— by Jordan Cameron, Marketing & Communications Specialist
Headshot of Jesse Pires

We’re excited about our newest major at Moore, Film & Digital Cinema, a program specifically built for emerging women and nonbinary filmmakers to learn and to share their unique stories in a rigorous and supportive creative environment.

In our new Q&A series, we’re asking local film industry leaders and influencers to share their excitement about the program and tell us more about why Philadelphia is a great place to be for students interested in film and cinema. 

Next in our series: Jesse Pires from Lightbox Film Center at University of the Arts.

Who are you and what is your connection to film and cinema?

I’m Jesse Pires, the director and curator of Lightbox Film Center at University of the Arts. I’ve spent most of my adult life being involved with cinema in some way, whether working on film crews, managing a video store or organizing film programs. In college I attended screenings at West Philadelphia’s Neighborhood Film & Video Project (NFVP) where I eventually landed a work study job. After a brief internship at the Philadelphia Film Office I started as a fulltime House Manager for the NFVP. I eventually found my way to New York City (managing a video store no less) where I dove head first into the city’s rich tapestry of film programming, from MoMA to Ocularis (RIP). I returned to Philadelphia in 2003, picking up at the film program formerly known as NFVP. For the past 18 years I’ve helped to transform that program into one of the city’s most vital resources for innovative independent and repertory film programming, branding the program as Lightbox in 2017 and transitioning to its new home at University of the Arts in 2020. 

Why is Philadelphia an exciting place for film students and young filmmakers?

Philadelphia, when compared to other large American cities, is not necessarily a “film town.” There is not a high concentration of film venues such as what you’d find in New York, Chicago or even Austin, TX. That’s pretty much always been the case. What that means for film students and young filmmakers is that almost anything is possible, the history is yet to be written, the landscape is yours to transform.

In recent years the city has changed quite significantly, with a huge influx of young artists moving in. This new wave has brought tremendous creative energy to the city’s art scene. Small artist-run spaces are finding intersections within different artistic disciplines, exciting film and media festivals are offering platforms for young voices and artists are being recognized on their own terms and not in the shadow of what came before. 

For artists, I can think of few places that provide such a wide range of inspiration than Philly. It’s a big city made up of small neighborhoods. There’s history, diversity and a very unique cultural identity. Anyone interested in moving images should experience what this city is about and see how it impacts their work. 

Why are you excited about Moore College of Art & Design’s new Film & Digital Cinema major, which is specifically for women and nonbinary students?

As I said, young artists have been moving into Philadelphia for a while now. This program is the perfect opportunity to tap into that creative energy and nourish a growing arts ecosystem. More importantly, filmmaking is still a relatively new artform compared to other mediums. As cinema continues to evolve, we need new voices to move things in new directions and expand the field. A program that is specifically for women and nonbinary artists ensures that the future of filmmaking goes beyond male-dominated narratives of film history. I am really excited to see the ways in which this program advances moving image practice in the 21st century.

What advice do you have for future students in our program?

Much of my work involves connecting the past with the present, so I would say to incoming students, get familiar with what I call the “cinematic archive.” Moving images have become so ubiquitous that almost all artforms draw on them in some way. It’s easier now than ever before to seek out films from previous eras and find ways in which they resonate with the present moment. Since joining UArts I’ve had many more opportunities to share my work with students and I’m always thrilled when we can watch something from 50 or 60 years ago and experience it from a completely new context and still find relevance in the work. All films reflect the time in which they are made but history doesn’t end, it’s a continuum and all artists should feel comfortable with taking ideas from the past and expanding on them. 

Do you have any projects or events coming up that Moore students should know about?

There are a lot of great films to look forward to at Lightbox in the coming months, including a long-lost Iranian thriller called Chess of the Wind, the latest from South Korean auteur Hong Sangsoo, and a special program of Japanese experimental animated films.

In addition to our regular film screenings, Lightbox will be introducing a new digital film preservation initiative in 2022. We have selected several rare/underscreened films to undergo a complete 4K digital restoration which we will then premiere. More new about this will be coming soon.