By Karen Angelo
A letter bathed in light sits on a table in a dark area. A woman steps forward, eases into a chair and unfurls the note. Her eyes consume the words we cannot see. She twists her wedding ring around her finger twice. After a few seconds, she rips off her ring, setting it on top of the letter. Cut!
Without dialogue, a story is told.
This assignment is a prompt developed by Visiting Faculty Lecturer Dan Frank, who is teaching a three-week digital media course to seven students from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). He designed the exercise to demonstrate how the framing of a shot, the type of camera lens and various lighting techniques can work together to provoke excitement, drama and tension.
“I wanted students to spend most of their limited time working with the lenses, cameras and lighting rather than spending a lot of time developing a script,” says Frank, an award-winning producer and director of film and TV programs. “The best way to do this was to have them jump right in and see the effects that their decisions have on the final story.”
The three-week accelerated summer course is the result of connections that were established in 2014 between the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and the higher education sector in the UAE. The students, who came from the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT), the largest applied higher educational institution in the UAE, earned six academic credits toward their degrees.
“With the launch of our new digital media major last year, HCT decided to send their students to UMass Lowell to expose them to our curriculum and to the American culture,” says Wael Kamal, assistant dean of the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. “They learned about digital media from a notable expert, toured the area and connected with our students and our community.”
Rawda Almarzooqi, who is in her third year at HCT, was excited to learn production skills and absorb the local culture.
“My experience is great because I’m learning from Dan Frank, my professor in this course, about how to film different angles and to use many technical options in the cameras,” says Almarzooqi, who lives in Sharjah, the third most populous city in the UAE.
The students worked on their film projects for three weeks, Monday through Thursday, and had Friday and the weekends free to explore the area. Visits to Lowell, Boston, Harvard University and Six Flags topped the list. While strolling around Lowell, the students were offered a free boat ride by a ranger from Lowell National Historical Park. The class also visited New England Studios in Devens, Massachusetts, the largest Hollywood-style stage located in the state.
The UAE students, who didn’t know one another before they joined the program, bonded with each other and with UML students.
Rising UML junior Calista Weissman, who worked for Frank as a teaching assistant in the summer program, quickly became friends with the international students through their common interests in creating film and TV content.
“When the students first arrived, I had no idea what to expect,” says Weissman. “They were super nice women who were my age and wanted to learn about cinematography and have fun. I have made friends with all of them.”
The feeling was mutual for Moza Alfalasi, who is in her second year at HCT.
“I liked working to produce our film with my new friends that I have met during this program,” she says.
One of the big lessons for Weissman was understanding how another person’s culture influences the art of film.
“I think it’s important to bring international students to campus because even though the principles of film and TV are pretty much universal, the way in which every culture uses them is different, and I think learning about that is really cool,” says Weissman. “It also gives us the opportunity to teach these skills, which they can then take back home to create art that represents them and their culture.”
Kamal says that this summer program is an important step in building an ongoing relationship between UMass Lowell and HCT.
“We are looking forward to bringing more HCT students to UMass Lowell in the near future,” he says.
View two of the student final short film projects:
- “I’ll Wait for You” by Moza Al Falasi, Rawda Al Marzooqi, Shamma Al Shkeili, Kholoud Al Zaabi, Joseph Chartier
- “HIND” by Rough Almahmoodi, Rough AlBlooshi, Asma Ahmad, Cali Weissman