Article and photo by Julie Lake

Saginaw Valley State University Professor of Art Shaun Bangert not only teaches a full load of graphic design and art courses, she is working steadily on many personal projects.  Her techniques range from hand-drawing to time-based media, and her topics include women and women's issues.

Bangert worked in the field of graphic design for almost 20 years before she decided to go to school to earn her Bachelor's degree in Fine Art (BFA).  During the last semester of her BFA program, one of the professors got sick and could not teach his graphic design classes.  None of the other professors and staff had any experience in graphic design, but they knew of Bangert's 20 years in the field, so they asked her to take over the classes.  She agreed. It was then that she fell in love with teaching and began to think about earning a Master's degree so that she could teach at the college level.

At this time, Bangert had already been married and had small children. She was so busy trying to finish her Bachelor's degree, working a full-time job, and substitute teaching the graphic design classes that her family rarely saw her.  When she presented the idea of going on to graduate school to work on a Master's degree, her husband was against it.  Bangert resigned herself to becoming a stay-at-home mom and housewife after graduating; yet, after only a few days at home, she felt as if she had nothing to do with her time and was beginning to get bored.

One day, while Bangert was sitting at the kitchen table, her husband came in and said, "I have a graduation present for you." He handed her the book The Top Graduate Schools in the Country and told her to wait one year before going.  Bangert did, and then applied and was accepted at the University of Michigan, where she met Professor Carol Jacobson, who worked in film production.

Bangert was not new to the art of film production. When she was in middle school, she had begun making stop action films with a friend's Super 8 video camera using the old cut-and-splice method of production.  Later, as an adult, she worked for a film company in New York for a number of years producing coming attractions reels and behind the scenes trailers.  Her decision to partner with Jacobson resulted in her creating a number of films that exposed the injustices inside of the women's prison system.

Prior to 1992, women who committed violent acts as a result of domestic abuse could not use domestic violence as a defense in their cases.  As a result, many women were unjustly imprisoned and given life sentences. Jacobson and Bangert visited Scott Women's Prison in Plymouth, MI to interview some of these women.  They were shocked to find out that many of the women behind bars were imprisoned because they had acted in self-defense or in retaliation for domestic violence and were also being chained and put in solitary confinement by the prison guards for no apparent reason. The interviews, combined with tapes made by the guards documenting proper chaining procedures, created the poignant documentary Segregation Unit, which has been shown all over the world at such venues as law conventions, art galleries, political activists' rallies, women's study groups and film classes.  As a result of the atrocities exposed in Segregation Unit, Amnesty International thoroughly investigated Scott Women's Prison, which was forced to close.

Bangert is now working on her own film, which will be a cross-cultural look at women and their lives.  She will focus on those specific points that define who women are, including personality, sexuality, childbirth and menstruation.  She plans to answer such questions as "When did you first 'feel' female?" and "Were you treated differently because you were female?" and treat other gender-related issues as well.  Bangert's interest in mixed media will be readily evident in this project as she plans to make the animation the old-fashioned way:  by hand drawing each image.  When asked how long she anticipated production to be, she joked, "I'll be working on it for the rest of life!"

Bangert's advice to any aspiring filmmaker out there is "Be prepared to work your ass off.  Be organized and set a schedule." However, when first starting in this field, you will be spending a lot of money out-of-pocket, so she says, "Make sure you have a 'real' job."

© Julie Lake, 2010