(Portland, Ore.) June 2, 2016— Portland State University has awarded a new $10,000 arts prize to film student Paul Newman to make a documentary following a refugee family newly arrived in the United States.
Newman is the first recipient of the Andries Deinum Prize for Visionaries and Provocateurs, the largest cash prize awarded in the PSU College of the Arts. It is given to a student who is committed to expanding public dialogue via creative artistic expression, original research or an innovative project highlighting the role and value of art in the 21st Century.
The new prize is named for the late pioneering film educator and PSU professor Andries Deinum, who transformed Portland’s cultural and intellectual landscape through his innovative use of film in education. The prize was established with gifts from grateful former students, colleagues and others inspired by Deinum’s values.
Newman will use the prize money to create a documentary film focused on the experiences of refugees in America. He will follow a refugee family from the moment they step off the plane through their first eight months in the United States.
“Every refugee receives eight months of follow-up once they are placed in the United States, and that end point of assistance is a pivotal moment for them,” Newman says. “Where will they go? What will they do? How prepared do they feel?”.
Through weekly conversations with the family and interviews with experts, he hopes to counter stereotypes about refugees and shine a light on the personal side of an issue that is often reduced to statistics and sound bites. In addition to sharing the documentary with American audiences, Newman hopes to share the film with refugees themselves, for educational purposes.
“Currently no document or body of work exists for refugees to witness what life in the U.S. will be like for them. They are given advice about living in the United States by people who do not live here,” Newman says. “This would be an invaluable piece of functional film that would go well beyond its relevancy as a piece of cinema.”
That educational aspect is part of why Newman’s project was awarded the Andries Deinum Prize, says Robert Bucker, dean of the College of the Arts. “Andries Deinum believed in art with a purpose, using his filmmaking to ignite community conversations around the important issues of his day. By addressing a pressing social issue in such a deeply humane way, Newman is continuing Deinum’s legacy in Portland.”
Mark Berrettini, director of the School of Theater + Film and a member of the prize jury, commended Newman’s work. “The topic is obviously timely—the experience of refugees hasn’t been explored much in the U.S. It was clear from Paul’s proposal that he has the technical skills, talent and community support he needs to make this project a success.”
Newman, a junior at Portland State, returned to school after working for several years as a freelance filmmaker and as a video producer for USAMM, a company that produces US military apparel. The experience of interviewing veterans across the country for those videos broadened his perspective on the true cost of war, he says, and helped prepare him for his current project.
About Andries Deinum
Professor Andries Deinum, courtesy of Portland State University Archives
Film educator Andries Deinum transformed Portland’s cultural and intellectual landscape through his innovative use of film in education. A pioneer in film studies, Deinum brought the discipline to Portland State, cofounding theCenter for the Moving Image in 1969. Deinum’s unique approach to teaching placed film at the heart of a liberal arts education. Following the tradition of Vincent Van Gogh, whom he greatly admired, Deinum believed that “art is nothing at all unless it is equipment for living…unless it untangles our surrounding chaos for us, rather than adding to it.” Hence his oft-cited dictum: “Art should stir people up, not mix them up.”
As an individual who had seen the oppressive force of Nazi Germany in his native Friesland and confronted the Hollywood blacklist after he immigrated to the United States, Deinum placed high value on the role of the personal voice in art and public life. Outspoken and often controversial, he used both film and public television to foster conversations around issues such as urban planning, minority rights and censorship.
Active in both civic affairs and teaching, Deinum helped to guide PSU’s development as an urban university, spurring it to live up to its motto, “Let Knowledge Serve the City.”