Take the time to enjoy life — and death

Can death be considered entertainment? According to today’s culture, apparently it can be.

USF’s School of Art and Art History will be holding its annual Master of the Fine Arts Symposium today, which discusses the way death is addressed in modern film, video and television. It’s a topic that prompts interest in both current events and universal appeal. This event, held for over five years now, looks at various subjects in art and facilitates a discussion between keynote speakers and the audience about the different topics covered at each event.

This year it was arranged, as it has been in recent years, by a graduate class called graduate symposium, which is geared toward the project. These 18 students, led by professor Rozalinda Borcila, contributed to the conception, research, organization, promotion and execution of a Symposium called “Surviving the Image: Representing Death.”

Borcila says that man’s presentation of death was selected over a number of other topics, noting that the way we create a relationship with death through images is of often-unrealized importance. “We seldom pause to really critically reflect on what those images mean,” she said.

“And how they impact us,” she added.

The students found through analyzing death in media that there were many different presentations of the topic. Although death shown through war in news and politics is one factor, there are also films about aging, dying of natural causes and the grieving process. One can even analyze how death has become sexy in certain modern presentations.

“The Symposium is based on the notion that the history of the moving image creates a deep fascination with the moment of death: an impossible desire to see death happening and to survive the experience,” a release on the event reports.

The Symposium will be divided into two main parts. The first two hours will consist of lectures from the three keynote speakers, all of whom are filmmakers and artists who have dealt with the subject of death in their major work. Then, a graduate student from the class will moderate a two-hour discussion between the speakers and the audience.

“What we wanted to do is put very different people together to have a conversation,” Borcila said.

The event previously showed a series of films between Oct. 14 and Nov. 8 on Mondays and Thursdays. These eight different reflections on death have been displayed in hope of showing the numerous perspectives on the subject. The series also showed films by two of today’s keynote speakers, Coco Schrijber and Jayce Salloum.

Along with Michelle Le Brun, these three artists display death from three diverse perspectives, and all three speakers will be displaying ten-minute selections from their films at the Symposium.

Salloum is a writer, artist and filmmaker who created both films and modern art installations to discuss the way Lebanon is represented (and misrepresented) in contemporary Western culture. One of his films, Introduction to the End of an Argument, discusses how Western culture displays Arabs in acts of violence and terrorism and suggests how documentaries can help to mediate these conflicts and any biased portrayals.

Schrijber is an independent filmmaker whose film First Kill documents war by speaking to Vietnam veterans. It discusses the line between good and evil, the subjectivity of killing and how war evokes conflicting feelings of fear and fascination.

Le Brun, a distinguished figure among international documentary makers who has been distributed commercially, created the film Death, A Love Story to document her feelings over the death of a loved one.

“We felt these were very accomplished, respected people,” Borcilla said, “and we were also very intrigued by their work.”

Symposium artists over the years have had audiences ranging in size from 40 to 140, and Borcila said she hopes that members of all parts of the university will attend. She’s quick to note that while the creation of the Symposium started on a graduate level, the lectures and discussions involved will be both intellectually challenging and accessible to everyone.

“We think people everywhere could benefit because the topic of death and how we in our culture deal with it is something anyone will have to struggle with in one way or another.”

The filmmakers and students involved have a deep interest in connecting with both artists and non-artists alike.

“Anyone from any field will find room for their concerns and interests and will be able to ask questions and propose ideas,” she said.

The MFA Symposium is made possible by the Stewart S. Golding Endowment and the College of Visual and Performing Arts. It’s free to attend, running from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. today in room 270 of the Marshall Center. A Web site for the Symposium can be found online at http://events.arts.usf.edu/rip .