Category Archives: Tiger of the Week

Tiger of the Week: Stephanie Flack ’92, Bringing Environmental Films to the Big Screen

Stephanie Flack ’92 (© Amy Moore)

Stephanie Flack ’92 (© Amy Moore)

By Louis Jacobson ’92

Last year, Stephanie Flack ’92 decided to leave a job that she says she could have stayed in forever. For the previous 18 years, Flack had worked with the Nature Conservancy, a major environmental group, during which time she spearheaded a landmark effort to preserve the biologically rich Potomac River watershed.

“It was a great place to be — it never got boring, and I was proud to be part of this big, successful organization,” she said. But she’d also felt she’d “gotten into the weeds” during a lengthy technical project, so when the opportunity arose to lead the Washington, D.C., Environmental Film Festival, she took it.

The festival — which at 23 years is the longest-running environmental film festival in the United States — will be held between March 17 and March 29 and is scheduled to include more than 160 films from 31 countries. Many of them are premieres, and many will be shown along with presentations by the filmmaker or other expert speakers. Last year’s festival attracted 33,000 people to films at dozens of venues, many of them free to the public. “It’s not a niche festival,” Flack said. “Everybody should care about these topics.” Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Bioethicist Jason Schwartz ’03

As the latest measles outbreak made headlines nationwide last month, one important question arose about the ethics of mandatory vaccinations: Are there beliefs — parental or religious — that ought to allow parents to opt out of vaccinating their children?

Jason Schwartz ’03 (Margaret Andrews)

Jason Schwartz ’03 (Margaret Andrews)

As an expert in bioethics, Jason Schwartz ’03 actively weighed in on the debate, speaking on public radio stations WHYY and WBUR. The consensus right now, Schwartz told PAW, is that exceptions should be available — but that they should be “pretty hard to get.” It shouldn’t simply be a matter of signing a form or checking a box, but “really making a parent explain their sincere beliefs about vaccination.”

Schwartz majored in classics and was also a pre-med student as an undergraduate. For a long time he thought he would be a physician or surgeon, but soon discovered, while pursuing graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania, that he was much more interested in policy and social issues around health and medicine. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Sitcom Star Ellie Kemper ’02

Ellie Kemper ’02 (Josephine Sittenfeld ’02)

Ellie Kemper ’02 (Josephine Sittenfeld ’02)

Six years ago, we checked in with Ellie Kemper ’02 just after the young comedian and actress landed a role on NBC’s The Office. “I am a huge fan of the show,” she told PAW. “Being on set with them is like being in a dream, except the dream is real and I can reach out and touch them. Except I am trying not to touch them too much, because I was raised right.”

That earnest charm and humor came through in her character, receptionist Erin Hannon, and Kemper found a niche on the show for its final five seasons. She also built a career in movies, with credits that include Bridesmaids and 21 Jump Street.

Beginning next week, Kemper will take on a new role as the star of the Netflix sitcom Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock. Kemper plays a woman who is freed from a doomsday cult and decides to start fresh in New York City — a notable challenge for someone who has been locked away from the world in an underground bunker.

Fey told Dave Itzkoff ’98 of The New York Times that she and Carlock developed the show for Kemper, who has a history of playing roles that project “sunniness, but also strength.” Kemper added that the Kimmy character is “resourceful and crafty and incredibly tough” — which should give the actress a chance to show more of her own range. As author and friend Curtis Sittenfeld wrote in a January Vanity Fair profile, “she has an edge, of the good variety.”

Below, watch a trailer for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, courtesy of Netflix. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Filmmaker Andrew Jarecki ’85

Andrew Jarecki ’85, left, with Robert Durst, the subject of Jarecki’s new documentary series. (Courtesy HBO)

Andrew Jarecki ’85, left, with Robert Durst, the subject of Jarecki’s new documentary series. (Courtesy HBO)

Andrew Jarecki ’85 has devoted much of his filmmaking career to stories of crime and deception, with credits that include the 2003 Oscar-nominated documentary Capturing the Friedmans and the 2010 fictional drama All Good Things. The latter was inspired by the story of accused murderer and real-estate scion Robert Durst, who takes center stage in Jarecki’s new project, The Jinx, a six-part documentary series that debuted on HBO earlier this month.

