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Tuesday, March 5, 2024
The Observer

Saint Mary’s hosts ‘Black Excellence in Film’ discussion

Saint Mary’s kicked off Black History Month celebrations Thursday with a panel titled “Black Excellence in Film: A virtual conversation with film director Christine Swanson ND ‘95.”

The conversation was moderated by Redgina Hill, executive director of Inclusion and Equity for the College.

Following her graduation from Notre Dame, Swanson pursued her Master of Fine Arts degree at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Swanson has since directed and written several award winning films, including “Two Seasons,” the winner of the HBO Short Film Competition and recipient of a Sundance selection.

A native of Detroit, Michigan, Swanson attributes her cultivated resilience to her upbringing.

“Navigating my Blackness in Detroit without a mother gave me all the ingredients to build resilience,” she said.

It wasn’t until her freshman year at Notre Dame when Swanson recognized the film industry as a viable career path for herself. Following a visit by director Spike Lee to campus, Swanson changed her major from finance to what is now known as film, television and theatre.

When Hill inquired about the moment that confirmed Swanson found her purpose, Swanson again reflected on her undergraduate experience.

“I really didn’t feel that while a student at Notre Dame because I had no exposure to hands on production, but all my peers did,” she said. “It wasn’t until I transitioned into more theoretical courses on film language and film theory that I fell in love with those courses as well. Especially the critical examination of film language as it pertained to Black people.”

Swanson then built upon the power of images and the power of storytelling and seeing accurate representation in film, especially among the Black community.

She felt compelled to capture the essence of Black culture because there was a lack of reflection in media of the kinds of people she knew, she said.

“I knew when I went to film school that I had a great desire to see these people reflected on the big screen,” Swanson said. “I have an obligation to Black excellence because I was raised by great Black people who overcame a lot of hardships for me to do what I do with relative ease compared to what they had to deal with.”

Swanson acknowledged that learning can come in many forms, especially when you least expect it.

“I spent a lot of early years doing the jobs that came to me,” she said. “But every opportunity and work experience taught me something that I didn’t know previously.”

Her most recent project was the record-breaking film, “The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel.” During its production, Swanson was reminded of her passion and desire to get into filmmaking in the first place.

“Some of the biggest lessons in life are the ones you can’t anticipate or prepare for,” she said.

But the biggest lesson Swanson took from the project was that humanity is ever-present in all subcultures, she said.

In addition to her screenwriting and directing, Swanson spends her time teaching the next generation of filmmakers.

“I teach out of necessity to be of service to others,” she said.