When “The Man” is the College

By Robert Anasi '89

Damani Baker ’96 faces a different challenge as a working artist: teaching film at Sarah Lawrence while directing his own documentaries. During the beginning of spring semester, he traveled to Brazil, Scotland, South Africa, Prague, and other faraway places to work on his current project.

portrait of Damani Baker

“SLC gives me a chance to slow down and think about the craft and how much I love it when there’s no commerce attached.”

“A photographer, Andrew Zuckerman, is shooting portraits of fifty people who have changed the world,” Baker says. “I’m doing the accompanying video, so I got to spend a day with Nelson Mandela. Next month, we’re shooting the Dalai Lama and Ravi Shankar.” Baker is also in the middle of directing a film, Still Bill, about the musician Bill Withers (of “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone” and “Just the Two of Us” fame).

Yet Baker finds his schedule as a working artist brings intensity to his teaching. “It’s exciting to come into the classroom with that kind of charge,” he says. “And my students are just as excited about what they’re doing. We get to share our stories.”

Baker divides his students into five-person teams to make six- to 10-minute narrative films. For their projects, Baker serves as a kind of executive producer, overseeing the storyboards and scripts and helping them scout locations. The collaborative effort, Baker finds, can stretch the SLC system. “There’s no writing your genius paper on your own at the last minute,” Baker says. “It’s a total collaborative process. You can tell which crews are working well and who is hiding.”

In his fourth year on the faculty, Baker finds that teaching enhances his professional work, and vice versa.

“SLC gives me a chance to slow down and think about the craft and how much I love it when there’s no commerce attached. It’s special to be part of a program that is willing to let us shape and mold the direction of new media and film.

“What I tell my students is that it’s really about the story. There are so many people in the film industry who don’t understand that. But once my students get excited about storytelling, they can do remarkable things.”

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