Vox.com hailed the documentary’s complexity and Jarecki’s technique of “gently withering away our self-certain narratives.” The Wall Street Journal called the series “an unusual hybrid” — an extensive investigative reporting project and a deep character study that humanizes Durst, who sat for 20 hours of interviews with Jarecki. And Esquire summarized its take with a question about the filmmaker: “Why does this man keep making us relate to psychopaths?”

That was actually the title of the Esquire Q&A, not a question in the piece. But Jarecki did provide an answer of sorts. “I’m always skeptical when somebody says that another person is evil,” he told the magazine. “I think it’s an excuse to separate ourselves and to say, ‘Well, I can’t even conceive of the possibility that I could be capable of such things, because that person is “evil.”’ But the truth is all people do strange things.”

Jarecki will be on campus for a Feb. 20 event that includes a screening of the first two episodes of The Jinx and a conversation with the director and producer. Continue reading

Tigers of the Week: Nonprofit Entrepreneurs Mark Smith ’09 and James Burgess ’09

Mark Smith ’09, left, and James Burgess ’09. (Carolyn Edelstein ’10/OpenBiome)

Mark Smith ’09, left, and James Burgess ’09. (Carolyn Edelstein ’10/OpenBiome)

Clostridium difficile colitis, commonly known as C. diff, infects some 500,000 people per year in the United States, with sometimes deadly effects, according to the American Gastroenterological Association. But Mark Smith ’09 and James Burgess ’09 have a safe and effective solution to fight the intestinal bug — and it uses material that normally gets flushed down the toilet.

Smith and Burgess are cofounders of OpenBiome, a nonprofit organization in Massachusetts that provides stool samples used in a procedure called fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT), which introduces microbes from healthy stool to fight C. diff. If you think it sounds a little weird, you’re not alone. Smith, a microbiologist, said he had the same reaction when he first heard about FMT.

As a graduate student at MIT, Smith studied the human microbiome, the collection of microbes that live in or on the human body. After reading about FMT and its effectiveness, he asked Burgess if there might be a business opportunity for a stool bank, to provide the specimens needed for the transplant. But with the procedure’s intellectual property largely in the public domain, Burgess did not see much potential for profit.

The idea remained dormant until a friend’s relative contracted a persistent C. diff infection and struggled to find a medical facility that would provide the FMT treatment. (He eventually received a successful fecal transplant, after a year and a half of recurring infections.)

Smith and Burgess returned to their plans and decided to try launching a nonprofit. They researched the relevant regulations and developed protocols for screening donors and processing samples. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Curator Jodi Hauptman ’86

Jodi Hauptman ’86 (The Museum of Modern Art)

Jodi Hauptman ’86 (The Museum of Modern Art)

Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs, a much-praised exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art scheduled to close next week, is the latest noteworthy project of curator Jodi Hauptman ’86, who also has helped MoMA showcase works by Georges Seurat and Odilon Redon in recent years. The Matisse exhibition was organized by Karl Buchberg, senior conservator at MoMA, and Hauptman, along with assistant curator Samantha Friedman.

The exhibition and a companion publication, co-authored by Hauptman, explore Matisse’s materials and methods, and how the cut-outs, created late in the artist’s life, fit into the broader context of his career. In a New York Times interview last June, Hauptman debunked one commonly held belief about Matisse’s choice of medium: “It was always thought that he was too frail to paint and hence turned to cut-outs, but we believe cut-outs allowed him to answer questions about color and drawing, bringing them together.”

While The Cut-Outs earned critical acclaim and a healthy stream of visitors, it also broke new ground in the art world when it kicked off a film series of exhibitions, screened at movie theaters around the country.

Hauptman, who majored in the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, studied art history at Yale, earning her Ph.D. She joined MoMA in 2002 and was promoted to senior curator in the department of drawings and prints last year. Continue reading