Award winning Chinese documentary filmmaker Zhu Rikun presents his film ‘Chen’ at Florence’s Festival dei Popoli December 4-5

The upcoming Festival dei Popoli will feature the film ‘Chen’ (translation: ‘Dust’), by award wining Chinese documentary filmmaker Zhu Rikun. The film explores the condition of Chinese workers in a Chinese mining and industrial zone. Mr. Rikun will be in Florence to present the film Thursday December 4 at 6.30 pm and Friday December 5 at 10.00 am at the Odeon Theater. See a synopsis of the film and read Rikun’s Director’s Note by clicking here.

Promotion of the film is supported by Han Dong Fang, the founder of the Chinese Labor Bulletin (CLB), who joined La Pietra Dialogues last spring for a very interesting Dialogue with NYU Florence students about labor conditions in China, the Chinese economy and the role of dissident activists.

Read more about the condition of Chinese miners in this article in the Huffington Post from January 2012, reprinted in the CLB, ‘The World’s Deadliest Profession: Coal Miners Pay for China’s Economic Miracle’. The article also features the 2012 documentary To the Light, by NYU Journalism School graduate Yuanchen Liu, which chronicles the lives of miners in Sichuan, China. Fore more about Liu and his film click here and here.

Read this article by Zhu Rikun in the New Statesman from October 2012, ’The Hazards for Independent Chinese Cinema’ 

And for more on Independent Filmmaking in China see ‘Independent Filmmaking in China: The Age of Dissent’, The New Yorker, April 2011.

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Introducing Next Week’s Dialogue ‘Contemporary Poetry and Publishing: Creating Global Connections’

By Louis Slade-Caffarel, NYU Florence student and organizer of the initiative

Poetry, poetry communities, and independent publishing of poetry, have seen growth in the past years. This is due to a realisation of the importance of writing to young people who are having new and challenging experiences early in their lives. The frequency of young people travelling abroad and trying to establish communities and communicate through artistic expression has increased, notably with the popularity of study abroad programs in universities. Having access to a community and access to what your contemporaries have been producing can be complicated. It is however, becoming increasingly easy through initiatives like The Belleville Park Pages and The Sigh Press.

The dialogue with publishers of The Belleville Park Pages and The Sigh Press hopes to address how these publications are creating global connections for writers. The dialogue will look at the forms of the publications, how they engage with poetry communities, how they engage with a global community, how these publications affect the kind of writing being produced, and how submission-based publications allow for varied perspectives and increased access to writing.
The Dialogue will also focus on these topics in their relationship to Florence and Italy. How do these English publications exclude and include non-English writers? How can poetry and writing connect students and ex-pats to the Florentine community? Does it connect them to the Florentine community or does it further separate them? Is it possible for Florence to have writing communities like those in bigger cities like Paris, London and New York?
The guests attending, through their own personal experiences will shed light on all of these issues and give insight into what they see for the future of contemporary poetry.

A Stream Of Conscience: Ferguson

By Opheli Garcia Lawler, NYU Florence Student

In one of the videos of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri last night, the sounds of drums can be heard, and police are in full riot gear, and a Christmas banner announcing “Season’s Greetings” hangs over the crowd. Vehicles that look like they should be trying to stop decepticons on the set of a Transformers film loom in the background. It’s grisly, and jarring, to see the streets of an American city look like a war zone.

It’s hard to watch these protests and read the articles, which detail the aftermath of the decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of Mike Brown on August 9th. Over the last three months, there have been protests of the violent and the peaceful variety. The discussion of race, police brutality, and civil liberties have been running rampant.

It is hard to watch these protests from Italy. The entire ordeal is already surrounded by a sense of helplessness as citizen, but to be 5,000 miles away from the U.S. coast means that even your voice can’t be heard within the protests that seem to fall on deaf ears and cans of tear gas. The access to information is limited to online resources, but honestly, that is the case both in the U.S. and abroad.

But this is not meant to be an anecdotal piece about the struggle of the voiceless, the anger and the pain so many are feeling, the gut wrenching pain it causes to look at photographs of Mike Brown and his family, of the protestors suffering from exposure to tear gas, of parts of a city inflamed, of Tamir Rice, of Sean Bell, of people on the ground, in pain, not from any tear gas or rubber bullets, but from the knowledge that justice isn’t equal in the United States.

