Oscar-winning actress Melissa Leo headlines Mobile Media Workshop

Clark University will experience some star power next week when Academy Award-winning actress Melissa Leo visits the campus as part of the three-day Mobile Media Workshop, April 1-3.

Leo, who won the Oscar for best supporting actress in the 2010 film “The Fighter,” will be a hands-on participant, says Hugh Manon, associate professor of screen studies, who is organizing the workshop with assistant professor of music John Aylward. The actress will work with students in Visual and Performing Arts classes, both in groups and, in some cases, individually (“Which is kind of mind-blowing,” Manon allows), and will offer guidance, critiques, and the benefit of her years in front of the camera.

“When I mention she’s coming, people literally gasp,” Manon says. “And that’s the way I feel about this. It’s kind of surreal.”

Among Leo’s stops will be a workshop with Professor Stephanie Larrieux’s Genre Production class, and a discussion about her 2008 film “Frozen River” with 12 students from Manon’s screenwriting class. “This is way more than anyone can possibly expect from an intro to screenwriting class,” Manon says with a laugh. “It’s really a golden opportunity.”

Also coming to Clark for the Mobile Media Workshop are L.M. Kit Carson, a screenwriter, producer and legend in the independent movie scene; producer Cynthia Hargrave, whose best known film is “Bottle Rocket,” which helped launch the careers of Owen and Luke Wilson; and Cristine Garde, executive director of Could You?, an organization battling poverty in Mozambique. Hargrave and Carson are working together on a TV series, “Africa Diary,” and have presented their “StoryFinders” mobile video workshops both across the U.S. and internationally.

This first-of-its-kind Clark workshop can be traced to the friendship between Carson and Aylward, who scored one of Carson’s films. Carson came to campus last year to speak to students in Aylward’s music classes and Manon’s American Film History course, and he broached the idea of holding a more extensive workshop. Carson later ran into Leo at an event told her about the possibility of the Clark workshop, and she expressed an interest in participating.

The workshop will comprise a combination of students-only workshops and some events that will be open to the Clark community. They are:

  • Monday, 7:30 p.m., Razzo Hall: a screening of “Africa Diary” followed by a Q&A with Carson and Garde
  • Tuesday, 10:30 a.m., Razzo Hall: Garde will outline the mission of Could You?, and talk about being Carson’s liaison in Mozambique
  • Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.: a screening of “Frozen River,” for which Leo earned an Oscar nomination for best actress, followed by a Q&A with Leo
  • Wednesday, 4 p.m., Razzo Hall: a screening of “David Holzman’s Diary” and a Q&A with Carson.

Unrelated to the Wednesday screening, but a bit of a bonus that same evening, is Professor Matt Malsky’s presentation of his new score to the 1926 silent film “Egged On” at 7:30 p.m. in Fuller Music Center.

Manon acknowledges a personal connection with Carson’s “David Holzman’s Diary,” a 1967 film that was an early exemplar of a now popular movie genre: the mock documentary. The movie tells the story of a young man (played by Carson) preparing to ship out to Vietnam.

“I wrote my honors thesis about mock documentaries, and it wasn’t until ten years later that this film was brought to my attention,” he says. “If I had access to ‘David Holzman’s Diary’ while I was an undergrad, it would have been the linchpin for the thesis.

“You could watch the whole film through and think that it’s real until the credits roll, and then you see the name Jim McBride as director, Kit Carson as writer, etc. People had that kind of ‘Blair Witch’ response — that ‘What?’ moment. It was a totally path-breaking film.”

The Mobile Media Workshop bears its title for a very specific reason, Manon says.

“It focuses on the hands-on aspect of the media, encompassing smart phones, iPads, lightweight consumer-grade digital cameras — anything digital that you can put your hands on, that’s not big old-fashioned moviemaking technology,” he says. “Kit Carson, for instance, is filming his series in Africa solely on Nokia cellphones. Highly portable digital technology is being used to produce media of various sorts.”

He notes that the workshop also features strong LEEP components.

“It’s international in scope in that we’ve got people overseas bringing to bear their own work, its mobile-focus is very hands-on, and we’re encouraging students to do practical real-world work with all the messiness that entails. We’ve got these people coming in to talk about the messiness of film production, to critique the students’ work and maybe throw them some curveballs. The students will be with real practitioners who do this gritty work, and it will all come together in a very LEEP-y way, as opposed to a top-down classroom setting where I stand there and tell them what they need to know.”

Students also will be covering the various workshops, conducting interviews, videotaping and photographing, to tell the story of what took place at Clark over the course of three memorable days.

The Mobile Media Workshop is sponsored by the Communication and Culture, Music and Screen Studies programs.