg has taught similar courses at Muhlenberg as part of the documentary, a collaboration between College, Lehigh University and Lafayette College.
While abroad, he also completes a short documentary about his father (who recently died), his art and legacy, in collaboration with a moderator living in Spain. Roberg, who has been teaching for almost a decade now, says the work he does in the classroom shapes the films he makes outside of it.
“I really feel I have to teach,” he says. “I feel it is part of my process. “My personal work is based on the work I do with my students.”
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