Student Spotlight: Jackson Zaro

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Jackson Zaro
Major: Cinema & Media Studies and Journalism & Public Interest Communication Class of 2021
Hometown: Bothell
Favorite Film: Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971)

When did you know that you wanted to major in CMS?

I knew that I wanted to major in CMS a few weeks into my first CMS course at the UW. I had been interested in film before, but taking the dive that we did into a single filmmaker’s filmography opened up a lot of opportunities to interact with the work in a more thorough and intellectual approach. It presented am opportunity to engage with films. The enthusiasm and prowess of the professor was also a major draw.

What do you like most about the program?

I greatly appreciate the balance between traditional film and more unique subgenres. There are so many excellent professors in the program who’s specialty is something that we don’t always consider to be part of regular film studies canon and taking these detours always brings about a greater appreciation and occasionally a new found love for different genres, movements, filmmakers, etc.

Much of your focus seems to be on analyzing and understanding more experimental and avant-garde works of media? What led you to this particular interest and how do you see them relating or not relating to more traditional forms of media?

There are two moments that served as watershed moments for me in relation to experimental film. In my first film class, Professor Ames mentioned Visionary Cinema by P. Adams Sitney which brought filmmakers such as Stan Brakhage, Maya Deren, and eventually James Benning (through further discussion with the professor) to my attention. The following quarter, Professor Mahadevan brought up Jonas Mekas and the New American Cinema. This served as the instigation for me to really start engaging with this work regularly as it slowly took up larger chunks of my viewing habits. I found new favorites from Mekas at the time and it was the perfect gateway to arguably my favorite form of cinema.

I see experimental filmmaking as the next logical step in relation to traditional media. Experimental filmmakers are taking traditional media and developing on a medium that has otherwise stagnated somewhat (aside from various technical innovations). Something like Science Without Substance that pushes the medium and conventions above narrative films today asks more from the viewer as well as the medium. The term Avant-Garde is very indicative of this as these films are marching ahead into unknown territory. New experimental filmmakers are always opening up the possibilities of filmmaking in ways no one has done before and it’s exciting as always.

With all classes going online this quarter, how have you been managing course work? Do you see any benefits of classes being online? What are some aspects of the classroom/campus that you miss?

Coursework has been handled as usual. I took a class this summer that demanded one film per day (which wasn’t new for me) but with most classes this quarter warranting two films per week, there hasn’t been any issues with keeping up. I’d also chalk this up to the fact that it’s a lot easier to stay engaged with a class when you’re passionate about the material. I definitely feel like the ability to talk with professors outside of class is something that has become more difficult as I’m more nervous online than in person. The energy of a discussion in a physical classroom feels more free and natural as well.

Picked up any new hobbies with all this time at home? New films you have seen or books you have read that you would recommend?

I’ve used this time to watch more movies mostly. Since quarantine, I’ve gotten around to some films I’ve been meaning to watch that exceeded expectations such as The Last Picture Show, Dog Day Afternoon, Stroszek, A Woman Under the Influence, Wavelength, and Blue. I’ve tried to make more time to be active which is always a breath of fresh air as well.

Do you have any plans for after graduation?

I hope that my degree in journalism will help me to get into some form of film criticism although film curation/preservation would be an ideal route for me. The experience of tracking down a rare film or hearing about stories of how films like The Passion of Joan of Arc and Andrei Rublev were found is always a feeling of ecstasy that I’d love to pursue in my life.

Advice for new CMS majors?

As much as watching films helps develop one’s awareness, engaging with the material outside of the film is just as important. Make sure you follow along with the readings, research the films and their place in a larger context, and try out films that you might not watch regularly.