Meet Robin Blaetz: Women’s Avant-Garde Cinema Researcher

May 08, 2009

After graduating with a bachelor of arts in English and French, 2004–05 American Fellow Robin Blaetz traveled to Paris to reflect on her future. Within a month of arriving, Robin identified her new passion: avant garde film. She returned from Paris and applied to New York University’s cinema studies program, which claims to be the most “Francophile” of them all.

Another fateful trip ultimately led Robin to her research project, this time to acquire a 16 mm Marjorie Keller film for one of her classes. After learning that the only copy of the film was damaged, Robin began to think about the prohibitive costs of restoring the film and other obscure gems, which would otherwise be lost to film history forever. “I knew I had to create scholarly interest in the endangered films so that the impetus to restore and preserve them would be born,” explains Robin.

Robin published an anthology entitled Women’s Experimental Cinema: Critical Frameworks in 2007. She says that there is a tendency in filmmaking to ignore white, upper-middle-class women from the United States who were producing films in the 1950s to 1970s: “I wanted to give these women, several of whom have died, the attention that they deserved.”

Robin was awarded an AAUW American Fellowship for the project. “I felt that my entire area of study, not to mention my personal project, had been validated,” she says. The book, in turn, helped Robin secure her tenured faculty position at Mount Holyoke College, where she has received several research fellowships allowing her to rent obscure 16 mm films, travel to see unknown films, and curate screenings to expose these films to wider audiences. Since the publication of her book, Robin says she has seen preservation projects begin around the films.

In addition to her research, Robin teaches courses in avant-garde cinema. “Since I consider it my first duty to teach students to really see and hear the cinematic text, I find that experimental films often offer the clearest examples,” she explains. Just as Robin draws from her research to enrich her classes, so she sometimes discovers films in preparing for her classes that she then incorporates into her research.

Robin encourages women to learn to become “sophisticated readers of all films, so that they understand and have the ability to reject the plethora of sexist images that surround them.”

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