How Franklin & Marshall College Made Me a Filmmaker
By David B. Godin
I did not experience the love-at-first-sight moment like many of my fellow F&M alumni, at least not in the same way. I never had that magical first tour of campus and feeling of overwhelming assurance that Franklin & Marshall College was the right school for me. Well, maybe I did, but I was much too young to remember my first interaction with F&M – partially because I was still wearing diapers. My dad, Dr. Roger A. Godin, started working at the college in 1986, a year before I was born. In the basement of Brooks College House, formerly known as Marshall & Buchanan Dormitories, used to be the home of the college daycare center. I spent my earliest years at that daycare and on that lawn in front of Brooks House, learning, developing, evolving as a child in the world. Roughly thirty years later, on that very lawn, my incredible dad would be celebrated and thanked for his over thirty years of service to F&M, retiring as a Prefect of Brooks College House and a part-time film lecturer (Yes I am a proud son). As you can see, my relationship with F&M is unique, but it didn't always feel that way.
Growing up in Lancaster County and graduating from Hempfield High School, I had no interest in staying in Lancaster to attend college. I didn't even apply to F&M, or any school within four hours of Lancaster County. I was eighteen years old and wanted to get out and explore the world. I decided to attend Savannah College Of Art & Design in Savannah, Georgia. While attending SCAD, I felt the film program itself, which is why I was there, was too focused on the technical aspects of filmmaking. During my winter break that year, I returned home to Lancaster and sat in on an underclassmen film class that my dad was teaching at F&M. I remember the distinct level of intellectual engagement about filmmaking that happened in that classroom. It moved something in me. Later that evening, I sat down with my parents and informed them that I wanted to transfer to Franklin & Marshall College after completing my freshman year at SCAD.
I began my sophomore year at F&M in the fall of 2007.
Something profound I learned early while at F&M was to not lot let my pre-conceived career interests cloud the possibilities of potential courses or subjects to study. It was much too facile to think, "well I want to be a filmmaker, so I'll take a bunch of film classes, major in film, and be all set." But what or who is a filmmaker without a distinct story, and a specific curiosity about a myriad of different things? Becoming an F&M student and a member of the greater collegiate community awoke a voracious intellectual hunger in me for the possibilities and depth of the world, and the self-confidence to trust that instinct to lead me on a path of continuous discovery.
The beauty of the liberal arts education at F&M is related to one's willingness to explore the diversity of the curriculum, and engage one-on-one with the brilliant faculty members. I found myself falling in love with Anthropology, then Islamic Art & Architecture, the Beat Generation, Miles Davis, and Jackson Pollock, Creative Writing, then traveling to Tuscany for six weeks to study the Italian Language with a group from F&M. I went on to immerse myself in Eastern Asian Religion, American Nuclear Politics, and the Psychology of Music. I learned a ton about film production, history, and theory from the excellent F&M film faculty. During my junior and senior years at F&M, The TDF (Theater, Dance, Film) Department sponsored a group of professors and students to fly and attend both the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah and the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas. I can promise you that not many colleges do that for their students.
Outside of the revered academic experiences that F&M offered me, I can tell you that it was not the academics that made the school overtly special for me – it was the people. My former academic adviser, Dr. David Stameshkin being one of those remarkable individuals. Overall, it was primarily my fellow students that made the experience so enriching. The overwhelming privilege it was to be surrounded by the best young minds from around the country and the globe – I cannot overstate the positive impact this has had on my life.
One particular experience stands out. My sophomore year, I was invited to a "Posse Plus Retreat" by a classmate and friend of mine that was a Posse Scholar. As a Posse Scholar, my friend was part of a diverse group of students from New York City that received scholarships to go to F&M through the Posse Foundation. The retreat brought together F&M students from many various types of backgrounds. Over two days, we, as a group, were forced to confront and discuss many difficult subjects that we faced. We had challenging conversations, told extremely personal stories, and held the tension that existed in some very uncomfortable moments. After less than 48 hours, we had all grown immensely close as a small microcosm of the greater F&M community. We hugged, cried, laughed, and created bonds that still last to this day. That event changed my life – it opened me up to the power of human stories, and it gave me the courage and conviction to create my own Special Studies Major at F&M, The Anthropological and Psychological Foundations of Film.
Becoming a filmmaker has everything to do with trusting one's way of seeing in the world. This development of one's visual language and voice as a filmmaker correlates directly to the quality and depth of the individual filmmaker's curiosity to continue learning, digging, expanding, and sharpening that perspective. F&M instilled in me that relentless intellectual and emotional curiosity. The F&M experience has a unique way of getting in your blood and staying – infusing an appetite for knowledge, for truth, and continued lifelong learning and self-expression. I cannot be more grateful for my unforgettable experience as a student and now an alumnus of this wonderful institution.
It is now June 2019, and I am on the cusp of directing my first feature film, Creek Don't Rise – which will be filmed entirely in Lancaster County beginning in the fall of 2019. The film tells the story of a former South Sudanese "Lost Boy" refugee who befriends a local woman struggling with bipolar disorder. One entrenched in community, the other deeply isolated, they each cope with being restricted from seeing their nearby children.
The film explores cultural identity, the competing demands of freedom and obligation, gender-based societal expectations, and contemporary visualizations of American Individualism and Collectivism.
I wholeheartedly believe that this project is a direct reflection of my cumulative F&M experience. To my entire Franklin & Marshall community – past and present – thank you for the endless inspiration. I cannot wait to share this film with you upon its completion.