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Profile: Carolla ’06 Brings Film Knowledge Back to Davidson

Peter Carolla '06
Peter Carolla '06

The Nazis occupy Italy. A young boy hides from Nazi soldiers on the roof of his home as they rummage through the rooms below. He was a translator for the Nazis, but shared too much information with partisans. The Nazis can't find him and prepare to leave, but then his heavy boots scratch against the tin roof. The Nazis pause. Silence. They leave reluctantly.

This scene comes from the diary of artist Luigi Fleischmann; a diary that Davidson College Media Production Specialist Peter Carolla '06 has made into a short film, with the hope of someday turning it into a feature film. The five-minute film recently premiered at Yad Vashem, the preeminent Holocaust memorial museum located in Israel, as part of an exhibition on child artists from the Holocaust.

Carolla knows that he should make the feature film because, as a friend once told him, "If you go to bed thinking about it and wake up thinking about it, you have to pick up the camera and do it." He said, "For two years I've been thinking about this off and on routinely. So I feel like I have to do it."

In the meantime, Carolla is keeping busy with other projects. Duke University recently screened his award-winning film The One Who Builds, and he is the process of creating a 3-channel art installation of manipulated go-pro footage from a road trip and a short documentary on the sculpture "Jesus the Homeless" at St. Albans Church in Davidson.

He decided to make the documentary when he arrived at Davidson in February 2014 and learned of the controversy around the recently installed sculpture. "It's not your typical depiction of Jesus, and I think it has raised healthy debate that will hopefully change people's perceptions of religion in the South," he explained.

Student Becomes Teacher

Carolla ended up returning to his alma mater after receiving a phone call about an open position from his college adviser, Prof. Fuji Lozada. At the time, he had finished a 3-year master of fine arts in documentary film degree at Wake Forest University and was working in film production in New York.

"In the film industry, no matter how much experience you have, you start at the bottom," he said. "I was slowly but surely moving up when Fuji called."

Carolla's love for Davidson and teaching brought him back. He emphasized that he's not only teaching the students technical skills, but also a new way of thinking visually. "In our increasingly visual culture, visual expression is becoming as essential as writing," he said. "To make a good film you need to think critically about how you're going to express a topic in a creative way, so you really have to engage with the material and understand what it really means."

There Isn't One Way

As a student, Carolla couldn't have guessed at his future career trajectory. He liked the social sciences and decided to major in anthropology, but it wasn't until he started making films post-Davidson that he discovered connections between anthropological methods and film.
"I noticed that there was some overlap between the methodology involved in doing good field work-understanding people and their motivations-and film, because that's what you usually are attempting to do when you make a documentary," he explained.

Carolla first tried his hand at filmmaking while teaching high school in Mozambique as part of his work with the Peace Corps. Knowing he had a camera, his high school students asked him to film them practicing capoeira, a form of Brazilian martial arts. With simple editing tools he added music and special effects.

"The students loved it," he said. "They thought it was the most amazing thing ever, and just seeing their reaction made me want to continue."

After the Peace Corps, Carolla worked as a freelance journalist in Rwanda before returning to the United States where he met a Kenyan filmmaker living in his hometown, whom he ended up helping with the narration for a film on Rwanda.

He said, "I told him that I was really interested in making films, and he basically said, ‘Great, then do it.' So I bought camera equipment and learned how to make films through YouTube videos."

Although Carolla was hesitant to attend film school, he visited Wake Forest University's film school in 2010 and decided to make that his next step-and the rest is history.

Carolla tells students who are interested in film that there isn't one way to get there. He said, "It's about being able to find and make your own opportunities and taking initiative."