Visiting professor Erin Murphy enriches cinema studies program

Most students are aware that professors at Colby are rarely just educators. Such is the case with Visiting Instructor in Cinema Studies, Erin Eileen Murphy, who has been engaging students in various film projects on campus. This year she will be teaching three courses: “Narrative Film Production,” “Documentary Video Production: An Editor’s Perspective” and “Digital Publishing: Telling Stories Online,” while simultaneously creating documentary projects of her own.

Murphy hails from Williamsburg, Virginia, but considers North Carolina to be her true home.  “When I go home, I say I’m going home to North Carolina,” she said regarding the place to which she moved during her senior year of high school and where her parents currently reside.

Murphy’s interest in film began at North Carolina State University. “They were just [expanding] their Film Department,” she recalled. “I took some production classes and just really enjoyed it.” 

Her initiation into the world of film production began before her collegiate activities. When she was in middle school, her father had a VHS camera recorder, and she would make short horror films with her friends. “It’s been a lifelong thing,” she said.

After receiving her MA in media studies at the University of Texas, Austin, Murphy began working on her own as a freelancer and a documentary filmmaker. She came to Mayflower Hill with her husband who currently works in the American Studies Department, teaching a JanPlan course titled “Digital Short-Form Storytelling,” where students filmed and edited three short documentary films over the course of the month. Outside of teaching, Murphy made promotional films showcasing classes in the Arts and Humanities, highlighting such disparate topics as philosophy-art interrelations and German fairy tales in current popular culture.

Murphy is also collaborating with film students on a web-series focusing on local farming and sustainability issues in Maine. Assistant Professor of Global Studies Maple J. Razsa initiated the project when he suggested students in Murphy class work toward his initiatives to make more documentary films involving local Maine produce. “Hopefully that’s a project that continues to grow in Maple’s class and in this class,” she said.

Murphy also has a web-series of her own called “How We Learned,” which, according to her website, “explores how people are creatively inspired and how they learned the skills to construct and reshape the worlds they live in. Through short documentary portraits, this series raises questions about the traditional education system in the United States.” The series looks primarily at farming, art and music.

The project was first part of the EdLab, a “research, design, and development unit at Teacher’s College, Columbia University.” She started the web-series as a project with two friends and Murphy continued producing for the project after their departure, making a website to compile the videos. 

Though the series has since been discontinued, Murphy continues to pursue other documentary efforts. Her most recently completed film was a ten-minute short about a working, “completely water-powered” grist mill in central Pennsylvania, where none of the equipment was made later than the 1960s. 

“That was a project that came out of my work at Bucknell University,” she explained. “I was an instructional technologist there, and I helped faculty members and students learn how to use multimedia in their coursework… I got to know a history professor there, and an engineering professor, and they brought up, in a couple of different conversations… this mill… how it would make for a great documentary. So we decided to work on this project together.”

The film was screened at the Maine International Film Festival in addition to being featured at several other short film festivals.

Her current work-in-progress, called “The Axe Project,” “explores the role the axe played in Maine from the golden logging days of the 1800s to the downturn of the industry in the 1900s and through the technological advances of the 21st century. The film uses interviews with blacksmiths, loggers, manufacturers, historians, collectors, and cultural historians to build the narrative of the axe.” 

As an active filmmaker, Murphy brings something new to the Cinema Studies department. She teaches from the perspective of someone still creating films, and therefore provides an interactive, didactic atmosphere that focuses on an area of academia that Colby’s courses have never covered. While the Department currently offers retrospective classes reflecting on cinematic history and the theory of film, students are excited to introduce a production aspect into the cinema studies minor.

For more information about Visiting Instructor in Cinema Studies Erin Eileen Murphy’s many projects, visit:

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