Slifka Center hires artist in residence

Fourteen years after its establishment, the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale now has its first ever artist-in-residence: filmmaker Ilana Lapid ’99.

Lapid, whose film “Red Mesa” — screened at the Slifka Center on Tuesday — has qualified for potential Oscar nomination in 2010, has returned to Yale 10 years after graduating to work with students and artists to combine Judaism and the arts. As the first person to fill the position she helped create, Lapid teaches a screenwriting seminar, brings Jewish artists to speak at the Slifka Center and mentors students. She will also pursue her own projects, including finishing the screenplay of a feature film.

“My job is to facilitate people in finding their inspiration, and tell stories that are authentic and honest to their own experiences,” she said.

Last semester, the Slifka Center’s staff discussed enhancing their student resources by hosting an artist and came up with the idea of a full-time artist-in-residence. Lapid — who had been in touch with Rabbi James Ponet ’68, Yale’s Jewish chaplain and head of the Slifka Center, since she graduated — told Ponet she was interested in the position.

“He really is a visionary — that’s part of the reason I wanted to come back,” she said of Ponet.

After graduation, Lapid spent time in Romania on a Fulbright scholarship compiling a photo exhibition and then worked in New Mexico on “Red Mesa.” She arrived at Yale in September and began teaching a screen-writing seminar that analyzes a film each week, alongside Jewish and Israeli texts. Although the class is offered through the Slifka Center, meets for three hours a week and does not count for academic credit, Lapid said her 12 students remain dedicated to producing a 10- to 12-page screenplay.

“All of us are happy to be in the class despite spending more time there than in a normal class,” said Dan Gelernter ’10, who is a student in the seminar. He said he hopes the class is eventually offered with academic credit.

Lapid said she eventually hopes to bring more speakers to Yale. She organized a seminar with Al Gore’s media company Current TV in October, where students pitched film ideas for feedback.

Aside from teaching the seminar, Lapid is working on a feature film set in the same locale as her short film “Red Mesa,” which won Best Short at the 13th Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, qualifying it for potential Oscar nomination in 2010. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences mails ballots for its members to submit film nominations, and announces the final list of contenders in January.

“Red Mesa” is 17-minute fictional film that depicts the coming-of-age of a woman living on the U.S.-Mexico border and her relationship with an undocumented Mexican migrant worker. Lapid, who hails from Las Cruces, N.M., said the film was partially based on a similar relationship she once had.

Ponet said he is excited about Lapid’s new role in the Slifka Center, which he said will enhance the Slifka Center’s arts resources. He said he is fascinated by how she generates creative ideas.

“Film is visual storytelling,” Lapid said.

After “Red Mesa” was screened Tuesday, Ezra Stiles College Master Stephen Pitti, director of the Program in Ethnicity, Race and Migration, moderated a question-and-answer session with Lapid.

Correction: November 19, 2009

A previous version of this article contained two errors. The female protagonist in Ilana Lapid’s ’99 film “Red Mesa” is not Jewish. Also, “Red Mesa” qualified to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film in 2010, not 2009.

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