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Alexandra Cuesta

Meet Alexandra Cuesta, cinema

By Evelyn Pitt Stoller

Since she was young, Alexandra Cuesta was always curious. When her father gave her a still camera, Cuesta’s curiosity was given a chance for exploration.

“There’s something really beautiful about being able to enter a space that you wouldn’t ordinarily be invited to,” said Cuesta, now an assistant professor in the Cinema Department at Harpur College, “but having a camera is like having an ethical pass.”

Renowned for her avant-garde filmmaking, Cuesta works with neither script nor story when she shoots her experimental films. Having been on an artistic journey since age 17 when she left Ecuador to study photography at the Savannah College of Art and Design, Cuesta terms her body of work to be “a visual search.”

“I think it’s important to begin with understanding the significance and meaning of an image and how things are constructed,” she said about the process of her visual search. “From the time we’re born, we’re used to this visual language and we stop questioning it.”

Cuesta’s method to her work is rooted in image; she is not interested in film as a blatant storytelling device, but more considers it a personal medium for visual discovery.

Her first film, “Recordando el Ayer,” which was shot in 2004 in Jackson Heights, N.Y., focuses on a Latin American community and the way its members come together to recreate the cultures of their home countries. Cuesta coins this phenomenon, which has become consistent not only in her interests but also in her film and photography, as a “microsociety.”

The unconventional approach that Cuesta takes to filmmaking has not only landed screenings and exhibitions of her projects both cinematic and photographical in more than 20 cities including Vienna, Tokyo, and New York City, but it has also earned her nine honors and awards. Cuesta has received consistent prizes, accolades and grants since 2005, proving that the ever-growing-and-changing approach she takes pays off.

“It’s always about learning,” Cuesta said of her philosophy not only on her work but also in her life. “I want to keep learning. That learning for me comes through my films and their development. It’s always about creating a new challenge for yourself. Teaching is my new challenge.”

Teaching had always been somewhere on Cuesta’s to-do list: “It just never felt like the right time,” she said, “until it was.”

Attracted by the experimental cinematography that lays the groundwork of Binghamton University’s Cinema Department, Cuesta said that she feels comfortable focusing on unique filmmaking and critical thinking with Harpur students.

“My films might seem like a lot of familiar images, but when you look at them in a certain way, they have a higher meaning,” she said. “They’re ways for me to share the way I look at the world.”

She said she is looking forward to the 400-level class she is teaching in the spring 2015 semester titled “Visions of Reality: Experiments in Nonfiction.” It will have students delve into the cinematic art of representing something about the world in a subjective and subtle manner.

Cuesta’s perception on the world varies based on where she lives, which is another reason she is excited to be in Binghamton, a city she said she considers fascinating. Not only does she find lots of motivation within the city itself, but she is also inspired by the operation of Harpur College.

“It’s a great place to have cross-disciplinary opportunities because the school offers so many different things,” she said. “Even though the film department has a tradition of avant-garde style, all of the faculty members have very different and specific interests, which makes it a very rich program.”

As Cuesta settles in at Harpur College, she looks forward to the mutual learning experiences that the academic environment can offer her students, her growing body of cinematic achievements and her perpetual curiosity.

“There’s always something new and the experience is always different,” she said of the journey that lies ahead of her. “That’s what attracts me to what I do — the experience and the process.”

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Last Updated: 3/1/17