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OU Music Professor Receives Best Oklahoma Feature Award for Documentary Film at deadCenter Film Festival

OU Music Professor Receives Best Oklahoma Feature Award for Documentary Film at deadCenter Film Festival

Zoe Sherinian posed with three female drummers during shoot

Zoe Sherinian, professor of ethnomusicology and chair of the Division of Musicology, Ethnomusicology, and Music in General Studies at the University of Oklahoma School of Music, was named the recipient of the Best Oklahoma Feature Award for the documentary film Sakthi Vibrations at the deadCenter Film Festival award ceremony, held June 13 in Oklahoma City.

The 21st edition of the annual deadCenter Film Festival, Oklahoma’s largest and most celebrated film festival, featured a record-breaking slate of 180 films from around the world. The winners of each of the 16 categories were chosen by an independent jury of film industry professionals, including highly regarded producers, directors, writers and actors. "Sakthi Vibrations was selected for the Festival because it is a beautifully crafted film with an incredible story and message,” stated Sara Thompson, director of programming at deadCenter Film. “Dr. Zoe Sherinian has done a wonderful job sharing the story of the Sakthi Centre and we were beyond thrilled at the opportunity to share it with our audiences."

Sherinian’s award-winning ethnomusicological documentary seeks to reveal and analyze the outstanding model used by the Sakthi Folk Cultural Centre for Dalit (outcastes or untouchables) women’s development that integrates folk art performance with social analysis, micro-economic sustainability, leadership and community development.

"We are delighted to congratulate Dr. Zoe Sherinian on the receipt of the Best Oklahoma Feature Award for Documentary Film at deadCenter Film Festival,” said Mary Margaret Holt, dean of the Weitzenhoffer Family College of Fine Arts. “Dr. Sherinian is a respected educator, writer and researcher, and her work to shine a bright light on the Dalits who utilize folk arts, drumming and dancing to transform themselves and the lives of others is of great significance to all in the struggle against caste and gender oppression."

The Sakthi Centre, led by two progressive Tamil Catholic nuns, reclaims the devalued parai frame drum (associated with pollution and untouchability) to re-humanize and empower these young women through the physical embodiment of confidence in performance, and renewed cultural identity in a complex campaign against gender, class and caste subjugation.

The film, directed and produced by Sherinian and edited by Jeffrey Palmer, Kiowa filmmaker, OU alumnus and current assistant professor in Cornell University’s Department of Performing and Media Arts, experimentally weaves together interviews, performance and development activities, such as tailoring and basket making, along with footage shot by the students themselves as they actively define their process of growth and contribute to this participatory documentary.

Narrated by the women looking directly into the camera, the film confronts the audience with the reality of their oppressed yet transforming lives, telling their collective story of transformation from their first day struggling to walk and clap in time, to their final public festival and academic graduation from high school.

“My goal is to impact the broader audience with the message that, although caste still exists in India, Dalits are using the folk arts, drumming and dancing to transform and empower themselves, creating hopeful futures and fighting internalized caste and gender oppression,” stated Sherinian, who plans to give all profits from the film back to the Sakthi Centre.

With this film, which has also been accepted to several noteworthy international festivals, including ARTSxSDGS, United Nation’s NGO CSW65 Forum, Paris Ethnografilm Festival, Toronto International Women’s Festival and Bangkok International Documentary Festival (nominated for best music film), Sherinian aims to impact the world of ethnographic filmmaking with an activist participatory, ethnomusicological film that effectively pays attention to sound.

Poster: Sakthi Vibrarions
Sherinian portrait

This article was originally published by the Weitzenhoffer Family College of Fine Arts.

Article Published:  Wednesday, June 30, 2021