Lights! Camera! Filmmaking at K

Ximena Davis promotes the Filmmaking Club at K-Fest
Ximena Davis promotes the filmmaking club, the Kalamazoo College Filmmakers’ Society, at K-Fest.

One of the most exciting events as a first-year at Kalamazoo College is the K-Fest fair that happens during the second week of classes fall term. K-Fest is a student organization fair where all of the student organizations set up tables and advertise their clubs. First-years and upperclassmen alike migrate toward the lower quad to sign up for any club that interests them. I remember roaming around the tables and finding multiple clubs that attracted me such as the Kalamazoo College Democrats, the Zoology Club, and Cirque du K, the circus troupe. However, there was one particular hobby that was a true passion of mine: filmmaking. Kalamazoo College has more than 70 student organizations and I signed up for so many; however, I couldn’t find one for filmmaking. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop my curiosity, and I decided to start my own club with another passionate and interested friend of mine.

K made that process very easy and once I spoke with the Office of Student Involvement, I soon found myself the co-founder and president of the Kalamazoo College Filmmakers’ Society my junior year. Helping to run the club had many components, and the first order of business was to generate interest and gain new members. My senior year was our first chance to advertise at K-Fest and I remember excitedly making our cardboard cutout for our table to entice future members. We had more than 50 people sign up for the club and it was so invigorating and validating to find other people who were just as interested in filmmaking as I was.

Throughout the fall term, we developed a very close group of dedicated members, and as an early club, we all bounced ideas off of each other as to what we wanted the club to focus on. We decided that creating our own films was the thing that interested all of us the most, so the other experienced leaders and I taught our new members some of the basics of filmmaking. During our winter term, we collaborated with Balderdash, the creative writing club, on a script and ended up shooting and editing our first film! The script was finished in the first week, the actors had a week to memorize, and we shot everything on one Saturday! It was such an exciting experience and it was fun being in charge and making sure every shot got done. We woke up before 8a.m. and began shooting in the dorm lounge at 9 a.m.. Even though we kept having to apologize to residents for the noise, everyone in the building was supportive and intrigued by our project.

As we switched shots, we also switched roles, giving each member the opportunity to learn different jobs on set. We scrambled at the end to finish, the light beginning to change around 4 p.m., and yet watching everyone come together as actors, camera people, and sound was such a rewarding moment. Calling out that last cut just in time—it was so gratifying to see how focused and unified everyone was. Editing was completed within the next couple of weeks and before the term was over, we had a finished film! Inevitably, however, it was time to graduate, and passing the torch at the end of the year to our new first-year members was a bittersweet moment. While it was hard to say goodbye to something I’d created and grown along with, it was ultimately rewarding to see it continue on with such wonderful and passionate people.

Being a student at Kalamazoo College means being a part of an active and interconnected student body. I found many welcoming spaces and one of them was my own Hollywood oasis. Learning and finding other people with my same interests led to so many great moments, and I found that there is always the opportunity at K to create your own spaces and communities.

Ximena Davis graduated from Kalamazoo College in June after majoring in English and minoring in anthropology and sociology. She also had concentrations in media studies and American studies.

Senior Project Focuses on Passion for Film

Ximena Davis holds senior project titled "Culture You Can Eat"
Ximena Davis presenting her senior project before she turns it in.

As a current senior, I am completing my Senior Individualized Project, or SIP, in the English department this year and often look back to when I first learned about what the SIP was. I first heard about this requirement while touring Kalamazoo College four years ago, and I imagined the hours spent writing a fifty-page research paper. However, I soon learned that at Kalamazoo College, this senior project can be creative, as well as research-based, depending on what interests you. Once I heard about the creativity I could have with my SIP, I immediately scheduled a meeting with the head of the department fall term of my first year here. While I was told I was way ahead of the game, I was still excited about the possibility of doing a film, something I have been very interested in for a long time.

