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May 4, 2017

SCA Professor Ted Braun honored with The Joseph Campbell Endowed Chair in Cinematic Ethics

By Renato Miguel Ruiz

On April 27, 2017, friends, alumni, and supporters of the School of Cinematic Arts gathered to recognize prolific American writer and mythologist Joseph Campbell, culminating with the dedication of the Joseph Campbell Endowed Chair in Cinematic Ethnics. Ted Braun, Writer/Director of the critically acclaimed feature film, Darfur Now, and Associate Professor in the John Wells Division of Writing for Screen & Television, newly renamed, was appointed as the first chair holder. The Joseph Campbell Endowed Chair in Cinematic Ethics was graciously funded by the George Lucas Family Foundation.

The evening’s speakers included SCA’s Dean Elizabeth M. Daley, USC Provost Michael Quick, Chair of SCA's Board of Councilors, Frank Price, President of the Joseph Campbell Foundation, Bob Walter, and honoree Ted Braun.

“It’s no secret to anyone that George [Lucas] has been the school’s most dependable and most generous supporter,” said Dean Elizabeth Daley in her opening remarks, “and we’re very grateful that he has made sure that Joseph Campbell’s name and work will forever be linked in a meaningful way to our school.”

Joseph Campbell is well-known for his 1949 published work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he introduced the monomyth theory, credited as the inspirational blueprint for modern classics, such as Lucas’ Star Wars trilogies. “Joseph Campbell’s love of the world’s archetypal stores lead to a collective realization that regardless of cultural or circumstance we all seek enlightenment,” Daley read from a plaque commemorating the endowment.

USC Provost Michael Quick commented on the recent generous contributions of the George Lucas Family Foundation in supporting scholarship and promoting diversity and inclusion at SCA. “It’s that kind of caring and desire to make the world a better place that I’m talking about,” Quick said. He also congratulated Braun, “whose many works, including Darfur Now, which I remember extremely well, are truly masterclasses in honesty, integrity, and doing the right thing.”

SCA Board of Councilors Chairman Frank Price told the audience that Campbell’s work served as inspiration for SCA students. “Among the best and most interesting tools are Joseph Campbell’s ground breaking works, unlocking the power and structure of our storytelling culture,” he said.

Bob Walter, who was Campbell’s editor, and now serves as President of the Joseph Campbell Foundation told the audience about when Campbell first discovered Star Wars.

“When I started working with Joe in 1978. I was going on over lunch one day about a movie I’ve seen and how impactful it had been to me, and I asked him what he thought. And he said ‘Bob, I don’t have an opinion. I stopped going to movies when they became talkies,’” he said to laughter. He added: “And this is true. It was George who introduced Joe again to film.” Walter said Campbell was impressed, quoting the mythologist as saying the “story in outer space… really got it.”

Honoree Ted Braun spoke about the trailblazing field of cinematic ethics and his own personal experience with the ethics of filmmaking. “I’d never give any particular conscious thought to the ethics of our profession, until 10 years ago… I found myself in Sudan making Darfur Now, where I suddenly faced decisions that made me realize a person’s story, and the telling of it, can be the matter of life or death,” he told the audience.

Darfur Now won the NAACP Image Award for best documentary of 2007 and was named one of 2007’s top five documentaries by the National Board of Review and the Broadcast Critics Association. Warner Brothers, which distributed the film worldwide, financed a global social action campaign in conjunction with Participant Media, that brought the genocide to wide attention.

Braun has continued to work in non-fiction across documentary and scripted forms with a focus on global conflict in the Muslim world and Africa.  His new feature documentary Betting On Zero, explores the high stakes battle between hedge fund CEO Bill Ackman and Herbalife.

“Even though we, as audiences, look to films and television for guidance and meaning, I don’t think filmmakers should set out to provide answers. We ask questions,” he said.