Dr. Kristi McKim Film is a sensory experience for Dr. Kristi McKim. It's easy to enjoy but more difficult to analyze.
"It's a challenge to express a complex aesthetic … to take what you see and write about it, to convey a multi-sensory experience in words," she explained. "Studying film gives us practice in paying attention to details and movement, whether on the screen or in our lives."
A Pennsylvania native, McKim grew up in Mount Jackson, a rural area outside of New Castle and north of Pittsburgh. She attended Penn State Erie - The Behrend College, where she majored in English and minored in women's studies. As an undergraduate, she took the one film class available to students at the time. Though "riveting," she didn't really imagine film as a viable future.
After graduating in 1999, she enrolled in an interdisciplinary women's studies graduate program at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., intent on expanding her senior poetry thesis about gender and Edna St. Vincent Millay's sonnets to incorporate early 20th century poetics and cultural studies.
In her first semester at Emory, a graduate film course changed her emphasis.
"That class introduced me to questions of time and space in relation to cinematic movement, scale, sound, and more. Studying film added new dimensions to my fascination with poetic form and detail, and I ultimately gravitated to film more than poetry, all the while that poetic sensitivity-to duration, to patterns, to ruptures-informs my study of film," said McKim. "I'm grateful that the flexibility of my interdisciplinary major allowed me to shift my focus to studying film without altogether abandoning literature; that I could privilege film while also enjoying English, women's studies, philosophy, and comparative literature courses helped to broaden my humanistic studies, in ways that productively bear upon my present teaching in a liberal arts college."
"I didn't initially see myself as an academic per se but as a lifelong reader, cinephile, and passionate discussant of ideas," she said. "Any space where I could continue this textual learning and have this experience be communal was where I wanted to be."
Fortunately for her film students, that space would be teaching.
After completing her doctorate in 2005, McKim moved to New York to teach at Hofstra University on Long Island, where she taught film production majors as a faculty member in the School of Communication's Radio, Television, and Film department.
"It was thrilling because I could expose budding directors to the history and theory of close-ups, for example," she said. "And it was challenging because they didn't approach film as something you read or write about, but rather something you make."
In 2008, she joined the Hendrix faculty.
"I was always attracted to this kind of setting and wanted to be part of an undergraduate experience comparable to my own, which was transformative and vital for me," she said. "As an undergrad, I remember sitting with friends one afternoon, outside under a tree; while this might seem preposterous or too uncreatively drawn from Dead Poets Society, it's true that we took turns reading aloud from Whitman; and I thought I'd do anything to sustain such a community of reading together. To participate in that as a faculty member, to me, seemed like an ideal extension of such experiences."
An administrative priority due to student interest, film studies was originally offered as an interdisciplinary minor degree when McKim came to Hendrix. Since then, film studies has become part of a newly redesigned English major, which allows students to choose an emphasis in creative writing, film studies, or literary studies.
"It's a perfect home for me," said McKim, who teaches both literature and film courses. This semester, she's teaching Literary Analysis, a gateway course for all English majors, in which students learn to analyze many forms of texts, including novels, films, poems, short stories, plays, and even a graphic novel. Every semester, she teaches Introduction to Film Studies. Every year, she teaches Literary and Cinematic Adaptations, and rotates among advanced courses such as Film Theory, Film Comedy, French New Wave, and Cinematic Time.
The film studies program is off to an auspicious start with strong students selecting the new English-Film Studies major. Among the major's inaugural graduates in May 2011 was Tyler Schroeder, who received a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship and the departmental prize for best senior English thesis. A current English-Film Studies senior, Caufield Schnug has written an essay forthcoming in the scholarly journal Film Matters. English-Film Studies junior Lance St. Laurent won the Audience Award at the 2011 Red Brick Film Festival for his short A Man Needs a Suit.
In addition to these individual student accomplishments, McKim appreciates the campus-wide cinephilia generated by the student-run Hendrix Film Society, which "conveys exquisite taste in screening challenging, beautiful, intelligent films" for the college audience. "While I love introducing students to amazing films they've never encountered, my job becomes even more of a pleasure to teach and learn within a film-savvy community."
McKim's own film interests focus on "theories of time and love with regard to cinema" and "how emotions can affect, subjectively, our experience of time." She is particularly drawn to French films by Agnès Varda and works by contemporary Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-Eda. Both are featured in chapters in McKim's upcoming book, Love in the Time of Cinema, which will be released in December.
Along with her English colleague Alex Vernon, anthropology professor Anne Goldberg, and photography professor Maxine Payne, McKim teaches in the College's Crossings program, a unique interdisciplinary program funded in part by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Together, the four faculty members teach documentary studies.
She also participates "peripherally" in the College's interdisciplinary environmental studies program through new courses such as a senior seminar on cinematic landscapes and atmosphere and a 200-level course on film and the environment. McKim's current book project, Cinema as Weather: Stylistic Screens and Atmospheric Change, further reflects her interests in film and environmental studies. "Studying film involves studying how we inhabit and move through environments, both cinematic and worldly" she said.
With the support of the Hendrix-Murphy Foundation Programs in Literature and Language, McKim accompanied a student group to the New Directors/New Films Festival in New York City for a five-day film-watching marathon with meals and discussions in between. "It was so enlivening," she said of the student discussions, which carried over onto subway rides and walks in the city. "It was just so intellectually stimulating and rewarding."
Involved with the Hendrix Red Brick Film Festival (a now-annual event for students to make short films and compete for juried prizes), McKim also started City Cinema, a film and fellowship opportunity for faculty and students to view a film at Market Street Cinema in Little Rock and enjoy post-screening discussion at a local restaurant. McKim also organizes the 2011-12 Murphy Crime Film Series. "These screening events-and the added bonus of food, of course-allow students to see that film is not just entertainment and class is not just academic," said McKim. "This reciprocity really matters to me, and Hendrix makes that possible."
As the film studies program grows, McKim would love to have a fellow film studies colleague to offer more core film courses, in addition to the current courses cross-listed in other departments. She also hopes the College might one day offer a dedicated screening room with appropriate lighting, technology, and seating conducive to sitting for a long time of enjoying and discussing film.
Whether at the cinema or in the classroom, McKim said she relishes the quality of discussions with her students, the rigor of the film studies discipline, and the enthusiasm of her students and colleagues.
"I hope we continue to privilege the faculty-student ratio as we grow," she said. "I cherish this intimate dynamic that seems to be the heart of Hendrix."
In addition to film-going and teaching, McKim enjoys running, cooking, and vegetable gardening. She lives in Little Rock with her fiancé, Mark Barr (Hendrix '92), who works as a writer and computer programmer, and who also happened to study English at Hendrix.