As I came to the end of my junior year, I was planning on doing a documentary, and I was having trouble coming up with the topic. Knowing that this project was supposed to be a culmination of what I have learned at K, I thought back to all of the opportunities the college has given me. I recalled the externship I was able to do after my first year of college in New Orleans. An externship is a competitive opportunity where alumni of the school offer to let one or two students shadow them at their jobs and see what it is like to live a few weeks in their shoes. My placement happened to be with a college professor and filmmaker in New Orleans. He was shooting a full-length, independent feature film and on that set, I was given the hands-on knowledge of what it is like working on a film. I had the opportunity to perform many jobs on-set, which helped cement my love of film and commitment to a career in the industry. I was able to be behind the camera and create shots, download and back up footage, clap the slate in front of the camera and call shots, and even had a small cameo in the film itself!

Sandwich with french fries for senior project
While filming her senior project, Ximena Davis enjoyed trying the different food found in New Orleans.

My senior project therefore, led me back to New Orleans where I shot a documentary on the unique food culture of the city. I spent two weeks down south over the summer developing my story, choosing restaurants, shooting footage, and gathering interviews. I met so many interesting people and ate more beignets, muffalettas, po’boys, and sno-balls than I could count! I was able to enjoy the Southern Decadence festival in the French Quarter, see baby alligators in the wild, and visit the friends I made while down there for the first time. I was able to explore the intricacies of the city in a way I had been unfamiliar with before because of the independence I had when filming my SIP. Learning about the importance of the city and the people through its food helped me gain a deeper understanding of how culturally unique it is. Now that I am back at K, I have been editing my film under the guidance of my SIP advisors. I couldn’t be more excited to premiere my film for the college community and take another step toward my chosen career. Now, to book a room for the screening…!

Ximena Davis is a senior majoring in English and minoring in Anthropology and Sociology. She has a concentration in media studies and American studies.

Tower Bells Declare Day of Gracious Living

Today is what we call the Day of Gracious Living—DOGL for short. It is one of K’s most cherished traditions: a surprise, chosen day off in late spring when classes are canceled and students can take buses to Lake Michigan for a day at the beach. There are a lot of remarkable things about the day, and one of the most remarkable is the way it’s announced to the campus: with a set of very special tower bells.

Students ringing the tower bells to announce the Day of Gracious Living
Ian McKnight practices ringing the tower bells for the Day of Gracious Living.

When I decided to come to K, I never imagined that I would become a bell ringer. I stumbled upon the hobby almost by accident—walking past Stetson Chapel on a Monday evening during my first week on campus and poking my head in to investigate the strange ringing from the tower. Expecting to find a machine, I was surprised to discover a group of eight people standing in a circle and pulling on ropes to ring tower bells that were far above them. This was my first introduction to the world of change ringing, and I kept coming back.

Change ringing is a very old, very British way of ringing bells. The chapel bells are heavy (our largest is just a hair over a thousand pounds), yet they are hung in a way that makes them easy to ring without any electronics (and, disappointingly, involves much more time with both feet on the floor than most people imagine). Rather than songs, the bells ring in preset mathematical patterns, which was the whole reason that T. Jefferson Smith, a math professor, worked to bring them to Stetson Chapel in the 1980s.

Our bells were cast at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London, which cast, among others, the Liberty Bell, Big Ben, and the bells at the National Cathedral in Washington. Though they are common in Britain, there are only about 50 other sets of bells for change ringing in all of North America, which means that K is, oddly enough, known as a sort of powerhouse in the world of American change ringing.

Outside the Church Bell Foundry, which constructed K's tower bells
Ian McKnight visited the original manufacturer of the Liberty Bell, which also constructed K’s tower bells.

My ringing journey started on the Quad on an otherwise ordinary Monday evening, and it did not stop there. In fact, it has stuck with me through my whole K experience. A Capitol Hill internship in Washington meant ringing every week in a tower above Pennsylvania Avenue. Ringing was part of what led me to study abroad in Aberdeen, Scotland, which is home to another tower and a band of ringers that welcomes K students with open arms. Ringing has taken me from a tower high above Wall Street in Manhattan to tiny British villages and from the shadow of Edinburgh Castle on Christmas Eve to the streets of Chicago in the spring. I never saw it coming, but ringing has been one of the highlights of my K experience, and it is a perfect example of the way that the K-Plan lets you find your niche—even if it is a bit esoteric.