This is meant to explain the lack of indictment of Officer Darren Wilson. But I can’t do that. All I can do is watch, watch from another continent as chaos erupts. All I can do is write my thoughts, feel my anger, and sign online petitions. Hopefully that will help. Hopefully providing witness to something that makes no sense will matter. Writing about this now seems futile, something better kept as a diary entry.

Bassem Masri provided a live stream until his phone was stolen, and in the video, you can feel a sense of community by those milling in the crowd, Pastors and Rabbis encouraging everyone in the crowd to be safe, to be careful. The police surrounding them look like military insurgents from a dystopian movie, and people in the crowd are constantly calling out for identification of the officers who are surrounding them, who have no form of identification on them. As Bassem Masri moves towards a burning police car, with the crowd and with a group of police officers, questions are launched at the police officers.

“Why are they tear gassing us with kids in the crowd?”

At 30 minutes into the video, the crowd is gassed again; it seeps into peaceful groups of people, the attack seemingly unprovoked. While it could be taken as a deterrent, so that no one gets too near the car that is burning, and inside of it, bullets exploding, no one was venturing near the car, for fear of being injured by the burning police car.

Marketing Politics

By Kevin H. Ditzler, NYU Florence Student

ThumbnaileditI am a marketing major. When I think of the career that I want to have, my mind instantly wanders into the thought of designing advertising for film or working within a design studio. To say that the idea of a political career was not even on my plate three weeks ago would be an understatement.

On November 13 and 14, I attended a conference on the current state of American politics. I attended the conference out of curiosity because of the prominent political actors that were in attendance at the conference as well as my ignorance of American politics. This can best be summed up when Tom McIntyre, Assistant Director of External Relations and Special Programs at NYU Washington D.C., asked me, “Who is your representative from Texas?” The answer was a defeated “I don’t know.”

I was in attendance at this conference to perhaps shed some of my political ignorance, but after the first panel, I felt an impact on the path I would take in my life.

I have never had a profound interest in politics or the inner workings of our government over the course of my lifetime, yet after the first panel of the conference that included American media leaders and communications strategists for politicians, such as the former Managing Editor of NBC News and the former ABC News Chief Capitol Hill Correspondent, I immediately realized the impact that studying politics could have on my life as an individual focused on communications and how people convey messages in the contemporary world of “big data.”

In my piece titled “Marketing Politics” I speak about the subject of the media’s role in politics and how the first panel of the Inside American Politics conference helped me understand how people in the industry view their role.

I raise several of my personal questions on the role of media in politics and explore how this has impacted me as a student of marketing. The title of the piece is important and should not be shrugged off as unsubstantial. “Marketing Politics” is a charged title and should immediately cause problems for anyone that takes time to consider what marketing really means in politics.

Do media and communications teams have a responsibility to cover stories objectively or do they have a responsibility to cater to the audiences that follow their coverage?

This titular question is prominent in my exploration of media and politics. After this exploration, I have a profound interest in how communications function in politics and can gladly say that a study of this subject is going to be prominent in my life going forward.

Read the entire piece, “Marketing Politics”, here. 

Rosso, a poem by Cristina Ali Farah

Foamy dawn, you stole upon us, alone in the obscurity,

as we were leaving forever.

Me, in the dirty little truck with a precious bundle in my arms.

I stared, stunned, at the rifles resting on shoulders.

Somali rebels accompanied our farewell. And sand covered everything.

Among the slippery dunes, a few scattered huts.

Children came out shouting and women stretched out their arms.


This is the final farewell.

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Renowned photographer Lyle Ashton Harris will teach Introduction to Interdisciplinary Art Practice @NYU Florence in Spring 2015

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Untitled (Face #182 Senam), 2007 “The Chocolate Portraits”

Photographer Lyle Ashton Harris will teach Introduction to Interdisciplinary Art Practice at NYU Florence during the Spring 2015 semester.

