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Cindy Stillwell's film "The First Story" was selected for this year's Slamdance Film Festival.


Program Boosts Humanities, Arts Projects

Set against a backdrop of the roar of semi trucks, the power of diesel locomotives, and the images of life in the West, Cindy Stillwell's film, "The First Story," has gained the attention of local Montanans and the not-so-local film industry.

Stillwell, an assistant professor of film at Montana State University-Bozeman and a native of Illinois, sees her film as an experimental piece, containing, as she says, "sketches and impressions" of life in the West.

Clocking in at 11 minutes, this short film is a collection of images shot over two years in Montana and Idaho. Trains and semi-trucks dominate the images, a testament to the power and pervasiveness of machinery on the Western landscape. The footage was shot with Super 8 cameras, an almost archaic format not typically used - or viewed - in this day of digital technology.

Interspersed with the images of trains and trucks are quiet moments with the Montana and Idaho landscape. Green fertile fields, small town motels, and greasy spoon restaurants mix in with the sights and sounds of the rodeo, its cowboys, cattle, and horses.

National attention for "The First Story" came when Stillwell received an invitation to screen her film at the Slamdance Film Festival this January. Slamdance is an internationally known independent film festival showcasing talent from around the world.

Billy Smith


"Slamdance was an opportunity to be right in the center of the film industry. I was able to see a whole new perspective on my work, and see what other people were doing," Stillwell says.

Stillwell's film came off the shelf as a result of receiving a Scholarship & Creativity Grant for the Advancement of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. Funded through MSU's Office of the Vice President for Research, Creativity, and Technology Transfer, the grants range from $5,000 to $20,000 over one to three years. Dozens of applicants submit proposals every year.

"There is really exciting scholarship and creative work occurring on campus that doesn't have the same access to federal funding as other projects in, for instance, the sciences might have," says Sara Jayne Steen, professor of English and head of the committee that oversees the S & C program.

Mary Murphy


For Stillwell, the S & C grant was "hugely important" to finishing the film. Two years before the grant was awarded, all that existed of the film was hours of raw footage. No image or sound editing had yet occurred. Upon receiving the grant, however, Stillwell knew she could finish the project. She gathered the extra footage she needed and was able to work with a respected editor out of New York. She was also able to enlist the help of fellow film professor David Koester for the film's sound design.

"I would still be limping along, trying to piece it together if I hadn't received that grant," says Stillwell. "It's a great program."

S & C grants are given to MSU faculty conducting work in the arts, humanities and social science fields. The payoff extends to students and the university as a whole, according to Steen.

"All of us benefit from a university that has this kind of creative and scholarly engagement and visibility," Steen explained. "It's very important that every faculty member be active as a scholar or creative artist, with the idea that what the students get in return is first rate."

Here is a sampling of other projects that received funding through the program:

John Brittingham


"Hope in Hard Times: Montana Photographs from the New Deal," a project by associate professor of history Mary Murphy, deals with Farm Security Administration photographers in Montana and their experiences during the Great Depression. History professor Billy G. Smith has had grants to continue his research for a book on poverty and class issues in early America

Phil Gaines, assistant professor of English, is conducting research for a book focusing on how rhetoric and linguistics can affect the outcome of trial cases, and how a person's economic level determines access to the most effective lawyers.

John Brittingham, associate professor of architecture, received a grant to create an exhibit showing the process of designing a structure that is unique to its location. Demonstrating how architects create a strong relationship between the "built and unbuilt," the exhibit will be shown in September and October, 2002, at the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

Paul Trout, associate professor of English, is writing a book titled, "Style Manual: Write It Right." Envisioned as a companion to the perennial bestseller "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White, Trout's book will focus mainly on sentence structure.

Paul Trout
Trout sees himself not just writing to students, but to "anyone who wants to be more in control of his or her writing at the sentence level."

David Scheerer, associate professor in media & theatre arts, with associate professor Dennis Aig is producing a documentary on legendary filmmaker Robert Flaherty. The S & C grant and other funding have allowed for hours of interviews with world-renowned figures in the field of documentary filmmaking. Scheerer has also been able to film over 160 photographs at New York's Museum of Modern Art and employed Geoffrey Ward as senior creative advisor. Ward is best known for writing the companion volumes and scripts for all of Ken Burns' major documentaries.

Darren Rodman
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