By Amy Skjerseth / CMS PhD Candidate
If you attended Film Studies Center events over the past four years, you likely saw Elizabeth Myles (BA, ’20) filming artist talks and running screenings. “When projecting for CMS courses, I loved to see what they screened,” Myles reflects, “like James Rosenow’s pairing of Daisies and Clueless for Intro to Film.” But Myles also has screened films of her own in the Logan Center and beyond—her animated documentary Love Stories (2019) debuted at the Ivy Film Festival this April and has been shown at the Southside Film Festival in Bethlehem, PA, the deadCenter Film Festival in Oklahoma City, her hometown, and a prominent Chicago-based film festival aimed at uplifting young filmmakers. When she began her BA at UChicago, Myles felt slightly daunted as a CMS major, since her high school didn’t have a film club or specific arts programming for film. But as a cellist, she spent high school summers at the Oklahoma Art Institute alongside other artists her age. The program, which she’s since interned for, opened her eyes to the arts as a viable career possibility—and she continued to play cello at UChicago while pursuing her longstanding interests in film. “It was empowering to learn the language of filmmaking—CMS courses encouraged me to dip my toes into a totally new art form, both in making films and learning how to talk about them,” she says. “As a CMS major, I realized that there are incredible opportunities to work in community-based programming in the arts.” Long before graduating, she began telling South Side stories on film.
At UChicago, Myles also minored in Visual Arts, where faculty members Scott Wolniak, Amber Ginsberg, and Judy Hoffman mentored her filmmaking and visual aesthetics. While making a documentary about The Rink on 87th Street—Skate Fever: Roll With It (2019)— in one of Hoffman’s courses, Myles met Justin D. Williams (formerly at the Logan Center for the Arts, now Project Manager and Archivist for the South Side Home Movie Project), who thought her work with the Logan Community Arts Department and experience with South Side stories made her a great fit for Logan’s Digital Storytelling Initiative. After COVID-19 began, she worked with Williams to plan the DSI’s summer filmmaking intensive, the Production Institute. As the Coordinator for the Institute, Myles works with South Siders who are aspiring independent filmmakers. During the application process that she helped to design, student filmmakers attended Film Aesthetics classes taught by Chicago locals, and then the institute began on June 24th with 11 attendees. Myles is the conduit between the Institute’s students, production courses, and the Logan Media Center. “The majority of our students and leadership team are Black, and their stories are centered on the lives of Black people in Chicago. It’s exciting to watch stories develop from the initial pitch to shot lists, shooting, and editing, over two weekly 3- and 4-hour Zoom sessions. I hold office hours with students to help with editing—it’s one of my favorite parts of making films.”
The Production Institute, now in its second year, runs until September 12th. Myles is thrilled that the Logan Center has partnered with organizations on campus, the South Side, and in Chicago (such as the Community Film Workshop of Chicago) to give students access to equipment and instruction that makes it possible to tell their stories. “I really appreciate how the lead instructor, Derek Grace, shows stills and examples from women and POC filmmakers. Actively choosing examples from those films is really important—there are so many ways to open students’ eyes to different types of films in classes. I got so much out of Allyson Nadia Field’s ‘History of International Cinema I: Silent Era’ (Fall 2019) course, which centered POC in contemporary experimental films to introduce us to older films. And we learned how to analyze archival material: in one assignment, I looked at the reception of Birth of a Nation in Tulsa alongside the massacre, accounting for parallels between the events in the film and real life.”
Drawing on her abundant experience with both media and music, she has interned for the Hyde Park Jazz Festival since mid-June—right after graduating. She produces their social media projects: “I’m the audio editor for a weekly podcast posted every Sunday on their website and Spotify. The Festival has a Story Share project: during previous festivals, a booth was set up to record attendees’ stories about how jazz has impacted their lives. I’m editing my favorites from this archive for the podcast. The stories are so powerful and beautiful—you can hear the joy and life in every voice, which is very in line with my interest as a documentary filmmaker. It feels like a Love Stories project, but it’s Jazz Stories!” (She may make a few animations like she did for her latter documentary.) Even during COVID, the Jazz Festival has found ways to host live community programming, such as pop-up concerts across the city that are livestreamed on Facebook. So far, Myles has recorded and produced short videos for concerts across the city as well as edited interviews conducted by high school interns and jazz musicians Devin Shaw and Jesus Palafox. “It’s been so cool to hear from Chicago musicians. Doing creative work on the quarters system was hard, but I’ve had more time and just finished an animation commission for DOVA professor and sculptor Geof Oppenheimer that will be a part of an exhibit in Beijing.” Myles also recently received the Dean’s Fund to purchase her own animation equipment for new projects. “I’ve made several collage and hand-drawn rotoscope animations, but I just bought a drawing pad and I’m excited to learn more about digital drawing.”
In the meantime, Myles is also one of two UChicago Metcalf Interns (with CMST/DOVA student Anastasia Liu) working for the New Orleans Film Festival this fall. Myles will assist with digital content and programming like she did as an intern last year. Then, she served on a panel that determined the music video finalists and was thrilled that many of her favorites were chosen by another jury, such as the richly animated “Limones” (dir. Daniela Godel). Myles also wrote official program synopses for some of the features and managed content on their website. Her boss, Clint Bowie, a UChicago grad, knew of her interests in animation and involved her in the creation of an animated advertisement for the festival that was shown before every screening. The New Orleans Film Festival recently hosted a virtual reunion for Kasi Lemmons’ 1997 film Eve’s Bayou, for which Liu created a retrospective mini-doc to commemorate the seminal Louisiana-based film (starring Lovecraft Country’s Jurnee Smollet). “The Film Festival’s mission is to uplift the voices and stories of people of color, which is exactly the kind of community programming I hope to do in the arts.”
Myles recently has programmed a more informal communal event—an outdoor screening on her roof. One of the films she screened was the stop-motion animated musical The Burden (Min Börda, dir. Niki Lindroth von Bahr, Sweden, 2017) where animals come to life—from fish singing about loneliness in a hotel to monkeys selling things in a call center. “Aside from collage, I haven’t explored stop-motion animation and I’d like to make a small puppet to animate (à la Anomalisa, dir. Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, 2015). I’ve been eyeing eBay to buy a small cello and trinkets to bring it to life.” It would be a fitting symbol of her commitment to share art’s power with communities far and wide.