As a news-editorial journalism major, Shalayne Pulia, Ebert Center Film Scholar, has always loved movies, but more as a pastime, not as a career. “Like most people I watched movies to get away,” she says. “I wanted to be entertained - to feel something and be transported out of my everyday life.”
All that changed when Pulia took a multimedia class and began completing her own film projects. She began to appreciate how everything in a film can work together — the story, the music, the visual elements, the camera work — to add layers of meaning to a film.
Roger Ebert would have approved. He said, “The task of every movie is to try to change how you feel and think during its running time.” And more important than whether a movie is worth the price of a ticket is the question: “Does this movie expand or devalue my information about human nature?”
Pulia’s education in film appreciation took another big step forward during Spring 2015, when she was studying abroad in Italy. She took a cinema class and watched three or four Italian movies each week.
For Pulia, “La Vita e Bella” (Life is Beautiful), starring Roberto Benigni, stands out in its ability to expand her information about human nature. At one point in the movie, set in World War II Italy, Benigni’s character finds himself pretending to use propaganda to convince children in a classroom to side with the Fascists. “He starts spewing all this ‘Viva Italia’ stuff,” says Pulia, “and at first I couldn’t stop laughing.
“Then it hit me. What were they doing to those children? What was happening to the world? Real people went into classrooms like that one and taught those lessons to real children. Because of the comedy, it all snuck up on me, and I will never be able to forget that any of it happened.”
With her greater appreciation of cinema, when Pulia heard that the new Ebert Film Scholars internship would be for arts and entertainment writing, she knew she had to apply. “That kind of writing is just what I want to do,” she says. “With the Ebert Center starting right there in my own college, I couldn’t imagine not being part of it.”
Like Roger, however, she never wants to lose sight of the power of story over technology. “When I was in Milan,” she says, “I went to the Kazakhstan booth at the Milan expo. They gave me giant bug glasses to wear, and the bottom of the theater moved — it was like 5D technology. I got so lost in all of that, and I love how technology made me feel like I was actually in Kazakhstan. I loved it, but I always want to help people look beyond all that to appreciate something more in a movie — the meaning that a director brings to a story and the way that story can change us. That’s my goal for the future.”