Emerson professor debuts film

by Beacon Staff • October 4, 2006

Last Thursday, Associate Professor from the Visual Arts Department Claire Andrade-Watkins premiered her film Some Kind of Funny Porto Rican, a full-length documentary based on the lives of immigrants from Cape Verde living in Providence, Rhode Island where Andrade-Watkins was born and raised.,Emerson College's faculty and staff organization Perspectives on Race, Identity, Sexuality and Multiculturalism (PRISM) celebrated its 15th anniversary this month with a series of events.

Last Thursday, Associate Professor from the Visual Arts Department Claire Andrade-Watkins premiered her film Some Kind of Funny Porto Rican, a full-length documentary based on the lives of immigrants from Cape Verde living in Providence, Rhode Island where Andrade-Watkins was born and raised.

She is a second generation American with both sets of grandparents from Cape Verde.

"The community I was born and raised in was still very closely related 'Old Country,'" Andrade-Watkins said. "[We had] similar values: hard work, strong family and community values. We also stayed within our own community."

Leading up to its Emerson premiere, Andrade-Watkins had been showing her film to many expatriate Cape Verdean communities throughout New England.

Emerson College was the last stop on her tour.

She started collecting footage and photos for the film in 1997 after the concept sat largely dormant since 1970, when Andrade-Watkins was still in college.

"Basically, I told a story that needed to be told," Andrade-Watkins said. "The priority was the community."

The film featured interviews with the founding contingent of the Cape Verde community in Providence, which the residents call Foxpoint.

Andrade-Watkins included footage from her family and friends from the 1940s until the present.

"This story has a lot of layers," Andrade-Watkins said. "Anyone who goes to Emerson knows that you can't shoot a movie without B-roll."

The audience last Thursday was made up of primarily students and Andrade-Watkins' entourage of friends, many of whom were from Foxpoint.

Freshman BA acting major Brian Tweedy attended the film on a recommendation given to him in the honors seminar program.

"I really enjoyed the film," Tweedy said. "It went above and beyond all expectations and was a universal story about immigration."

Although the story was primarily about one isolated community, Andrade-Watkins felt that it could be extrapolated out to the entire nation.

"The story validates that because you're poor, you're not stupid," she said in her lecture to the audience after the film. "Poverty is a state of mind."

Second-year visual and media arts graduate student Eric Fox attended because he once had Andrade-Watkins as a professor.

"It was great; I really liked it," Fox said. "It is the sort of story that can apply to any small community that stuck together in the end."

Andrade-Watkins starts work on the second volume of her film later this year, with a third installment to be created at a later date.

Some Kind of Funny Porto Rican was partially funded by an Emerson College Faculty Grant and was produced by SPIA Media, started in 1998 by Andrade-Watkins.

SPIA, which means "to look" in the Cape Verdean language, is one of the largest distributors of films from the Caribbean, Africa, and the US, with an emphasis on the history and stories of Cape Verde.

Andrade-Watkins, who has been a professor at Emerson for the past 25 years, said she was relieved to show her completed first installment.

At the conclusion of the event, she expressed her gratitude to Emerson for helping her realize her vision.

"I grew up, so to speak, at Emerson, and being at Emerson helped me realize my dreams as a historian/filmmaker and teacher," Andrade-Watkins said in an interview. "My whole professional life has been spent here."

She said she specialized in Afro-American studies, black images, African studies and history, and African cinema.

While the collection of Norman Lear material that she was originally recruited to work with never materialized, she said she stayed and developed the first non-western and Afro-American cinema classes at Emerson.

PRISM events continued on Sept. 29 with panel discussions on "Artistic Activism and Knowledge," "Acts of Reconstruction: an Experiment to Realize American History," and "Aesthetics/Art and Knowledge."

PRISM hosts events like these every year. Past events included "Regie Cabico: Poetry Slam Workshop and Performance" a young Asian American stand up comic and last year's conference on "Who Owns Public Space?"

These events included professors from other colleges, student organizers and authors who, like Andrade-Watkins, came to speak to the Emerson audience about their various fields of expertise.