After a series of successful short films––each exploring cultural and personal difference in a casual but emotionally affecting, unbroken style––filmmaker and educator Jackson Kroopf ’07 returned to Vassar’s campus in October for his latest film project. It’s a collaborative, experimental documentary about the Engaged Pluralism Initiative, which was launched fall of 2017 by Professor Candice Lowe-Swift. Kroopf’s films, often shot handheld on a wide-angle lens, are microcosms of cultural difference, each asking questions of identity––each giving no answer. How does one work across difference? It is work of knowing others before one knows oneself. But that knowing is not in the answer. Rather, it’s in the question. For Kroopf, words are not enough. Answers lie in spaces between the call and response––in the accord between two wildly different perspectives, joined momentarily in mutual curiosity: imagining alternatives to the order of things.
What follows is an excerpted interview with the filmmaker, conducted at The Crafted Kup on October 31st, 2018.
Miscellany News: Can you tell me about the Vassar project?
Jackson Kroopf: The temporary title is “EPI On Screen”. It’s a collaborative experimental documentary. Right now there are eight students and three faculty working on it, meaning that we’ve done interviews and collaboratively shot some stuff.
The film is trying to represent dynamic engagement across difference. Rather than explaining an initiative that’s still trying to find its own identity, the project is asking how do you push circumstances to try and articulate difficult things? What makes a classroom dynamic? What makes a relationship between a staff person and student transformative? Is there room for deeper relationships for people like faculty and admin, or faculty and students, in which the Vassar experience would be richer because the engagement is deeper?
I’m interested in the way that people engage with each other and the way that people communicate. Knowledge can start as one speech act and turns into something larger because multiple speech acts follow it. So I’m just interested in accumulating a lot of material to show dynamism happening at Vassar. Last night [at the EPI on Screen Town Hall] was fire because these students said things that I can’t wait to show the administration. I can’t wait for people who plan orientation, for faculty and future students, even for President Bradley to see some of the stuff we’ve recorded.
The Misc: Why?
JK: Because it’s truthful. And it’s subversive and transgressive. And it suggests that the point of emphasis––and the focus of what the institution’s responsibility is to its community and its participants––is constantly evolving and shifting. Democracy is all about how you get people to talk loudly that aren’t already loud talkers. I’m always interested in creating these little stages for people to scream on. Or to whisper on.
So the project is evolving. I’ve filmed an EPI working group, I’ve filmed a film workshop that I taught with Shane [Omar Slattery-Quintanilla, Assistant Professor of Film]. Marc [Schriebman, Film Department Media Coordinator] filmed the EPI town hall that we did at the Forum for Political Thought last night. I’ve filmed on-camera interviews with students and faculty. I’ve filmed mic’d interviews with students where we’re mic’d and setting up frames together. I’m filming a reenactment at noon of something someone said in an interview. It’s all over the place––it’s wild, I don’t know what it’s going to turn into.
The Misc: Is this the first time you’ve returned to campus since you graduated?
JK: No. This is the third or fourth time.
The Misc: So why’d you come back again?
JK: The past trips I came back to see Candice (Lowe-Swift, Associate Professor of Anthropology, co-chair of the EPI) and other important people to me in Poughkeepsie. But this trip is mainly focused on collaborating with Candice.
The Misc: Is that how this project started?
JK: For sure. Candice is like family for me. She was my first teacher on the first day of school––9 a.m. Cultural Anthropology. She’s one of my most trusted confidantes, and we’ve become colleagues and are collaborators now. I think she’s a really inspiring thinker and she wanted to find a way to get me over here to work with her, and support this broader collaborative vision for EPI. When she was writing the grant I was talking to her about the EPI. And I’ve talked with her about it every step of the way.
The Misc: So the seeds of this project for you were sewed quite early on?
JK: She wanted me to actually come work on it with her full time. But I was trying to make films––basically from March to September I was working nonstop. I traveled to four countries, I made two commercials, I oversaw dozens of student projects, I completed a feature script with Legacy (star of “BobbyAnna”) for the Sundance Screenwriting Lab.
So I just wanted some time to film something that was interesting to me. I dunno. I’ve been a little too busy. I’ve gotten a lot of stuff that’s pretty interesting since I’ve been here, I think. I’m leaving on Tuesday, but I plan on coming back. I don’t know in what capacity. But I’m excited by what’s going on in this project. I’ve learned a lot.
[NOTE: Jackson Kroopf was given final editorial approval of this article.]
[Correction (April 26, 2019): An earlier version of this article listed the wrong class year for the subject. Kroopf graduated in ’10, not ’07.]