For more than two decades Lyle Ashton Harris has cultivated a diverse artistic practice including photographic media, collage, installation, and performance. His work explores intersections between the personal and the political, examining the impact of ethnicity, gender, and desire on contemporary social and cultural dynamics.

-Museum of Modern Art, Intro of Lyle Ashton Harris, Conversations Among Friends series, April 4, 2014

The course will “provide a forum in which to explore and engage the relationship between photography, performance and contemporary art, otherwise known as the politics of performance.”

Through class assignments and readings in contemporary theory we will develop a critical vocabulary for an understanding of the relationship between photography and performance and a forum in which to challenge and push our individual practice to the next level. All experience levels are welcome and will be helpful to our class. In Florence, we will use the resources of La Pietra and nearby institutions to engage the site specificity of NYU Florence and its rich history, including field trips, visiting artists, and seminar based classes. The class will take place simultaneously with the Blackamoor project held at La Pietra at NYU Florence, in which Harris is participating.

Harris’ work has been exhibited internationally, including at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the 52nd Venice Biennale and has been acquired by major international museums, most recently by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Learn more about Lyle Ashton Harris and see examples of his work here. Take advantage of the opportunity to study with one of the United States’ most talented contemporary artists @NYU Florence.

NYU Florence 2013-2014 students Kayla Malone and Alice Sholto Douglas present at today’s Global Engagement Symposium in New York

Global Engagement Symposium

Today from 10:00am-2:00pm at NYU’s Kimmel Center for University Life in New York, LPD alumni Kayla Malone and Alice Sholto Douglas will talk about the projects they worked on at NYU Florence during the 2013-2014 academic year.

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Kayla Malone was a valuable member of the LPD team, conducting research on women in politics, writing a blog series on the European Union, and helping create a documentary film that showcases NYU Florence and University of Florence students’ attitudes towards the role of women in politics. Kayla did her GLS Experiential Learning placement at the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights in Florence. Here is a portfolio of Kayla’s work with LPD. See Kayla speaking about the role of women in politics:

Alice Sholto Douglas is the current record holder of most positions held with LPD. She worked as an LPD volunteer helping with photography work, did her experiential learning placement in spring 2014 serving as a liaison between LPD and the Middle East Now film festival, was LPD’s spring 2014 videography intern and also organized her own Dialogue on Global Poetry.

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Check out a portfolio of Alice’s work here. And see this video of her and former NYU Florence graduate student Jim Carter presenting the award for best short film at the Middle East Now film festival’s closing ceremony.

Good luck Kayla and Alice !!!!

Monika Bulaj on Photography

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When you walk on a road you know well, try to look at it with new eyes. A photograph is a story of who you are, of your soul. It is detachment and participation. It means being into things, but with the ability to see them and recognise them. It allows you to be very close to people but in a different way.

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“Are we, perhaps, here just for saying: House, Bridge, Fountain, Gate, Jug, Fruit tree, Window, – possibly: Pillar, Tower?… but for saying, remember, oh, for such saying as never the things themselves hoped so intensely to be.”

(R. M. Rilke, Duino Elegy #9) 

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Look at the lines of the shadows. Something can become something else. A flower can become a person. A girl can turn into a swan. A sheet metal a road to heaven. The woman who hangs out clothes is not just your mother, look at her beautiful face, the beauty of a face shaded by the steam of a hot drink. Watch “the exquisite blush of wine stains strewn on the tablecloth, the livid zebra stripes of lightning” on the faces of drinkers in a tavern… (M. Yourcenar, Oriental Tales) 

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Photograph the scent, the sound, the thoughts of others, like the angels in Wim Wenders’ movie Wings of Desire: listen to the voices (for example on a bus … in the metro).

Photography is a serious matter. It has the responsibility to disclose reality, not to delete it. As it happens in a dream when we recognise some elements, yet something, just barely, is different.

Jewish tradition says that the light can only be seen in a reflection. At the end of Shabbat the Jews put their hands close to the candle, those little mirrors of our body, the nails that reflect, as our eyes do, mirrors of the soul. The Other too reflects the light. The look in return, the mirror – it is the essence of photography, too. It becomes what you look at.

