Acclaimed filmmaker visits campus, inspires students to find ‘bliss’

Frederick Marx began his talk Sunday night in South Rec Room of Allen Hall by pointing out the irony of speaking in front of a group of people, saying, “The more I talk, the less I learn.”

Marx, an Emmy- and Oscar-nominated filmmaker and a University alumnus, is Allen Hall’s guest-in-residence for the week of Oct. 6. According to University Housing’s website, the guest-in-residence program serves to provide students with an opportunity to meet and learn about professionals in diverse career paths.

“The program allows our guests to go beyond the usual one-night talk and allows students to actually get to know our guest,” said Laura Haber, academic and program director of Unit One at Allen Hall. “The guest can act as a short-term mentor to help students see different ways of leading fun lives and pursuing their passions.”

Although more intimate interactions with guests are limited to Allen Hall residents, the program gives University students and the public a rare opportunity to hear multiple talks from a guest throughout their one-to-two week stay on campus.

Marx collaborated to produce and write “Hoop Dreams,” a documentary that looks into the struggles of adolescent, inner-city teenagers attempting to make it into the NBA. “Hoop Dreams” was voted Best Documentary of All-Time by the International Documentary Association, and it was also nominated for an Oscar

Allen Hall Programming Adviser Morgan Hollie said that Marx’s presence on campus is a great opportunity for students to get to know someone whose career delves into multiple different fields of interest.

“He is able to tell very different stories but still show the humanistic perspective in each one of them,” she said.

His work encompasses issues of class division and social justice to issues of masculinity and modern-day rites of passage. At the heart of all his work, Marx said, is an exploration into the intersection of the personal and the political.

“What fascinates me to no end is how individuals operate within political and economic systems that are largely out of their control, and what it is that gets them up every morning to make a better life for themselves or their children,” he said. “How do they get the wherewithal to continue to struggle not only for what’s right for them as individuals, but in a greater sense, for social justice?”

He spoke about how his mother always aspired for him to become a social justice lawyer, or as he put it, a “lawyer for the people.” While he is, of course, not a lawyer, Marx said that to some capacity, he has evolved into something of a filmmaker for the people.

“I identify so deeply with people who are oppressed, exploited, misunderstood and abused, etc., and I do my best in the films that I make to put myself in their shoes, to try to understand them as deeply as I possibly can and then to turn and look out to say, ‘What does the world look like where they sit?’” he said.

Marx’s interest in film began when he was a student at University Laboratory High School in Urbana. Attending film showings at the University’s auditorium, he developed a love of film that carried through his time as a University student. Initially majoring in political science and thinking of becoming the social justice lawyer his mother so hoped he would be, Marx ended up taking many hours of film courses toward the end of his undergraduate career. He wrote as a film critic for The Daily Illini and admitted to using the student newspaper as a way to get into film festivals. He estimates that he watched between 2,000 and 4,000 films while he was a University student.

He said that one of his goals in returning to the University is to encourage and assist students in “finding their bliss,” as he did when he was at the University.

“It’s part of my mission in my lifetime now to encourage and inspire all of the people that I meet and work with … to ask themselves those fundamental questions: What am I here to do? How can I achieve maximum meaning in my lifetime and maximum joy?”

Matt can be reached at [email protected]