In the Spring/Summer 2015 issue of Document, CDS director Wesley Hogan describes being bowled over by recent MFA|EDA graduate Nicholas Pilarski’s (’15) thesis project—an animated documentary short called I, Destini—and the way the film exemplifies a transformative shift in documentary education that is manifesting itself here. The film centers around fifteen-year-old Destini Riley and her family’s experience of her brother’s incarceration.
It’s rare for a documentary artist, whether a graduate student like Nicholas or a longtime practitioner, to find a documentary subject and ask, “What set of new skills do I need to develop to tell this person’s story?” More often than not, we rely on the tools we know best… But instead of playing to his strengths, [Nicholas] challenged himself, noting: “If I was going to be concerned about Destini, I had to make a film differently.” Rather than use traditional documentary film approaches, he focused on the languages in which Destini was fluent—drawing and animation. As he later noted, “I’m interested in art that changes people and I’m interested in being changed in the process of making art. The real piece is my own growth and how we worked together.”
Both Destini and Nicholas navigated their separate subjectivities, and together found a way to portray her experience. Destini told stories and illustrated them with pen and paper. Nicholas taught himself to draw additional frames and learned to animate them. The director became student, and together he and Destini created a mutually transformative documentary.
In the wider CDS community, where learning and teaching is a fluid, shared experience and concept, it does not get better than this.
Please enjoy a brief trailer of I, Destini above. Upcoming screenings of the short film in full can be found on the film’s website.