Faculty Spotlight on Emilie Upczak

Department of Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts

Four Questions for Faculty

Emilie UpczakWhat drew you towards or inspired you to work in cinema studies and moving image arts? What keeps you being a filmmaker and professor?
I started making films in my thirties in Trinidad and Tobago (where I lived for ten years). My first film explored the Afro-Caribbean ritual practice as a sort of ethnographic study. From there, I made a few more documentary shorts and then experimental films. Now I find myself interested in working primarily in the narrative form. I wrote, directed and produced my first narrative feature film in 2016 in Port of Spain. I learned so much from that experience. I keep making films in part because I am interested in continuing to hone my skills and make something that has a lasting impact. My work normally has a social concern imbedded in it, I am not an activist per se, so my art becomes my activism. I completed my MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2015 and have been teaching in the Department of Cinema Studies and Moving Image Arts for the past three years. I have found teaching film to be the perfect complement to making film. I learn something new every day, and I love being in conversation with new filmmakers.

What excites you most in your field right now and why?
I am excited about the movement towards hybridity, particularly documentaries that use narrative structure and narrative storytelling that embraces non-actors, real events and actual locations. Working at CU Boulder and having access to colleagues and guest artists who work in film art has also allowed me to explore more abstract and non-linear storytelling.

What project are your currently working on? What do you hope to achieve with this project?
I am currently in the script-writing phase of a narrative feature film SILT to be shot on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon that centers on a native botanist. I am filming a short proof of concept this summer to explore the backstory of the main character. Synopsis for the short: Emery, a botanist, grieving the death of a beloved aunt, travels alone to the Gulf of California in northern Mexico. Along the way, she is nourished by images of the last trip she took with her aunt, when, together, they witnessed the transformation of the Colorado River Delta, as water from a number of different Dams, flooded the sandy channels, and the dry riverbed transformed back into a fertile wildlife corridor. Emery arrives in the Gulf to find a very different place than her memory; a river that no longer reaches the sea, a depleted water table, a harsh environment of sand and clay, and communities in peril. Rather than escaping her pain, it blisters to the surface in the desert heat. https://www.fullspectrumfeatures.com/silt

What is the most impactful piece of advice you ever received in relation to your expertise and field of study?
Learn to collaborate, to listen, to be careful and to take risks.