Instructor Reflection – Through My Own Eyes

by Meredith Coffee

I’ve watched Michael’s movie “Through My Own Eyes,” in its various stages of revision, probably close to ten times now—and even so, every time, it still packs a tremendous emotional punch. It weighs on me in a way that forces me to keep thinking about the important issues it raises well after I’ve finished viewing the film. That heaviness is exactly why the movie was such a successful final project for our rhetoric class and now, such an excellent fit for TheJUMP.

Originally created for my Rhetoric of Tourism class, “Through My Own Eyes” was essentially the culmination of Michael’s work in the course. Early in the year, students chose an ongoing controversy in tourism to pursue throughout the rest of the semester. The most popular topic, for example, dealt with travel to the then-upcoming World Cup. Having traveled to Poland the year before as a Jewish student with a predominantly Jewish high school group, Michael wanted to learn more about the broader context for this trip that had been so meaningful to him. While sharing his research on debates about whether Jewish tourists should visit Poland, Michael also had the opportunity to educate many of his classmates. (One student had never even heard the term “anti-Semitism” before.)

The goal of the final project was for students to take what they’d learned to a new level on all fronts. I asked them to think about all the debates they’d researched surrounding their chosen controversy; recall and enact the rhetorical strategies they’d studied (ethos, pathos, logos, kairos, etc.); and deploy digital skills we’d explored during in-class workshops. Michael’s project excelled on all these counts: it set up his argument by presenting context in a compelling way, acknowledged challenges for Jewish travelers to Poland, strategically deployed ethos and especially pathos, and utilized the chosen medium effectively.

I knew that Michael had some previous experience working with iMovie, but I was still impressed with the way that “Through My Own Eyes” put together music, images, and minimal text to such effect. As a viewer, I immediately sense the music (Miikka Mettiainen’s “Sparrow”) setting me up for an emotional viewing every time the video begins. I am consistently and particularly struck by the headlines about contemporary anti-Semitism; “Through My Own Eyes” gets a set of newspaper headlines to pack an intense emotional punch.

As I’ve watched the project evolve, during my class, as Michael prepared it for submission, and then in response to feedback from TheJUMP’s reviewers, another moment that has caught my eye has been around 3:30-3:34. In earlier drafts, the movie only showed an image here. I’ve never been to Poland, but I gathered that the photo was of a concentration camp—which in itself evokes a sense of horror. Later, however, Michael added the caption “Auschwitz-Birkenau Extermination Camp,” such that the image appears for about a second by itself and then receives the explanatory text. Suddenly, the addition of this caption made the moment even more gut-wrenching, given the emotional currency that the words “Auschwitz” and “extermination” carry. That is, as a viewer, I am already emotionally invested in the movie when I see this image of a hostile structure, and then the appearance of the caption—such a minimal bit of text!—drives the emotional appeal to the next level. The effectiveness of this moment speaks both to Michael’s skill in saying less to persuade more and to the key roles of feedback and meaningful revision in enhancing projects at any stage.

As Michael’s instructor, and later in my capacity as Managing Editor for TheJUMP, I’ve been able to watch “Through My Own Eyes” develop from a concept in a project proposal, to a successful class project, to a publication ready for submission, and finally, to a project published on TheJUMP. Through revision, its various rhetorical strategies—but particularly its evocation of emotion to persuade—have been honed and strengthened to produce the movie that TheJUMP is pleased to share with a broader audience today.