Mannocchi sets sights beyond the Hill
Students enrolled in Phyllis Mannocchi's most recent American Independents: Their Art and Production class gather around after a class dinner in Park City, Utah, during the annual Sundance Film Festival. This was Mannocchi's eighth trip to Sundance, where students both watch and interact with independent films.
- Teaching ethnomusicology and rock and roll
- World historian makes her mark
- Black and white photos a favorite for Green
“I love Maine. My kids grew up in Waterville, and I am very close to a lot of people in the community. We’ve had great times together,” Professor of English Phyllis Mannocchi said. Although the longtime Waterville resident has been teaching on the Hill for 35 years, Mannocchi hasn’t lost her thirst for discovery and exploration.
The Philadelphia native, originally a pre-med student at the University of Pennsylvania, eventually graduated with a major in English and a minor in Italian. She did not study film in college, but Mannocchi did attend a film series at the University’s Annenberg School for Communication, the catalyst to a lifelong passion for film.
“I began to get really interested in how you take films apart, and I loved the documentaries,” she said.
After graduation, Mannocchi traveled to Trieste, Italy, on a Fulbright scholarship. “It was just such an international city, and it was beautiful. I studied modern Italian poetry, and I loved it,” she said. Upon her return to the United States, Mannocchi briefly enrolled in graduate school at Columbia University before leaving to embark on another journey—this time to teach in Spain for two years.
Mannocchi lived in Barcelona and taught at the American Institute during a tumultuous period of the secessionist movement. She recalls a time when someone threw a firebomb at the Institute. “The flames actually reached the floor where I was teaching. It was my first real introduction to the movement for independence,” Mannocchi said.
Though she did not explicitly study film during her time in Italy and Spain, Mannocchi’s travels reinforced her love of cinema. She was “always seeing films abroad” and might have become a filmmaker had she “been more aware of the film industry” during her college years.
As a professor on the Hill, however, Mannocchi has been able to satisfy some of her filmmaking desires. Two of her most popular classes revolve around film and filmmaking. In American Dreams: The Documentary Film Perspective, students work in groups to create short documentaries about local people, places or issues.
Mannocchi recently returned from Park City, Utah, where she spent 10 days at the Sundance Film Festival for her JanPlan film class, American Independents: Their Art and Production.
Mannocchi designed the Sundance course after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002. “After two surgeries and a vicious kind of chemo, I became very depressed, and I had to think about what I could hold up to myself as a goal. [Because] I’ve always loved movies, I said ‘I’m going to go to Sundance.’ That kept me going enough to get back on my feet,” Mannocchi said. The class first travelled to the festival in 2004 and, with the exception of one year, Mannocchi has returned to Utah every January since.
During the festival, Mannocchi joins the students in attending movie premieres, participating in workshops with filmmakers and spotting celebrities—a favorite encounter was with Daniel Craig who is, according to Mannocchi, “so cute.” Although she attended film school in London for one year, Mannocchi credits Sundance with teaching her the “practical and day-to-day aspects” of filmmaking.
Despite the glitz and glamour of the festival, some of Mannocchi’s favorite Sundance memories involve her students. “What stands out for me every year is the discussions that go on [among the students],” Mannocchi said. “They occur standing in line waiting for tickets or coming back on the plane, and people so immerse themselves in that world that that’s all you want to talk about. I get so impressed by what students say about the films—some of them are very perceptive, and I learn from what students’ responses are.”
In fact, Mannocchi is so inspired by and devoted to her students that she hopes to one day own her own production company and collaborate with former “Dreamers” and “Sundancers.” “I would love to be in a position to encourage young filmmakers to go in new directions,” she said. “I really want to see someone who comes out of Colby win an Oscar and say, ‘I took American Dreams with Phyllis Mannocchi!’”