Body of research: Oyallon-Koloski’s research integrates movement and dance, and style and craft of filmmaking

“America is (not) Cool” video essay by Jenny Oyallon-Koloski

Jenny Oyallon-Koloski, assistant professor in the Department of Media & Cinema Studies, was introduced to the power and influence of media during an introductory film course in college. She recalled watching The Last Laugh, a 1924 film directed by F.W. Murnau, and being “emotionally wrecked” by its ending. This experience left her with the desire to learn more about the powerful effects of the media. 

Jenny Oyallon-KoloskiOyallon-Koloski is a film historian who specializes in the history of film style, or stylistics. 

“As a film historian, one of the main goals of my research is to expand our knowledge of film, and in my case of film craft in particular: what industrial resources (technology, budget ranges, personnel, institutional memory, and more) were available to filmmakers, and how those resources impacted their narrative and stylistic choices,” Oyallon-Koloski said. 

When she earned her PhD in Communication Arts (Film) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she discovered that she would like to keep movement and dance as a part of her life, and that there was still a lot of research to be done on the functions of bodies on screen.

“Since at the University of Illinois, I’ve expanded my research methodologies to include more performative, practice-led approaches to studying film and dance by publishing videographic criticism as well as written research,” she said. 

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Her videographic pieces include “America is (not) Cool” (pictured at top) from [In]Transition (2018), which was featured in Sight and Sound’s “Best Video Essays of 2018” list, and “Maya and Mia At La La Land” from Screenworks (2019). She recently co-authored a forthcoming article for Digital Humanities Quarterly: “Moving Cinematic History: Filmic Analysis through Performative Research.” She and the members of the movement visualization (mv) lab (of which Oyallon-Koloski is director) use motion-capture technology to “recreate cinematic dances to study their form and craft history.” (See images at right and below.)

Currently, she researches how filmmakers use figure movement and dance as a tool for storytelling. Jacques Demy, director of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), and Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1967), is one of the filmmakers Oyallon-Koloski is most fascinated with. She focuses on Demy's films in her first book project, Storytelling in Motion: Meaning and choreography in the film musical, in which she analyzes French and American musicals from 1961 to 2016 explore the historical contexts and storytelling power of figure movement and dance.

“There’s a lot of research out there on musicals, but I’ve found that most of it doesn’t focus on the role of dancing in cinema and doesn’t explain how powerful those performances are in shaping the narratives and our enjoyment of them,” she said. “I became involved in the dance world myself in college, where I danced with the Semaphore Repertory Dance Company (at Carleton College) and grew to love studying movement.”

Oyallon-Koloski designed two new courses for the Department of Media & Cinema Studies—MACS 150: Introduction to Digital Media Production and MACS 485: Making Video Essays. MACS 150 instructs students on the various methods available to produce media content, whether it be portrait photography, poster design in Photoshop, personal website design, podcasting, and video production. MACS 485, which Oyallon-Koloski said is one of her favorite courses to teach, introduces students on how to make a variety of video essays and instructs them on “videographic criticism as an alternative research methodology.” She also teaches MACS 203: Contemporary Movies, which introduces students to a variety of films and provides a solid understanding of how cinema functions as both a “business and an art form, how it interacts with other kinds of media, and its relationship to contemporary culture.” 

She also worked closely with other MACS faculty to design a critical media production curriculum that students can now take through individual courses, a critical film production minor, or a media production certificate.

Oyallon-Koloski said her greatest accomplishments are the work she’s done to expand MACS’ media production course offerings, and the community that she’s built in her movement visualization lab.

“As a humanities scholar, I was trained to do research alone and publish single-author work, so it’s been a treat to develop collaborative research and to discover that we all work together so harmoniously,” she said. “I’m so grateful to have a research environment in the mv lab that encourages play and creative discovery.”

—Kimberly Belser, Communications and Marketing Intern

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Motion-capture frame still from Oyallon-Koloski's forthcoming article in Digital Humanities Quarterly, “Moving Cinematic History: Filmic Analysis through Performative Research.”