5 Questions: Dr Steven Riep

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Dr. Steve Riep is an associate professor of Chinese and comparative literature, specializing in modern and contemporary Chinese literature, film and culture. He is also co-director of BYU’s International Cinema Program.

How did you get into your field?

I began following my mission (in Taiwan). My mission really had a lot to do with my choice of this particular field. I left on my mission having been a science major, and I wasn’t very good. Upon my return, I excelled in my Chinese courses and, because I was doing well, I thought, “Well, this is a good sign that it’s something I should continue with.” One of my professors said, “You should consider graduate work in Chinese or history — you really have the skill set that matches those.” For better or worse I took his advice very seriously and that’s how I got started.

How did you get into International Cinema?

As far as film goes, I’ve always enjoyed movies, but my particular field of modern and contemporary Chinese literature has been transformed over the last twenty years by a newfound interest and desire to look at, teach and do research on film. Over twenty years ago most people didn’t do film — they taught classic literature fiction, poems, drama. Over the past twenty years a number of films about chinese history had come out, and now there are things people can talk about. People have an interest in visual media, so film, television and online media all became viable topics for discussion. We’ve been seeing demand for research in those areas too. The position for co-director of the International Cinema is appointed by the college, and I’ve been involved on the advisory board for International Cinema. I’m the only person in the Chinese program that does International Cinema. I’ve had some opportunities to be involved and help in different ways.  I’ve curated some film series for International Cinema in the past. I’ve suggested films to them, I’ve introduced films for them, I’m on their adivsory committee for a college-wide research committee and I teach a film course almost every year on Chinese Cinema. So I assume those factors played into selection of one of the co-directors.

Dr. Steve Riep - Brigham Young University

I thought I saw more Chinese films the past few semesters.

It’s interesting, some of that may just be coincidental, but already several other people have suggested more Chinese films. It’s fun because on campus we have a course on Asian humanities taught by Dr. Jessica Lawson. She wants to increase the number of opportunities on campus for her students to see Asian culture performed. This means musical performances, stage performances, theatre performances and films. She’s been good about suggesting films to us. I have colleagues in history, science and in the Chinese language program who have suggested films. Another way we find films is through a three-member group that manages International Cinema. The three of us go out each year to one film festival and spend seven to ten days just watching movies. We’ll watch anywhere from fifteen to forty movies in a period of up to two weeks. We note the films we feel would be a good fit for International Cinema and bring those titles back. It’s a wonderful opportunity. All of the films we screen have been previewed by two of the members of the committee, and as two of us watch the films we have a good idea of what International Cinema is looking for, in terms of films that work well for our courses and for general cultural enrichment on campus.

What has been your experience at BYU?

Oh, I enjoy it — it’s a great environment, it’s a very supportive environment. Academic environments can often be very competitive in a negative sense and I think the nice thing at BYU is academics and education with your colleagues doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game: For me to win somebody else doesn’t have to lose. There can be multiple winners, everybody can be a winner, ideally, and I like that aspect of BYU.  I like the fact that BYU encourages international study. We want students to get experience with one or, ideally, more cultures, whether through language, through literature, through linguistics or through philosophy, our students are exposed to a wide variety of cultures. I think it’s very important, especially as we enter an age where the economy and cultures are much more global in nature.

What other projects are you currently involved in?

I’m on leave right now, so I’m working on research projects. In particular I’m working on a book — how disabilities are presented in Chinese literature and visual culture. Visual culture would mean film, possibly television, as well as art and propaganda art. I’m looking at that in the context of China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. It will involve analyzing a variety of films, some from the International Cinema and some of which we’ll probably screen in the future. It also includes fiction, poetry and life-fictio. They’ll be biographies about people who have a disability or by people who themselves have a disability. These disabilities range from mobility impairments, sensory disabilities, like deaf and blindness, developmental or intellectual disabilities and possibly also some issues of mental health and some psychological.

 

 

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