Ohio University

Virtual Coffee and Cinema with Natallia Yeloshyna

Natallia

Where are you from and what is your background?

I am from Minsk, Belarus, which is in the geographical center of Europe. Actually, I am the first person in my family born in Belarus. My mother is from Ukraine and my father was born in Germany. However, he lived in many countries as my grandad was a combat pilot. Neither of my parents have academic degrees. Thus, I am not only the first Belarussian in my multicultural family but also the first person to attend university.

What got you interested in film?

After finishing school, I applied to Minsk Linguistic and Humanitarian College only because this college asked the highest GPA from its applicants. My plan was not to be accepted, as only in that scenario my parents agreed to let me go to the local acting school. Unfortunately, the college accepted me. That is how I received my first degree in Tourism.

Acting still beckoned me, and my parents were still against me getting a degree in fine arts. Then, I decided to study media, but it was impossible to find programs without practical components in their curriculum in Belarus and I was not interested in media production (as I am now). Thus, I decided to study in Vilnius, Lithuania as it only took two hours on a train to come from Minsk to Vilnius. I chose European Humanities University but as my previous education was government-funded, I needed to work in any tourism-related Belarussian company for two years after graduation. This is how I got a job at Minsk National Airport and became a distance-learning student at EHU.

At EHU, I studied Media and Communications with a specialization in Visual Culture and Creative Industries. One of the professors that taught films was completing her PhD at the University of Toronto. It was cool to have a qualified professor from abroad, so my academic love for films mainly comes from my EHU’s film professor. However, the reason for my personal interest in films is the Harry Potter film franchise.

Do the Harry Potter films influence your academic interests?

Definitely. It all started in 2000 when I was six-years old. My mother gave me a very special book: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. I could not read well then, so she read me to sleep. The book brought me dreams about magic, courage, persistence, and friendship. Having read all the books multiple times, I got to know the Wizarding World so well, so it was just a matter of time for me to fall in love with the Harry Potter film franchise. I like the Prisoner of Azkaban the most. However, I think that all the films are phenomenal, including Fantastic Beasts. Almost all my academic writings are about this franchise. Without it, I do not know what I would do in both universities I attended as well as in my life in general. J.K. Rowling shaped my personality. She is like my second mom. I wouldn’t be who I am now without her influence.

What did you do to be accepted into OU?

I swear no magic was involved here. I just wanted to be as cool as my EHU film professor or even better than her because close to my university graduation I realized my future was in teaching. I expressed all my love to the J.K.Rowling franchise in the cover letter, submitted my writing sample about gender representations of magical creatures in Harry Potter, and was accepted. See, no magic!

Do you like teaching films at OU?

Yes, I do. I really do. I genuinely want my students to be better than me, so I dedicate a lot of time to my assistantship even though the thesis year students barely have time to sleep. Nothing makes me happier now than seeing my students gaining more and more knowledge in films, except perhaps writing my thesis.

What types of films and filmmakers do you like?

I like the commercial cinema, especially the contemporary one. I do not want to say that I do not respect art-house; however, I am from a working family and know how hard the life of an ordinary working person can be (at the airport, I worked full-time 12-hour day and night shifts while combining my work with education). For a long period of my life, I wanted films just to entertain me. In America, my life became easier, of course, but I still value commercial films as I know they make the lives of many people around the world easier. I strongly believe that this is the highest goal of all arts. Moreover, art-house is becoming more and more commercialized nowadays. So yes, I do not like films where directors seem to care only about their genius (Godard, please forgive me). I think that cinema should be all about the audience.

What do you like the most: talking about movies or watching them?

Neither talking about films nor watching them ever interested me, to be honest. It may sound strange hearing such words from a Film Studies student. However, I think that this is my strength. Many other students cannot find a film they do not like. For me, the situation is diametrically opposite. I can count good films on one hand. I don’t think films shape the audience but the audience shapes the films and if we would be at least a little bit more critical to all the visual culture the industry is offering us, we could change it for the better. Thus, I definitely do not like watching films, as I think that most of them are bad. I also do not see much logic in talking about films. In the scholarly community, we communicate in a written form – through essays, articles, and even dissertations. This is what I like to do with films. I like to write about them.

Are there any aspects of films which draw your attention or which you feel stand out more than others?

