Filmmaker and History Graduate Dylan Mohan Gray Teaches Spring Course

May 18, 2017

The week of intensive discussions on filmmaking process provided by the instructor Mr. Dylan Mohan Gray, an India-based director whose works range over various types of films (from documentary to fictional), served as a great endorsement for the students who conceived ideas on films but hardly or never realized them to the full extent before.

On Monday, in the first class, Mr. Gray emphasized the importance of inner motivation for a particular story that one would like to convey. The question ‘Why you’ is essential, because this first emotional attachment would matter not only to oneself as a filmmaker but also to the audience - stated he. This point became clearer when we watched his debut documentary “Fire in the Blood” on the same day, as the film-screening event hosted by the department. The film questions the inequality of accessibility to low cost AIDS drugs due to the monopolization of the pharmaceutical industries by the Western corporations; the problem that is not openly discussed by the public, or simply has been neglected as the most of the affected (HIV positives and their families) are located in the third world countries, like India and Africa. He used his cultural, linguistic and professional capacity to address this politically sensitive topic. Nicely moderated by Jeremy Braverman, a CEU media and visual specialist, the post-screening conversation invited lots of questions concerning his approaches to quite a few interviewees (including a former U.S. president Bill Clinton), archival researches that allowed him to use significant amounts of materials in public domain, and his struggle vis-a-vis the big corporations.

In connection to the discussion, during the next class, we talked how to gather materials for films, and here we could identify similarities with the research methods in history. The instructor, as he was also an alumni of our Department of History, explained how to overarch two different domains of expertise.

On Wednesday, we had a guest from Hungarian film community: Peter Sarosi (another alumni of CEU), through video clips and social media platforms, tried to open up our eyes to existing social problems (drug mafias of Eastern Europe, as well as human rights initiatives, both locally and internationally). By observing his recent videos, we learned that even very primitive technical resources would not be big obstacles for the early stage of the career, if we had a well-narrowed down topic combined with elaborated contents.

Thursday was a day for student presentations: four pairs of students worked towards devising and presenting essential elements for their film projects. Consequently, the four pairs of students ‘pitched’ their documentaries. They encompassed a wide array of topics, from domestic abuse to the privatization of higher education. The teacher and the students pointed out the formal and thematic limits of the projects, moreover suggesting improvements. Mr. Gray also drew from his experience to propose some time-saving and resource-maximizing strategies to the students.

In the last class on Friday, the instructor presented excerpts from two films, in order to explain how the films could (un)successfully convey the messages to the intended audience. Then, he once again underlined the techniques of drawing an audience into the proposed story, in other words, how to command the audience’s attention from the outset, through a clear and straightforward presentation of the subject and an accomplished use of narrative and technical devices in order to create an immersive atmosphere.

Ultimately, the course represented a fruitful introduction to the theory and practice of socially-engaged filmmaking, giving aspiring filmmakers a conceptual and technical ‘road map’ for the development of their projects, in addition to providing more experienced directors (i.e. the students who have already created documentaries  in the past) with the chance to refine their theoretical and practical tools for filmmaking.