CMC Senior Explores Gender and Religion Through Film

Kelsey Rose Weber CMC ’13 is a dual Film and Religious Studies major. Unlike her peers who are writing a paper for their thesis, Weber made a film, which she accompanied by an explanatory paper.

Titled "Salvation: An Exploration," the film combines her two majors by exploring the achievement of the spiritual ultimate (salvation, nirvana) by women in four different religions of the world.

“I started exploring different religious concepts, and something that I found that wasn’t very discussed was both women in religion—in a certain context, not just, ‘This is what the scripture says,’ or, ‘This is what women are supposed to do,’ but more of the alternative perspective of women in certain religions. From there I became fascinated, for some reason, with the concept of salvation because it’s like, what is going to happen to us after we die?” Weber said.

The fact that salvation is an ethereal concept present in almost every religion intrigued Weber.

“Salvation is something that you can’t define. It’s like—in Judaism it’s not heaven or hell, but it’s this idea of ‘you reach a more pure state,’ but nobody f---ing knows. And that’s why I was so intrigued by it. I just wanted to basically break it down and give females a voice in these religions that use incredibly gendered language,” Weber said.

The film is divided into four parts, and each part explores salvation within a different religion. The religions she chose are Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism.

“I grew up Christian, kind of … but I wanted to do something I didn’t know. So I narrowed it down to four religions. I did Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam. I started looking at what salvation was in those [religions] and then applying that to the female voice, giving a different perspective” Weber said.

The film is not a traditional narrative piece.

“I don’t really like narrative filmmaking, so it’s a short experimental film that explores how women relate to the concept of salvation in four different religious communities,” Weber said.

The film uses a lot of unconventional imagery, and prior knowledge of religious symbolism would likely lend the audience a better understanding of the work.

“I tried to use a different filmic language for each of them. … [For] Buddhism I used colored smoke, and it goes from dark to light to represent the transition to nirvana and spiritual enlightenment, and I also used nudity in the section. … For Judaism I used fragmented light, so I cut out patterns and then put a flashlight on it, and it reflects onto someone’s face. And that was to represent, like, how black and white that female voice can feel like in Judaism. ... And then Hinduism, I used the idea of reincarnation because you go through this cycle of birth-death-rebirth, and you keep doing that until you reach spiritual enlightenment. … And then for Islam I used the idea of exposing the female body. But not, like, straight nudity. It was in a shower, and so it’s these shots of a girl in a shower, and she’s slowly wiping away the fog to expose the body. It sounds a lot raunchier than it is,” Weber said.

Because the film is experimental and uses avant-garde techniques, it can be difficult to unpack all of Weber’s ideas. However, the film has some stunning visuals accompanied with innovative use of computer-generated graphics and music. Each of the four parts was filmed in a different style, and thus, even within its short duration of twenty minutes, the film has a lot to offer its viewers.

Buddhism was by far the most enigmatic film of the four. The smoke-blurred images shot outdoors gave the scenes a heaven-like quality. Weber shot the scenes outdoor in the early morning, and the bright lights and fog gave the impression of being in a mysterious land, which represents nirvana well.

Judaism had an extensive use of lighting and computer generated graphics. As Weber said, the contrast between light and darkness has been used to represent the different roles that men and women play in the religion. Lights and computer-generated graphics, along with the electronic music, give the impression of travelling through space.

The film's interpretation of Islam was unconventional. Although Islam addresses the prejudices toward women prevalent in Islam, it does so quite unconventionally. The film shows the actor in the shower as she attains salvation. Of course, this is ironic because when one thinks about Islam, the expectation is for women to be dressed modestly; Weber’s interpretation is the opposite. The music which incorporates the sound of dripping and flowing water was a welcome accompaniment.

Hinduism stood out, for me, from the other films because its music was very different, and it used color more extensively than the others. The imagery of reincarnated animals (bear, fish, and eagle) in their natural habitats gave the film a serene, calming effect that was coupled with a strong use of color and jarring music to heighten the tension. The contrasts made the film very striking.

The film had an original score composed by Will Mitchell PO ’14 and Ben Stein PO ’16. With its trance-like quality, the music brought a dramatic narrative to the movie. Each of the four parts had a different score.

The music for Judaism was very interesting because there was a strong influence of computer-generated music coupled with the sounds of church bells. Alongside the music, the fragmented light images gave the impression of transporting a viewer through space.

The music for Hinduism was the most unique because, besides computer generated music, there was generous use of string instruments like the sitar and guitar, which made for an innovative combination. Each of the scores had an element of mystery to them, always keeping the viewer in anticipation of what was to come next.

Although the film may be difficult to interpret at times, Weber introduced it with a description of the various themes, which makes it much easier for the viewer. The ideas and themes explored are novel, and Weber’s interpretations are certainly unconventional. Weber plans to debut Salvation to the public with an outdoor showing at 8 p.m. on May 8 at CMC's Parents Field.