For most Occidental seniors, finishing their senior comprehensive project marks the end of a busy year. For Art History and Visual Arts major Ryan Metzler ’14, the completion of his final project—a documentary short called “Eth’No’Representation”—was just the beginning.
Now, Metzler boasts national Student Academy Award finalist honors, and, in February of 2015, will be the first Occidental student to begin a Fulbright Research Creative Arts grant.
Metzler’s path at Occidental did not start with film. Though a sociology major at the time, he found his true passion in documentary film work after taking a handful of film classes during his sophomore year. He described his first efforts in film as poor, but nevertheless pursued the Media Arts and Culture program to combine his interests of anthropology and film.
“I didn’t really understand that I could major in film, and I realized it was something I wished I’d been doing a long time ago,” Metzler said. “I would have loved to be a journalist, but I’m a terrible writer. Documentary work is kind of like visual journalism, and that worked better for me.”
Metzler created “Eth’No’Representation” to examine representations of Native Americans in film. Through a Keck Summer Research Initiative, an internship at the Autry Museum and work with the Autry’s own Native American theater company, Native Voices, Metzler was able to observe the many different aspects of his topic.
Shortly after submitting the final edit of his senior comprehensive film, Metzler discovered the Student Academy Awards. Fellow Occidental graduate Raffy Cortina ’13 participated the year prior and won top honors in the alternative film division.
There was only one problem: Metzler had two days to get his documentary cut together and sent over. Forty-eight hours of cutting and editing later, Metzler paid $60 to overnight the film to the judges.
“I worked really hard and got it in, and after I was told I had made regional finals, then a second regional finals, then national semi-finals, and finally national finals, it all seemed pretty worth it,” Metzler said.
Metzler’s faculty adviser, Associate Professor and Art History and Visual Arts (AHVA) department chair Dr. Broderick Fox, views Metzler as the ideal liberal arts student prototype.
“Combining studies in sociology and AHVA’s Media Arts and Culture, he was challenged to contend with distinctly different methodologies in the humanities and social sciences,” Fox said via email. “His success comes from his tenacity, his humility and his genuine curiosity to extend and engage beyond his comfort zone. It has been incredible to watch him as a thinker and maker.”
Since graduation, Metzler has not slowed down. During the summer he shifted between at least ten jobs, from camp counselor to personal assistant. Currently, he is spending his time editing college tutorial videos, coaching high school football and editing a feature film.
Metzler heads to New Zealand in February for his Fulbright grant, where he will be studying and filming the Maori people for an upcoming documentary. He plans to do a similar study of their representation in media, as well as the more recent efforts to revitalize Maori culture in New Zealand through immersion schools and government grants.