Section: Arts

Student Spotlight: Jess Kusher ’19

Student Spotlight: Jess Kusher ’19

Jess Kusher ’19 on the set of her thesis film, “Paddle Your Canoe.” The film tackles the issues of family and death. | ERYN POWELL

Jess Kusher ’19 is a biology and film double major, and to her these two disciplines are more similar than they might initially seem.

“The ways that we run production is very much like structuring an experiment. Knowing what materials you’re going to need before you begin and organizing your space in such a way that you’re prepared to replicate the results again and again — it helps me a lot to have a very critical brain” Kusher said.

Kusher’s senior thesis in film has helped her deal with the passing of her grandmother. The film, titled “Paddle Your Canoe,” is about a brother and sister deciding what to do with their grandmother’s canoe after she passed away.

Kusher began writing the script soon after she found out that her own grandmother was seriously ill. It originally had a melancholy tone; however, when she returned to edit it, she found that she no longer related to the script. With her later drafts, the film took on a lighter tone:  She describes the final product as “quirkier and filled with things that make me happy.” She hopes audiences will come away with a sense of loss and remembrance. Kusher’s thesis will screen on April 21, along with the theses of the other senior film majors.

As a kid, Kusher knew a lot of photographers — they made up much of her extended family. Her father, grandfather and great uncle are all interested in photography. Growing up, Jess would take pictures, record interviews and make films with her friends.

She appreciates film as a form in particular because of “the way that it’s able to convey perspective and offer to the viewer immersion in a world that they might otherwise never be a part of.” Kusher cites writer and director Julie Dash as a major inspiration for her thesis. Dash’s film “Daughters of the Dust,” available on Netflix, is about members of a Gullah family leaving their island home for mainland South Carolina. Kusher especially appreciates the film’s originality: Its story is nonlinear and it is told from the perspective of an unborn child.

Kusher has several different ideas about what she wants to do next, namely either going into outdoor education or working as an advocate for nature conservancy. Wherever she ends up, she will bring the experiences she’s had at Kenyon with her. “I have in many ways learned through my work in the sciences that no piece of work or no piece of art is without collaboration,” Kusher said, “and that every member who is a part of that team is incredibly valuable.”

Devon Musgrave-Johnson, Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Collegian, is a producer on Kusher’s senior thesis.


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