Beyond Vassar

Mixed Media

By Corinne Militello ’98

With Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 breaking documentary box office records (most of which he set himself with his previous films) and documentaries such as Spellbound and Capturing the Friedmans readily available on the shelves of Blockbuster and other mainstream mega-stores, finally, some would say, the documentarian’s time has come. Documentary films (and their makers) are enjoying wider acceptance and gaining audiences worldwide. These Vassar alumnae/i are using the medium to tell their stories — of cultural phenomena, politics and democracy, the social history of filmmaking, and personal struggle.

Joyce to the World
2004, Directed by Fritzi Horstman ’84
Written by Diana Wynne ’84

Described by the filmmakers as “an irreverent documentary celebrating Bloomsday and the passionate readers of James Joyce’s Ulysses,” Joyce to the World explores the global phenomenon of Bloomsday, celebrated every year on June 16, the day the novel takes place. The film includes interviews with award-winning actor Brian Dennehy and writer Frank McCourt, as well as devout Joyceans from San Diego to Japan to, of course, Dublin, Ireland. During its production, the filmmakers visited more than 30 Bloomsday events and conducted extensive biographical research on Joyce. Wynne said that, “arguably, Joyce to the World could only have been made by two women who were double majors in film and English at Vassar.” Horstman added that when she heard about the enormous celebration surrounding Bloomsday, she “knew there would be a bunch of characters. It’s the study of people that draws me to watch documentaries and to make documentaries,” she said. Visit, or email to learn more about this film.

Leaps of Faith
2004, Codirected by Benjamin Kalina ’98 and
Andrew Davison, associate professor of political science

Composed mainly of on-the-street interviews in the city and town of Poughkeepsie, this documentary examines a wide range of opinions and intensely held beliefs beginning shortly before the invasion of Iraq and continuing through the one-year anniversary of the war. Through snapshots in time, Leaps of Faith re-examines the original justifications for war and the arc of public opinion since the war began. “In many ways, going out to make this film was a cathartic experience for us,” Kalina said. “We both felt frustrated by the lack of media coverage of ordinary people’s opinions at the time the war began. So we went out to talk to people in the community.” While those interviewed are connected by many shared fears, Kalina said their views and insights express the deep divides prevalent in the United States today. For more information about Leaps of Faith, email Benjamin Kalina at

Sisters in Cinema
2003, Directed by Yvonne Welbon ’84

Welbon’s film traces the careers of inspiring African-American women filmmakers from the early part of the 20th century to today. The first stop takes her to Hollywood, where she discovers that of the many feature films produced only one was directed by an African-American woman (Darnell Martin’s I Like It Like That). “Filmmaking is one of the areas where women, regardless of race, have not reached parity. We are almost 51 percent of the population and about 50 percent of the film school student population but less than 7 percent of the directors, according to Director’s Guild of America statistics,” said Welbon. She realized that she wasn’t going to find her “sisters in cinema” in Hollywood, and so Welbon instead explores the independent film world to uncover a wide range of films directed by African-American women outside of the Hollywood studio system. The film showcases the careers, lives, and films of filmmakers such as Euzhan Palcy, Julie Dash, Darnell Martin, Dianne Houston, Neema Barnette, Cheryl Dunye, Kasi Lemmons, and Maya Angelou. Welbon’s goal as a filmmaker is to “create a stronger and more diverse media presence for African-American women and girls.” For more information, visit Welbon’s Website at

Dyslexic Film Diary
2000, Directed by Dorothy Tod ’64

When Tod’s son was having trouble reading, she immediately thought back to a film she had made about adult literacy. During the making of that earlier film, Tod learned much about dyslexia, and so she was able to recognize the signs of this learning disability in her own son. “When my son was not learning to read,” Tod said, “I knew what was needed but could not find the right help at my local school, so I started to document the process.” Dyslexic Film Diary chronicles her 18 years of struggle to get a proper education for her son. Tod hopes the film will help parents understand both how the testing and methods of teaching reading can affect the emotional development of a child, and the importance of getting help early. For more information about her films, email Tod at