And do not be afraid of your weakness, because it is your strength. Look at places like they are in a fairy tale, where a small thing becomes big or, otherwise, you are now the Alice in the mirror. Anything is possible. Let your intuition guide you.

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An Interview with Stephanie Cutter


By NYU Florence student Opheli Garcia Lawler

Stephanie Cutter lives up to her reputation, in some ways. Known in the political world as abrasive, tough, decisive, and sometimes even hostile, she is a force to be reckoned with. Even in a relaxed atmosphere, the beautiful Villa Sassetti, her eyes are still perceptive, and even when she is in casual conversation, everyone can sense the fierceness she possesses.

I was fortunate enough to sit down with Ms. Cutter after a day of panels discussing the political future and past of the United States. We discussed everything from the future of the democratic party, to being a woman in her position, to what it takes to get where you want to be in Washington D.C.

Ms. Cutter believes that the best way to be successful in Washington is to do every job you are assigned to the best of your ability. “If you are working on a campaign, and you are tasked with changing the printer ink, and you don’t do that, then when it comes time to print pamphlets that are going to be used to enlist voters, and the pamphlets cannot be printed on time, that’s a big deal. Don’t ever underestimate the importance of your job.”

On the future of the Democratic party, and the lack of hope democrats may be feeling now, after a crushing mid-term election and the feeling of a fractured party, she said the democrats are going to have to work hard over the next two years to improve their image. The democratic voters are also going to have to do their part, and turn out to vote, so that there is a chance for democrats to make the changes that will give the party back the hope it had in 2012.

As for being a woman in her position, she attributes her success to seizing opportunities presented to her. “I could never have planned this, being where I am today, but I worked hard, and when an opportunity presented itself, I took it.”

As fierce as Stephanie Cutter is, she was still gracious and informative on the panels for La Pietra Dialogues, and one must admire her work, and her tenacity.

Creative Writing and the Non-Fiction of Reality through Photography: A Workshop with Monika Bulaj

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The word “writing” in reference to photojournalism may seem paradoxical.

It’s as if one writes the icon, exploring the canon of form but, at the same time, letting reality itself imbue us like a sponge. It’s as if the image, the icon, in fact, were a text dictated by someone else. It’s an internal creative process, an artistic path that uses reality as the subject of the investigation. And reality, for the great masters of photojournalism, is more surprising and mysterious than our own imagination.

The method

The starting point of our investigation and study will be a non-fiction situation, a reportage, what has recently been called a “creative non-fiction.”

I know of no method except to challenge oneself every day by focusing on a deeply intuitive, almost childlike, “pure” vision of reality.

For me, photography is commitment, practice (as the Greeks define it, téchne, therefore “art” but also “know-how”), meditation, sensitivity, and patience. I believe that these qualities should be developed, taking advantage of the knowledge, and, above all, of the errors, but only to forget them and to jump back, naked, into the game, starting anew each day.

We will start from the basics, the cardinal points of the image: time and space – in a philosophical sense, in a visual sense, and in a purely technical sense.  We will discuss how to crop, frame, and select the real; we will talk about the ‘gaze’, subjectivity, and seeing what others simply look at. We will also talk about the possibility, somewhat remote, of capturing the invisible.

Our points of reference in the workshop will be the photographs of masters, your portfolios, and my work. Your work will be the focus. You will take photographs during a shooting session. Your portfolio will be a story composed of 12 images. Please think over the sequence with care.

We will concentrate on composition, rhythm, sequences, and counterpoints for each sequence. We’ll try to locate a fiction that should work beyond the individual photographs.

We will talk about the truth and mystery in photography that can perhaps be illuminated only by you. You will be strongly encouraged to explore your perceptions and your sensitivity and to use them as your point of departure for developing creatively. We will talk about how to work with reality without transforming it, without influencing it, without lying about it. Therefore, we will also talk about ethics in photojournalism, honesty, and post-production, as well as the evolution of photojournalism in the history of photography and of documentary and journalistic investigation – its nuances, transformations and languages.

Text by Monika Bulaj, Translation by Alessandra Capodacqua, Editing by Joshua St. Clair, NYU Florence student