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About Black Coffee

Black Coffee Is:

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    an interdisciplinary experiential education project at Colorado State University-Pueblo

    Over fifty students were involved in making Black Coffee.

    Professor Corsa, who helped to organize the project and produce the film, required the students in his Filming Philosophy course to be involved in a myriad of ways. Some acted in the film, others did technical work, others organized the premier, and others developed web content. Professor Corsa's students also wrote about their experiences in relation to arguments from the course. How did the project impact how they view the premises of our course's arguments?

    Professor Shen, from Mass Communications, encouraged her students in Advanced Digital Media Production to be involved with technical work in the film.

    Professor Peters, from Art, set up a weekend 1-credit workshop for art students, who were involved with technical work in the film and also were extras in the gallery scenes. The workshop participants also contributed their own art to the film, and their art appears in the gallery scenes.

    Professor Volk, from Music, worked with several of his students to compose the score for the film, and Music students also played and recorded the score.

    Mr. Pocius and Professor Huff worked with a student, Daniel A. Baliczek, to design this excellent website.

    Many students who were not part of the classes described above, also helped with technical work, acting, etc.

    The point of this project was to provide a memorable and worthwhile educational experience for the students who were involved. They had real, hands-on experience with how films are made, and this experience impacted how they thought about the work they were doing in their courses. Black Coffee's director, Joshua Munson, treated the film as an opportunity to work with the students and faculty who were involved, and help them better understand and appreciate what was involved in making films. He coached them through their various tasks, and let them make many of the decisions involved with lighting, camera positions, etc.

    This project was completed in a short time and with limited resources. We shot the entire film in a little over fifty hours. Joshua Munson edited the film on his own. Music students had two weeks, from receiving a rough cut of the film to providing a finished score. While recording, we used a single boom pole and a basic lighting kit, and we did not have a complete set of lenses that cover a range of different distances. Most students had little prior experience with acting or technical work, and Joshua Munson worked with many sets of students like this over fifty hours. We have come to think of putting this film together as a bit like creating Frankenstein's Monster a little of this, a little of that, making a consistent whole out of a range of different parts, creating something cool and organic.

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    A Philosophical Film

    Black Coffee’s lead character, named Pat, is a philosophy professor.  Midway through the film he gives a lecture focusing on arguments posed by a philosopher named Peter Singer.  Those arguments concern the ethics of global hunger and charity.  At the end of the film, too, several characters have a conversation that sounds a bit like the ancient philosopher Marcus Aurelius.  And several characters also discuss a short story by Jorge Luis Borges, who isn’t often considered a philosopher, but who is certainly a “philosophical” author of literature.

    The content of the film is oriented toward philosophy.

    But perhaps more importantly, the structure of the film is philosophically interesting.

    Black Coffee is a choose-your-own-adventure.  At the end of many scenes, you get to choose what the main character, Pat, does next.   To watch the next scene you have chosen, you will need to follow directions provided in the film.  When you follow those directions, you will find a password, which you will need in order to watch the next scene.  So, for example, you might need to walk to the basement of the Psychology Building and find a password taped to a door.  Or you might need to visit a website and find a password written there.  Once you have found the password, type it into this website to see the next scene.  Ultimately, then, this film involves an interactive scavenger hunt.  To watch all of it, you will need to take real world action.

    In the film itself, Pat will only go to the library if you, yourself, first went to the library and found a password there.  Pat will only look at a website if you, yourself, first looked at the website and found a password there.  And so on.

    There are numerous reasons this structure is philosophically interesting.  Here are three:

    First

    Black Coffee creates a novel sort of relation between the audience and the lead character.

    Compare a tree to a painting of a tree.  Both have some of the same effects.  Both look like trees (Woodruff, p. 126).  And yet, they don’t have exactly the same features.  A painting of an apple tree does not grow apples, but a real apple tree does.  So, the painting of the tree has part of – but not all of – the natural effect of a tree.  We might say that the painting represents a tree, or is “mimetic” of a tree.

    Now compare Pat, the film’s lead character, to the film’s audience.  Both have some of the same effects.  Pat looks like he has walked to the library only if the audience looked like it walked to the library.  And yet Pat is quite a bit different from any given audience member, too.  Pat doesn’t capture exactly the same effects as the audience.  Arguably, the relation between Pat and the audience is similar enough to the relation between the painting and the tree.  If so, then we might say that Pat represents the audience, or is “mimetic” of the audience.

    Second

    Black Coffee aligns the audience with the lead character in a novel way.

    In many traditional films, the narrative limits itself to the actions of a small set of characters and the people and objects those characters encounter.  Likewise, the audience is often given subjective access to a small set of characters as well (Smith, p. 162).  The audience only sees what certain characters see, the film offers point-of-view shots from only those characters’ perspectives, and the audience sometimes views objects and people the way those characters do.  Consider, for example, films in which the protagonist is a child.  In many of those films, camera angles sometimes make it seem as if the audience is looking up at adults, the way a child does. 

    These are some of the ways that traditional films align the audience with certain characters.     

    Black Coffee does something new.  Anyone who completes the film (without cheating) will often have to act the way Pat acts.  As a result, the audience will necessarily share some of the same experiences as Pat.  Might this align the audience with Pat in a special way?

    Third

    Black Coffee will have a novel impact on the audience, even after they have finished watching it.

    If the audience follows all of the directions in the film, they will perform a variety of actions, including donating to charity and reading a short story.

    If a person performs actions like this in the context of watching a film, might it change the way that person behaves once the film is over?  If you convince someone to read a story or donate to charity one day, might that person be more likely to perform these actions again in the future?

    Imagine watching a film in which someone reads a short story.  Now imagine both watching someone read a story, and actually reading it, too.  Everything else being equal, which of these scenarios is more likely to affect the way you behave in the future?

    Perhaps if people can “try things out” within fictional contexts, they will be more likely to act those ways in real life.  Interactive fiction might be like a rehearsal for life (Boal, p. 141).


    Boal, Augusto.  Theater of the Oppressed.  Charles A. & Maria-Odilia Leal McBride, trans.  New York:  Theatre Communications Group, 1985. 

    Smith, Murray.  “Engaging Characters.”  In Thomas E. Wartenberg and Angela Curran, eds.  The Philosophy of Film:  Introductory Text and Readings.  Malden, MA:  Blackwell Publishing, 2005.

    Woodruff, Paul.  The Necessity of Theater:  The Art of Watching and Being Watched.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2008.  


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