Film takes to the forest

  • Lydia Hicks and Michael Mittelstaedt watch as Motion Picture Arts students film a project.

Lydia Hicks has become a common sight on Interlochen’s campus. Most mornings, she can be found in the more scenic corners of campus, camera in hand, capturing the natural beauty of Interlochen.

Hicks is the first of six filmmakers-in-residence funded by a gift from the DeRoy Testamentary Foundation—the same DeRoy Foundation that is the namesake of the DeRoy Center for Film Studies. For the next six semesters, filmmakers-in-residence will augment the curriculum of the Motion Picture Arts program, teaching unique in-depth studies of their particular specialties.

Hicks has a background in zoology and has previously filmed for National Geographic and wildlife sanctuaries; as such, she’s the perfect teacher for her semester-long course on wildlife cinematography.

“In zoology, you spend a lot of time in study and observation,” she said. “I’m teaching the students how to use a camera to make observations.”

Her teaching approach is fitting for an Arts Academy with a long musical history. “I’m trying to focus on using the camera as one would an instrument,” she said. “Usually, in filmmaking, you get a camera when you’re ready to make a film, instead of getting a camera and learning to use it as a tool.”

“[Nature cinematography] is a lot of sitting around and waiting,” she said. “When you’re filming nature, it’s generally the opposite of filming narratives: you watch, research and create a story based on what you filmed. When you’re filming narratives, you generally start with the story first and then film it.”

The course also provides a welcome break in the students’ normally busy schedules. “Wildlife cinematography is very meditative, which is a nice break from the stress of narrative filmmaking,” Hicks said.

Director of Motion Picture Arts Michael Mittelstaedt chose Hicks for precisely that reason. “I was interested in the opportunity for students to learn more about their visual abilities based on Hicks's experience with camera as quiet contemplation,” he said. “While it may seem quite different from the narrative driven work they have done with us so far, it is a key component of honing their storytelling, allowing them the time and space to refine their discipline in focused observation how they articulate that with camera, instead of recreation in narrative.”

While the weather is warm, every class session is outside—which the students seem to love. “They’re always saying ‘film students never get to go outside,’” said Hicks with a smile.

She hopes to squeeze in a few off-campus field trips before the snow flies. Once the weather turns, Hicks will bring the students indoors to study wildlife documentaries and discuss how they were made.