Collis H. Davis, Jr., Independent Filmmaker, Okara Video, Philippines
Grant I: Lecturing and Research: Communications and Journalism
Film/Video Production and Documentary Cinema
University of the Philippines-Diliman
June 1995-March 1996
Grant II: Lecturing: Design of Interactive 2-D and 3-D Media Environments
De La Salle University-Manila
May 2000-May 2001
On June 1, 1995, while being processed through Manila's sweltering airport customs facility around midnight after a grueling 18-hour flight, the new Fulbrighter and his wife, Violeta, were confronted with skeptical agents about the 100 videotapes the couple had naively declared on their immigration form. Suspecting that the tapes were going to by-pass the Philippine's notoriously strict censorship board (NTRCB), the Bureau of Customs delayed the couple for several hours as it tried to decide whether to submit these tapes to the NTRCB or believe the legitimate story that these tapes were to be used as class-rooom materials at UP. But when the Customs head was told by Davis that if he wanted to inspect the tapes, they would be likely be there until 6 am unearthing videotapes deeply buried in the sub-strata of three so-called "Balikbayan boxes”, and individually wrapped in articles of clothing, ala Filipino-style of packing, he relented.
The "research" side of Davis's appointment entailed work on a documentary project tentatively entitled "Headhunting William Jones". This video documentary tells the story of the extra- ordinary odyssey of an Oklahoman Fox native from Indian Territory to the Harvard Club to the wilds of headhunting country of Northern Luzon, Philippines, 1907-1909. "Headhunting William Jones" explores the themes of the assimilated Native American, the ethnologist as American patriot, and the scientist as Victorian. Pictured left, Collis Davis videotapes an interview with an Ilongot (now Bugkalot) elder who recalled stories of Dr. Jones (inset) who was slain on the spot shown left.
Aside from classroom duties at University of the Philippines-Diliman, Davis's Fulbright experience afforded him numerous opportunities to share his knowledge and research with students and faculty of other colleges and universities throughout the Philippines. In cooperation with the United States Information Agency, Davis conducted classic film screenings in the spring of 1996 to show films dealing with the Black experience in America through titles like Home of the Brave and the Pawnbroker.
Perhaps the most significant event Davis initiated with the cooperation of USIS was a Festival of Award-Winning International Student Works from the University Film and Video Association held in March, 1996. Coordinating with David Kluft, founder and director of the UFVA Student Film and Video Festival, a three-day festival of all genres of films and videos from all over the world, including award-winning Filipino films was held at Thomas Jefferson Library screening facility. The turnout for the event was standing room only. Right, Collis Davis enjoys intermission at the UFVA Student Film and Video Festival with Tanya C. Anderson, USIS Asst. Cultural Affairs Officer, and David Kluft, UFVA Student Festival Coordinator.
Davis participated in the World Centennial Cinema Celebration-Manila where he introduced the screening of the newly-restored print of Dr. Zhivago, premiering in Makati, September, 1995 with a short paper, "Placing a Critical Eye on David Lean's Wide-Screen Spectacle, Dr. Zhivago." As a followup to the screening, Davis was asked to comment for the "Star News" segment of a television news report, Channel 2, ABS-CBN, in which he discussed the importance of film restoration in the interest of national cultural preservation. Above, a video screen capture shows ABS-CBN Television interviewing Collis Davis after the screening of a newly-restored print of Dr. Zhivago.
Davis lectured extensively on his earlier OSU research into interactive narrative video, using examples from his work, "Elegba's Stratagem", of how new digital-based hardware and software can afford the writer and spectator new experiences in what some call hypernarrative interactive stories.
Not only did Metro Manila institutions enjoy these lectures but those in the Visasyas of the Philippines and in Malaysia at the University of Malaysia-Penang where Davis was invited to conduct a 3-day lecture/workshop. Sadly, the workshop was staged during Ramadan, and the energy levels of attending students was reportedly low due to the obligatory daytime fasting. Right, Collis Davis conducting a 3-day lecture/workshop on "Screenwriting for Interactive Narrative Form, University of Malaysia-Penang, 12-14 Feb.,1996.
Grant II (2000-2001)
Collis Davis and his wife, Violeta, had the good fortune to return to the Philippines in May, 2000 for a 12-month appointment again under the auspices of the Fulbright Senior Scholar program, this time to teach in the multimedia area and continue research and production on his documentary, "Headhunting William Jones". Among his first PAEF (Philippine -American Educational Foundation) assignments during his second Fulbright, Davis had the great priviledge of sitting as a panelist on the Fulbright Selection Committee for the Philippnes, during July-August, 2000, with interviews conducted in Manila, Cagayan de Oro, Mindanao and Cebu City, Cebu, and the Visayas. Out of 122 applicants, 12 candidates were selected for Master degree studies in U.S. universities and colleges. Davis reported that it was a very rewarding experience to sit with two top Filipino scholars and an American, the Cultural Attache, reviewing, interviewing and finally deciding, with much agony, among the Philippine nation's intellectual cream of the crop.
Below left, seated immediately to the right of Alex Calata (2nd row, left), Director of PAEF, Collis Davis and wife, and members of the UP Department of Film faculty at Davis's Bon Voyage party, May, 1996.
