For filmmaker, a final work of art ‘has to stand on its own’

Deborah Stratman

Deborah Stratman: “My projects frequently come out of intensive, long research periods — fieldwork of a sort.” Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services


The Researcher of the Year Award recognizes 10 UIC scientists who are advancing knowledge in their fields. The Distinguished Researcher Award honors five researchers with a record of outstanding achievement. The Rising Star Award honors early-career researchers who show promise as future leaders. 


Deborah Stratman 
Distinguished Researcher 

For prolific documentary filmmaker Deborah Stratman, research can be a demanding process. But she doesn’t define it as a challenge. “My projects frequently come out of intensive, long research periods — fieldwork of a sort,” says Stratman, associate professor of art and art history.

“The research itself is never a challenge. It’s as compelling for me as making the final artwork.

“My challenge is how to choreograph an experience that’s porous or spacious enough for a viewer to think her own thoughts, but precise enough that the form has gravity, is impactful, memorable. The hope is to convey the concerns that motivate a film without assigning a diagnosis, to make works of conviction without being prescriptive.

“For artists, the research may be integral, but the final work of art has to stand on its own, a poetic distillation of an inquiry, a witnessing.”

Stratman has shown her work at leading film festivals around the world, winning 14 major prizes in the last four years. She has shown three films at Sundance, including last year’s “Hacked Circuit,” recognized for its achievements in sound design. The film depicts a filmmaking process, the recording of Foley sound effects — the background noises that make a film sound natural, like footsteps, doors closing and fabric rustling.

Last year, Stratman received the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts, a $75,000 prize given annually to five “risk-taking mid-career artists” working in dance, film/video, music, theater and visual art.

Lisa Yun Lee, director of the School of Art and Art History, says Stratman’s research has advanced the field of experimental documentary film.

“Her work addresses some of the most pressing issues in these times, including the traumatic residue of war, ecological disaster and unchecked surveillance in a democracy,” Lee says.


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