The highlight of the year for K’s student ringers, however, is the Day of Gracious Living. The exact day is always a surprise, yet everybody knows that it must, at some point, come. This can lead to disappointment if a promising weather forecast raises hopes. Occasionally, people will gather on the Quad in anticipation, and, after the bells sit silent for the evening, sulk back to the library to finish their homework. If it happens later than expected, the tension on campus is palpable.

Finally though, on some glad afternoon, at a set time known only by a select few people, one of the ringers gives the traditional order to the others in the tower: “Look to! Treble’s going! She’s gone!” and sets the whole spectacle in motion.

Outside, people cheer. For those out of earshot, word spreads fast. Minutes later, bells still ringing, the email arrives, full of information on the coming picnic on the quad and bus trips to the beach. The first line, though, is the one that really matters:

“The bells are ringing! The wait is over! The Chosen Day has come at last!”

Ian McKnight is a senior student representative at Kalamazoo College.

Carve Your Own Path at K

Ynika Yuag Talks About Carving Her Own Path at K
Sophomore Ynika Yuag acts as John in Fun Home. The theatre department is where Ynika learned to carve her own path at K. Photo by: Katherine Nofs.

As a tour guide at K, I tell all my tours that my favorite students to interact with are the ones who have no idea what they want to do once they get to college. For someone who has always considered herself a forward-thinking and detailed-oriented planner, it may prove surprising to find out that when I was a high school senior, I had absolutely no clue what I wanted to study in college, either. In the middle of my senior year of high school, I was newly admitted into K and felt ecstatic about the prospect of starting a new chapter of my life, despite not knowing what I would do once I got there. Luckily, K is the perfect place to carve your own path.

Of course, as a high school senior I knew what subjects I was interested in. I loved writing, acting, and trying to understand human beings and their relationships with each other. I can probably guess what you’re thinking, because it’s also what I initially thought: those interests sound kind of random and unrelated. When I got to K, I soon found out that those interests were more connected that I ever thought, and they were appreciated and welcomed by our theatre department. My first year, I auditioned for the fall main stage musical Fun Home and had an incredible experience playing John Bechdel. K’s theatre department strikes a wonderful balance of welcoming students of all experience levels and teaching them that theatre is not just flashy costumes and sustained belting into eternity. The faculty and staff of the department are committed to helping students explore aspects of the craft outside of their comfort zones, as well as helping students excel in whatever field of theatre they may eventually focus on. While I entered our theatre department with a comfort zone of only acting experience, performing in my first show has propelled me into a career of other theatre roles that have never felt slow or dull.

Carve Your Own Path at K
Ynika Yuag shows what it means to carve your own path at K. She performed as Natalie in the Festival Playhouse production of Student Body. Photo by: Katherine Nofs.

Since my first-year fall show, I have participated in several roles that have pushed me beyond my interest in performance; besides an actor, I have been an assistant stage manager, usher, wardrobe crew hand, scenic shop helper, playwright, dramaturg, teaching assistant, and properties master. I quickly learned that K’s theatre department valued my interest in acting and performance, as well as my interests in writing and trying to understand the human condition—I was curious about how peoples’ personalities develop, as well as the motivations behind their interactions with others. I eventually incorporated these interests into dramaturgical work for Student Body, a show about sexual violence on a college campus for which I was both an actor and the dramaturg. As a dramaturg for this production, I was tasked with conducting background research for the play and discussing with the cast and other crew members how this research may inform the production. For our production of Student Body, I conducted research about sexual violence, focusing on college/university campuses. As a high school senior, I had no idea what a dramaturg was. This year, as a sophomore, I was awarded a Certificate of Merit for Dramaturgy from the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.

Two years ago, I didn’t see myself pursuing a degree in theatre arts. Now, I see myself pursuing a career in it. Thanks to the guidance of the faculty and staff within the theatre department, I discovered that my interests are not only valuable, they are inherently interconnected in ways that prove beneficial to my current work in theatre. As a student who previously had no idea what I wanted to study, I remain incredibly grateful to the opportunities provided to me from the faculty as they guided me and encouraged me to try various disciplines and carve out my own path.

Ynika Yuag, a sophomore, enjoys performing in Festival Playhouse productions at Kalamazoo College.