Not only did Davis interface with teachers at his appointment institution, De La Salle Unversity, Dept. of Communication Arts, but in various forums such as the Annual Assembly and Conference of the American Studies Association of the Philippines. Davis presented a lecture on the use of "Interactive Media in Teaching Creative Writing" in December, 2000 at UP's well-equipped Computer Center's Audio-Visual Auditorium. In December of that year, Davis was invited back to the University of the East, after an initial lecture, to convene a forum entitled "Visualizing the Future for Media Arts Education in the Philippines" for communication faculty members from Metro Manila institutions. Following the forum, Davis published the results of an Internet-based survey of some 14 institutions, including a critique of the Commission on Higher Education Communication (CHED) academic guidelines. The non-juried article, "State of the Media Arts: Metro Manila Institutional Survey Results, 2000" was published in the Graduate School Research Journal of the University of the East. Davis discussed several critical issues facing media arts educators today, including (1) up-grading their training in the new technologies, "slashing and burning" the existing curriculum and rebuilding courses to adequately prepare students for the digital workplace, and, (3) "breaking new ground" with the introduction of computer programming languages and animation into the media arts curriculum.
In the final analysis, Davis's two Fulbright experiences were quite different in character due, in some measure to differences in student populations on the one hand and differences in facilities on the other, between UP-Diliman and De La Salle University. I chose De La Salle for my second Fulbright because its media arts program was more advanced and well-equipped. But in retrospect, I enjoyed the UP students more because they were more in touch with their emotional life than many of the more well-to-do DLSU students who pay the highest tuition of Metro Manila universitities. The faculties of these two institutions are equally accomplished in their professional endeavors, and I learned a lot from them. Davis reported that he donated two top-of-the-line laser disc players (valued at $4,400 new) to the Taft and Dasmarinas campuses which were formerly used for his interactive narrative video research, plus many classic films on laser disc.
As an African-American abroad, Davis said he was quite invisible to the average Filipino, but his experience was much more intense on the first Fulbright due to the subject matter of his "National Cinemas: African and Arabic Film" course taught at UP-Diliman. In attempting to make this course relevant to Filipino students, Davis said he drew parallels between the realist cinema of the late Filipino filmmaker, Lino Brocka, and that of Sengalese director, Ousmane Sembane, which many students enjoyed. None had ever viewed any feature-length films from Africa prior to this course, so it was a revelation for them. It was also a revelation for Davis who apparently touched a sensitive nerve in some students, one of whom wrote her instructor a brutally honest letter about how she had come face-to-face with her own racial prejudice.
No statement better epitomizes the need for the Fulbright educational exchange program than the following excerpts from this student's letter:
“Sir, there are a lot of things that I want to say right now.
I always thought that I was anti-prejudice, anti-racism, anti -class. But if there's one thing I realized in your class, sir, it's realizing that I am one of the many hypocrites in this world. I am prejudiced, racist and class conscious.
I had a hard time focussing my attention on the films that were shown in class, sir. What was in those films, I don't know. Maybe it was the subtitles or the story or the theme...I am not so sure. But I do know that I lost my chance to see and feel their beauty and their sincerity.
I am racist.
I didn't want to admit this, sir, but I felt that it's just right for me to feel terrible now that I have. I am awfully sorry, sir, I am really. I didn't understand you when you got emotional in class, sir (it was about the Middle Passage of African slaves to the Americas, CHD). But I see that people like you who feel for them are those whose lives have been touched by them in some magical way. I have been touched by you, sir. But I can't promise you that I'd feel for them, sir, I can only give you my word. I will try so hard to deal with my own personal prejudice, sir. And I will work my way out of my being so closed-minded. I promise to try to free my mind.
It's not the films that I will remember in this class or the classmates who spoke during recitations, it is you sir, your wisdom, (like it's sheer faith that should keep us going...), your dedication to help a culture reach another, and your wit that made me feel light when things got a little tough inside the class. Thank you, sir, for bearing with me. And thank you for sharing so much. And to whatever it is that you plan to do after this sem[ester], I wish you luck, sir."
Following the conclusion of Grant II, DLSU offered to continue Davis as a part-time faculty with the Communication Arts Department, which he accepted. Well before this time, however, Collis and Violy had already decided they enjoyed living in the Philippines, so it was an easy decision to return and live long-term in the Philippines, Violy's birthplace. Over the summer months of 2001, the Davises wrapped up their U.S affairs, sold one of their two Columbus homes and two automobiles and purchased same in the Philippines where they now now live. Parenthetically, they said they closed their house sale just one day before departing the U.S., and one week before 9/11. They haven't regretted their decision. Collis Davis, although no longer teaching at DLSU, is engaged in work on two documentary films, commercial video projects and a coffee table book on Corregidor Island.
“Thank you for the kind gesture of sharing the documentary on William Jones. To me, your work on the mysterious death of William Jones has always been the most fascinating Fulbright research project during my term at PAEF. Being associated with Franz Boas, being a PhD, and a Native American all add to the research magical brew.” Alex Calata 6/28/2016, former Director of the Philippine-American Educational Foundation.