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Student Profile: U-M Stamps Senior Debuts Film Thesis Project at Michigan Theater

An illustrator as long as she can remember, U-M Penny Stamps School of Art and Design senior Zoe Black never considered herself a filmmaker. But after a meeting with a career-aptitude test mentor, who told her "You're going to go into film," Black latched onto the idea.

Zoe Black (Photo by Sola Muno)"I've definitely kept illustrating, and doing graphic design, so I have those in my back pocket," Black says. "But film, and specifically documentary work, has been my main focus since my first film class at Stamps." 

A sophomore film project got her thinking about media's representation of women, and how it affects their identities. It was a theme that stuck with her through undergrad, and is now the subject of her senior thesis documentary film: How to Make a Self Portrait

The film will feature an interview with U-M history of art professor Tara Ward, shot in UMMA's Apse; a talk with actress Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development); and will incorporate Black's love of oil painting. 

"Throughout the film, I'm going to be painting a self-portrait, so over time you see me put myself together and figure out how I want to be represented through my own agency," she says. 

Originally enticed by traditional art school, Black chose Stamps because it was the only place she felt she could explore different mediums. 

"I came in as an illustrator–the only thing in my portfolio were drawings and digital art–and I am coming out doing a thesis that is a documentary," says Black.  

The Stamps study abroad requirement gave Black's time at U-M another dimension. 

"I studied abroad for a semester in London–that was when I jumped straight into film," she says. 

As part of a hands-on film program, Black was given minimal instruction, and she and her classmates had to figure out how to make a short film on their own. It was a great way for Black to get to know the film industry and build her confidence.

The wealth of resources available at U-M have allowed her access to professors with very specific knowledge and unmatched locations to shoot, as well as show her work—Black's film will be shown at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor on April 12 as part of the Stamps Undergraduate Thesis Show. 

"If you try, you can tap into almost anything at Michigan."

Exchanges: How We Got Here: The 2018 Stamps Senior Show will be held from April 13–April 29. All senior thesis film projects will be shown on Thursday, April 12, from 5–6:30 p.m. at the Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty Street.
By Sola Muno