Film is both a heart and a head thing for Diana Martinez
I recently posted about the influence that a high school teacher had on my twin passions of writing and film and now I’m glad to report that a similar thing happened to the subject of this story, Diana Martinez. She grew up a film buff in California and it was in college that a professor turned her onto the idea of film studies as a career. She is serving in the newly created position of education director at Film Streams in Omaha. Like me, she often writes about film. But unlike following the film programming path I took, she became a film educator, although I’ve always felt like my writing and exhibiting have been educational expressions in themselves. Diana is a great addition to the local film culture and the fact that Film Streams has taken things in this direction is another expression of how that art cinema is serious about enhancing the community’s appreciation of great, engaging filmmaking. My profile of Diana appears in El Perico.
Film is both a heart and a head thing for Diana Martinez
©by Leo Adam Biga
Author of Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film
Originally appeared in El Perico
Cinema’s been formational for Film Streams education director Diana Martinez since childhood. Growing up in Southern California, her El Salvadoran parents watched diverse movies to learn English and she watched right alongside.
Inheriting her ironworker father’s eclectic tastes, she’s steeped in Hollywood fare, independent film and world cinema. Her early screen stirrings ranged from Woody Allen to Quentin Tarantino to Alfred Hitchcock to telenovela-inspired shows.
She embarked on English literature studies at Cal-State San Bernadino before doing doctoral work in film and television at the University of Oregon. She taught writing and film-media courses there. Her thesis is titled “Funny Business: Women Comedians and the Political Economy of Hollywood Sexism.”
It wasn’t until college she realized movies and media could be more than entertainment but an educational avenue and a career. She shares her take on pop culture in articles she writes for Slate, The Atlantic, Indiewire and Dilettante Arny and in courses she teaches.
“While an undergrad I was first exposed to film criticism and film analysis as a thing scholars did. That’s what I wanted to bring to my students when i taught at Oregon, and now that’s what I do in the education program here.”
She said film-media are portals to limitless topics and she enjoys giving people the tools to examine things .
“Kids are rarely asked to engage with film critically. What I really love about our program is that it looks at film in the way I always wanted to and thought about even when I was young. Kids are actually really savvy watchers of movies and other media and if they’re just pushed on that you can transfer their skills to being really critical-thinkers, to finding ins to literature, to looking at our political situation and what’s happening on social media through a critical lens.
“Film engages so many more of your senses than a lot of other mediums and can help you be a better thinker overall. Students can take lessons and apply them to whatever they like.”
She said writing and teaching about film allows her to express ideas more quickly than she could as an academician.
“I can go see a film and immediately read all the reviews and posts about it and participate in that conversation. That’s not how academia works. I wanted to be part of a larger, in-the-moment cultural conversation.”
Her articles have considered the Netflix series Narcos, the CW show Jane the Virgin and indie feature writer-director Lisa Dunham and show-runner work for HBO’s Girls.
Martinez said she wasn’t overly conscious of being Latino in multicultural Southern California, but that changed in Oregon.
“My identity became really important and something I felt i had to take ownership over as like a political gesture.”
She felt a responsibility to the few Latino students she taught.
“They needed somebody they felt understood their experience. That’s when my work took a different turn. It became more identity-based. I became more interested in cultural politics, talking about women filmmakers. I think it’s really helped me contextualize all the experiences I’ve had.”
She’s adapted well to Omaha since arriving last summer.
“People are so welcoming. I’ve been told, ‘We’re really glad you’re here because of who you are.’ I keenly felt that. I realized I have this other point of view people really value, and that’s important when teaching kids how to analyze things critically. Writing about film and television from a different perspective is important.”
She’s already put her bilingual skills to use.
“In our education program we have some students come who don’t speak English and I’m able to do discussions in Spanish and English.”
She loves being immersed in a salon-like atmosphere.
“I’ve always been chasing the feeling of being in a creative space with likeminded people who really care about art. I’ve been lucky enough to find friends and coworkers who do make that their life. The education director position is uniquely suited to what I do. It uses everything I learned in grad school.”
Martinez enjoys enriching people’s cinema experience and empowering them to believe analysis isn’t something only scholars do.
“I love teaching. I love talking to students – I think they’re so smart. I love being that person who gives them that boost of confidence. Anyone can have really great analysis into art and film. Just because it’s in a textbook doesn’t mean it’s the be-all or end-all. Just because one scholar says this is how you interpret this theme doesn’t mean there isn’t room for other interpretations. That’s real valuable and I don’t think teachers do that enough.
“That’s what I love about our program because we’re not this elite institution – we’re a community movie theater where people feel safe to explore their ideas.”
Explorations occur via courses, screen chats and panel discussions she leads. Offerings will increase when Film Streams reopens the Dundee Theater. She’s happy to be part of this expanding cinema home.
“There should definitely be more of these places. It’s necessary because film is not just The Avengers or Captain America, it’s Moonlight, Denial and Certain Women. If you want a vibrant community, you need places that allow people to experience art because that stirs the collective creative juices.”