So What?

Visiting MFS Instructor Robert Corna Speaks about the Meaning of Movies

If you walk down the coffee-stained steps on the first floor of Berte Humanities Center, pass hackneyed beige sofas, and take a left by solitary vending machines, you may wind up near Humanities 127, the office of one of two visiting Media and Film Studies instructors, Robert Corna.

Corna moved to Birmingham from LA after BSC’s search for a production teacher for the 2016-17 school year. When BSC offered Corna the job, they also told him he had to be there in three weeks.

“I packed up my U-Haul, drove cross-country, and got [to Birmingam] the day before I started working,” Corna says.

He teaches Production II, Screenwriting, and a special class topic on Spielberg during the 2017 spring term.

Corna received his MFA from the School of Cinematic Arts at University of Southern California. Before USC, he received his BA from The College of Wooster in 1994--a small, private liberal arts college similar to BSC.

“After my undergraduate degree in film, I started as an intern in New York and worked my way up,” Corna says.

While his 17-year experience in the film industry includes working on feature films such as Gangs of New York as the Production Assistant and both The Avengers and Fast and Furious 8 as the Location Manager, some of Corna’s most rewarding projects have been documentaries.

A Smile for Bow, released in 2014 and directed by Corna, follows a Thai teenager with Fetal Alcoholic Syndrome (FAS) and HIV as she journeys to the United States for restorative treatment.

“Camp Dreamcatcher and I got together and found a place in America for her to have a surgery,” Corna says. “It changed her life. It meant so much to do a movie like that.”

Corna finds meaning not only edifying but also essential for making successful films. Thankfully, in a field revolving around storytelling, it is not difficult to make something, even out of nothing.

“My dad was a storyteller. He was great at exaggerating stories--that's what films are,” Corna says. “[Films can] take a true story and totally make it their own.”

One time his father took him to watch Alien, thinking it was like Star Wars. It didn’t take him long to realize his mistake.

“One of the scariest things in movies to this day is when that alien jumped out of the guy’s stomach and raced across the table,” Corna says. “We saw it just after eating pizza! I was freaking out.”

While he teaches the skills essential to filmmaking, such as communication, three-point lighting and goal setting, Corna wants his students to remember that sometimes the best films are ones like Alien that take a simple idea and convert it into a meaningful story.

In his office filled with posters from his documentaries, it is clear to see that Corna has taken his own advice.

“I’m here for a year,” says Corna. “I want my students to work hard, to be the best, [and] to change the world. That’s what movie making is all about.”

First Lady of the Revolution

BSC Sponsored Film Wins at Sidewalk Film Festival

First Lady of the Revolution, a documentary produced by Spark Media and sponsored by Birmingham-Southern College, was premiered for the first time ever at the Sidewalk Film Festival in downtown Birmingham this August. The film, which won the fan choice award, tells the story of Henrietta Boggs, a southern belle at Birmingham-Southern in 1941, who left one summer to visit family in Costa Rica. While there, Boggs met and eventually married José ‘Don Pepe’ Figueres, a local coffee farmer and the future president of Costa Rica. The marriage led to her moving to Costa Rica and following her husband through political exile for his speech against the government, their triumphant return, and his leading of the revolutionary force in Costa Rica that led to his eventual presidency.

Teddy Champion, Media and Film studies professor here at Birmingham-Southern, was on hand to host a Q&A after the screening, in which Boggs, now 98, said the movie was a new experience to make and that she thoroughly enjoyed it. In addition to the movie, Boggs wrote a book Married to a Legend, Don Pepe. Her book discusses the story of her life more in depth and focuses on her work of advancing the rights of women in Costa Rica.

Boggs said, “Imagine a place where, in the 20th century, women could not own land, could not leave the country with their children without the written permission of their husband, and could not vote.” She still returns to Costa Rica for each celebration of Independence Day. She said that she loves to be able to visit and feels an immense joy seeing these women voting and living freely.

The movie, however, focused more on her role in the revolution of 1948. Her husband, Don Pepe Figueres, housed the revolutionary army and trained them on their estate with the assistance of other revolutionaries and Boggs. The small group was attacked by government forces in March of 1948 and forced to flee into the country side where they mounted a counter attack that led them to march into the capital city of San José. Don Pepe then went on to lead a yearlong Junta that eventually handed power over to the democratically elected president Otilio Ulate, who had been prevented from taking the presidency by the opposing government. Don Pepe went on to serve three terms as president: in 1948–1949, 1953–1958, and 1970–1974. Unfortunately, Boggs had already left Don Pepe by 1953, citing a distance between them that grew with his increasing involvement in politics.

Returning to Alabama, Boggs went on to be active in the civil rights and women’s rights movements of the 50s and 60s. She eventually remarried and founded the Montgomery Living magazine, which she still writes for at the age of 98.

Spark Media worked with two teams, one in America and one on location in Costa Rica, to produce the movie, saying the biggest challenge was keeping up with Boggs. Director Andrea Kalin said that they strived to put out a movie that told a story that they do not know in Costa Rica, Alabama, or even the States.

The movie, First Lady of the Revolution, is available online at