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Daniel Robin’s short film my olympic summer, about how the 1972 Munich Olympics kidnappings had the unlikely side effect of saving his parents’ marriage, won the Jury Prize earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival. Robin has been producing Quicktime-based web series since 2000, and before the Sundance victory, he posted on his web site a series of shorts called Kinoland, documenting the frustrations he and his classmates experienced during a semester in the graduate filmmaking program at San Francisco State.
In the first episode, Robin pitches the web series to his professor as an investigation of “the dynamic between teacher and student, how this relationship both benefits and hinders an education within this film program.” His professor’s response? “I’m asking you to do something different…we are not here to feed your website.” Robin embarks on the project anyway, and the remaining eight episodes chronicle the personal and creative battles of Robin and his classmates as they navigate an educational system that seems at best indifferent to, and often actually an aggressive barrier to their success.
The effect of the episodes is cumulative. On their own, they seem to be just fragments, but taken together, they accurately reflect the tangle of emotions produced by any close-knit, intense creative environment. The heightened state is made a bit more explosive by Robin’s professor, whose extreme detachment and apparent aversion to active instruction enrages the students. (At one point, Robin complains “This is like the Seinfeld show––it’s a class about nothing.”) The frustration of producing art in this environment bleeds into other aspects of his subjects’ lives; as the woman at the center of episode four (Robin never tells us his subjects’ names) tells Robin, “Everything is about cinema.” Later in the episode, she starts crying in front of the camera, and immediately drops a cinematic reference to being filmed with tears on her face. She’s apparently crying because her professor/adviser has failed to flirt with her, and Kinoland hits its emotional and narrative peak with this scene.
The first six episodes of Kinoland are the strongest. Toward the end, the series seems to veer away from Robin’s stated goal of interrogating the relationship between teacher and student, and by the end of episode nine, the show seems to be moving away from, rather than towards, a definitive conclusion. But the episodes that do take on issues of power and authority in the film-school environment become fascinating, in the wake of summer‘s Sundance win and ensuing festival success, as a portrait of the filmmaker’s earlier struggles to forge an identity in a surprisingly demoralizing academic environment.