September 30, 2011

SCA Family Stories: Chris Rowe

IML Student Discusses His Work with the Shoah Foundation Institute

The USC Shoah Foundation Institute's Student Voices Film Competition is currently accepting submissions. The project involves students using the Institute's amazing archive of Holocaust survivor testimony to create a new film which discusses the topic of genocide.

Last year, SCA Institute for Multimedia Literacy/Writing Junior Chris Rowe participated and was awarded the Creativity Award for his film Run. He recently sat down with SCA Family Stories to discuss his process in tackling such an important subject.

For more information on the contest, please visit -

Chris Rowe

-Congrats on your success with the Shoah Foundation Institute's Student Voices Contest last year. For those who don’t know, what is the Shoah Foundation’s Contest? The Shoah Foundation Institute's Student Voices contest is a video contest that asks participants to use the Shoah Foundation Institute's Visual History Archive to address one of several broad questions. The Visual History Archive is comprised of nearly fifty-two thousand testimonies of people who were somehow involved in the Holocaust. Many are survivors but some are liberators or witnesses to the Holocaust. I was addressing “the role of videotaped eyewitness accounts” with my project. The contest also asks participants to find a way to make the Visual History Archive relevant to life today. In this way, the Visual History Archive can truly be a “living archive.” 

-What was your project and tell us a little about the process of making the project. My project was entitled Run, and was meant to explore running in a denotative and connotative way. Many of the interviews concern ways that interviewees literally ran – for sport, for survival, and so on. Some of the interviewees ran in more nebulous ways – perhaps they rationalized their actions or circumstances to deal with the horror of what happened. My experience of interacting with the archive was a run. For me, this was a dichotomous experience, one that simultaneously invited me to closely identify with the interviewees and their experience, but also forced me to remain at a distance spread across time and circumstance. So, my run was across these differences of time and circumstance. Ultimately, the run is one that is never over. It intensifies and relaxes, but I believe we are all part of that run. 

-When did you decide to get involved? I originally made the video for IML-340 during the Fall 2010 semester. D.J. Johnson, who was an invaluable mentor throughout the process of making Run, taught the class. This was the first time the class was paired with the Shoah Foundation Institute in encouraging students to use footage from the Visual History Archive for their projects. So, our semester project was very similar to the kinds of videos that were being sought for the Student Voices film competition. D.J. brought the competition to the class’s attention, and three of us decided to submit our final videos.

 -Dealing with such a hard subject is quite a challenge. How did you deal with the enormity of the topic of genocide? Dealing with the enormity of genocide and the magnitude of the Holocaust were the main struggles I faced in making Run. While I understood the importance of making the VHA relevant to the present, I was constantly wary of trivializing something I felt was very personal to many people: part of the collective conscience, but something that affected millions in a direct way. This affected my process in creating the video, and to me, the final film reflects the difficulty I had in dealing with the magnitude of the task at hand. So, my process of self-reflexively trying to turn the whole film into a kind of run was the first way I dealt with it. More importantly, though, was a breakthrough I experienced after hours of perusing the VHA. After a while, I found that I was no longer relating to the interviewees as Holocaust survivors. I was merely enjoying hearing the perspective of people whose life experience was far greater than my own and whose perspectives were, in many cases, much different than my own. When I stopped thinking of the VHA as an archive documenting the Holocaust and started thinking of it as an archive presenting the stories of people, I was much more ready to engage with the material in a direct way.

 -Do you recommend the contest for current students of SCA? I think there are a lot of extremely talented and motivated students in the SCA who could bring this material alive for audiences in spectacular fashion. I highly recommend the Student Voices competition for students of SCA.

 -Let’s talk a little about your experience with SCA. You are part of the Institute for Multimedia Literacy. For those who aren’t familiar with IML, what is it? The Institute for Multimedia Literacy is an institute dedicated to making the humanities relevant in a digital era. The courses I have taken have all addressed the form that scholarship should take in a multimedia context. So, while the IML is a proponent of new technologies, it asks how content should be presented in light of these new technologies. How is the presentation the same or different from more traditional forms of scholarship? What are the ethical implications of living in a world dominated by technology? How does that affect our work and how we move into the future? I think these are extremely relevant questions that merit a lot of thought.

 -How did your time with IML prepare you for the Shoah Foundation Institute Contest? My time with IML provided me with the skills, time, and support I needed to enter a high quality project into the Shoah Foundation Institute Contest. I had an incredible mentor in D.J. Johnson, the instructor for IML-340. I received lessons in learning how to edit using Final Cut Pro, which was integral to my project. And I was able to devote the ample amount of time I needed to complete the project for the class and for the contest.

 -What advice do you have for prospective students who are considering joining IML? I advise prospective students who are considering joining IML to think about the cross-disciplinary implications of skills learned in the IML. More than any other program I know, the IML exists in the real world, teaching technologies and principles that are current and actively shaping the world in which we live. If students know their own passions and know how they would like to shape the world, they can use the skills learned through IML to affect great change.