Video essays from the chair on the future of cinema

Kevin B. Lee
Kevin B. Lee

Institutional Communication Service

21 September 2022

We may consider them short documentaries or long social media posts, but in the words of Kevin B. Lee, Locarno Film Festival Professor for the Future of Cinema and Audiovisual Arts supported by Swisscom, what characterises 'video essays' is the special attention to the media used. This tool, which Professor Lee helped popularise, is the focus of the workshops the chair held last semester. Some of the videos made by USI students were presented last August during the 75th Locarno Film Festival.

Here we feature some of them along with an interview with Professor Lee.


Professor Lee, what are "video essays", and how do they differ from other formats such as documentaries?

One could describe video essays as a short form of documentary but also as extended social media posts. In both cases, one sees how a person explains or explores a topic using video. The type of video essay I am most interested in communicates a topic comprehensively and demonstrates a thoughtful relationship to the media materials used. I initially produced video essays as a way to understand films more thoroughly by taking the film and examining it closely. When media are so easy for anyone to make, they are also increasingly disposable, and their consumption is increasingly thoughtless. So I hope that my teaching of video essays will help students fully digest and have a deeper relationship with media viewing and production.


In the video essays made by the students, there is an important variety of styles and themes due to the different backgrounds. What was the process of working with the students like?

There is an incredible variety of approaches to video essays, and I wanted to introduce students to as many of them as possible so that they could choose which techniques to adopt for their work. The main techniques we focused on were editing, voiceover, on-screen text and graphics, desktop recording, and original footage. I introduced a new technique each week so the students could focus on practice and gradually build their skills. Since the students came from different master's degrees, mainly Architecture but also Italian Language, Literature and Civilisation, Digital Fashion Communication and Media Management, I expected they would cover different topics. My only requirement was that they connected their topic to cinema in some way if they wanted their video essay to be considered for screening at the Locarno Film Festival.


The videos

Irene D'Alessandro, Stairs in Movies, or Movies of Stairs.
We think of stairs simply as a transitional space. Still, we use them constantly in different ways and for different reasons. What if, as in everyday life, stairs in movies had different meanings?

Toni Gual de Torrella & Quirin Koch, Zabriskie Point. Contradiction and Conflict.
'Zabriskie Point,' Michelangelo Antonioni's 1971 film, captures a crucial period of new ideas still present in society. After learning about some of the conflicts in Lugano, we decided to work on a place that is also full of contradictions today.

Valentin Dürselen, Pantone.Me. The Influence of Color.
This video essay challenges our most intimate perception of colour and reveals how external socio-economic influences shape our vision.

Olivia Chimenti & Gresa Shehu, Foot Proof
Anyone who has seen a Quentin Tarantino film has probably witnessed a few long shots of feet. Is it useful for the film's direction, or is it just a fetish?

Aurelie Laubscher, Three Views of Pompeii.
Three different approaches are used to discover the ancient city of Pompeii: watching a film, doing internet research, and visiting. What forms of knowledge and experience do each produce on the same topic?


Irene D'Alessandro, Stairs in Movies, or Movies of Stairs
Toni Gual de Torella & Quirin Koch, Zabriskie Point. Contradiction and Conflict
Valentin Dürselen, Pantone.Me. The Influence of Color
Aurelie Laubscher, Three Views of Pompeii
Olivia Chimenti & Gresa Shehu, Foot Proof