I am against the narrative analysis of films. When people just describe and analyze film plots and storylines, it reminds me of what people from philological programs do and, in my opinion, they do it way better than film critics. Thus, I think that if one analyzes a film’s narrative, this analysis should fall into the category of narrative research and not film study. I am even more against formal analysis. I think that it is very risky to say that this or that director wanted to show the dominance of one character over another with a low angle of shooting, for example. Maybe somebody broke a tripod just before the shooting day and the only way to shoot a scene stable was just to put the camera on the ground. What if this broken tripod is the reason for a low angle, but we already prescribed the deepest meaning that the director wanted to tell us with this shot? Therefore, I base my research of films on sociological/media theories and their “more scientific” ways to study culture. For example, this semester I am working on the second chapter of my thesis and I am interested in contemporary film marketing. Thus, I use the Strauss–Howe generational theory to define the peculiarities of Millenial and Zoomer film marketing.

What kind of issues would you expect to see reflected on film in the years to come? Are there any stories that you feel need to be told on the big screen?

Cinema reflects society and now we are living in a very interesting period: COVID, quarantine, politics, etc. – I think that we soon will see the reflection of the historical period we are living in on the big screen. I think that the stories like The Hunger Games or The Maze Runner will resonate with what we are all experiencing now.

What are your five favorite movies? Is there a common thread that pops out to you about your top five films?

I cannot include all the Harry Potter films here, right? I think that for now, my favorite films are those I’m writing my thesis about. They are: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Fifty Shades of Grey, and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. A common thread is that all these films are based to a certain extent on fanfiction. This phenomenon really fascinates me. Contemporary filmmakers leave single author theories in the past and move the industry forward with expanding collective authorship theories by including fans in the list of film authors.

Outside of my thesis films, I can name The Apartment by Billy Wilder. I think that there is something very special and kind in this film. Many films lack this.

How do you feel about online education?

I am comfortable with asynchronous online education. I feel that I get the most knowledge from it. However, I know that many other students miss the human interactions that face-to-face instruction offers. I am an introvert and always feel uncomfortable among people. Synchronous education complicates this situation even more. It is psychologically hard for me to see 10 pairs of my classmates’ eyes staring directly at me from the screen of my laptop for three hours a day. Sometimes

I feel like Moaning Myrtle: “I just remember seeing a pair of great big yellow eyes. My whole body sort of seized up, and then I was floating away…”

How do you stay organized and prioritize tasks?

I like discipline. I always write weekly plans and set deadlines for everything, so I always know what needs to be done and when. Not meeting deadlines is not in my nature. When I feel that I start to burn out I allow myself to rest a bit, sing in the shower, kill an hour or two in TikTok – but only as a prize for completing all tasks in my plan for that day. I usually get to do more of what I want, not less. This brings me moral satisfaction which usually results in high productivity.

What do you want to get out of OU that you cannot get outside on your own?

Oh, I am so honored to be a graduate student at such a university as OU. I try to absorb as much information as I can like a sponge. I challenge myself every day and even though I am always critical of everything, I often force myself to pause and at least try to understand why Americans do this or that in a different way. Americans have their flaws but there is also a lot that foreigners can adopt. I feel that my professors and classmates create a very fertile ground for this.

They have open minds and lack prejudice. I learn something new from them every day. OU is a real Hogwarts for me, which gives me an absolutely unique experience every day.

Are you working on anything now? What is next for you? Where do you see yourself in five years?

I am working on my thesis. It is about fan labor in contemporary film franchises. I hope that a PhD will be the next step for me, because in 5-10 years I want to teach.

What advice would you give to a student who is interested in joining the film studies program?

I think that cinema changes rapidly and film studies scholars need to develop new theories that will be able to reflect the current state of events in the industry. I see that many first and second year students specialize in contemporary films and expand existing views on existing standards of visual media. I am very proud to be a part of this community of future film-studies-shapers. I think that we are doing phenomenal work that is like a fresh breath of air to the discipline.

Thus, I advise future students to work with new kinds of films, new filmmakers, and film genres. This is what the discipline lacks today, I think. We need more critical voices and as I said earlier no magical skills were expected from me so far. So, all film wizards, witches, and muggles can find a place in our film studies program. We can have everything we want. It’s just a matter of our hard work and perseverance.