"Be enthusiastic about your work, but always stay humble," alumnus Mitchell Lichtenstein '78
told a room full of Bennington students as part of the "Beyond Bennington" speaker series, which invites alumni to campus to discuss their careers with current students.
An acclaimed actor and filmmaker, Lichtenstein told those in the audience with similar aspirations (a show of hands revealed there were many) to "hang in there" as the entertainment industry recovers from the recession and adapts to the changing landscape of film distribution.
"Distribution is very much in flux right now," Lichenstein reported, noting that emerging technologies such as video-on-demand mean that less movies are being viewed on the big screen.
Lichtenstein's most recent film, Happy Tears, starring Demi Moore and Parker Posey, premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2009, where it was nominated for a Golden Bear Award—the festival's highest prize. He also wrote, directed, and produced the acclaimed 2007 film Teeth, which "comments on the original male mysoginist myth," he says, "a concept I learned about in a 19th century literature course at Bennington."
Lichtenstein, whose acting credits include Ang Lee's The Wedding Banquet and Robert Altman's Streamers, as well as various television shows, fielded questions from moderator Robert Ransick and several audience members before eventually posing a question of his own.
"What are some of your future plans?" he asked.
A few graduating seniors shared intentions of moving to New York City to get a foot in the door as actors or production assistants.
"That's a classic and solid way to get your start," Lichtenstein told them. "But when you get that opportunity, the real key is to find a way to make yourself invaluable."
Other recent "Beyond Bennington" speakers have included artist Fran Bull '60, filmmaker Daniel Grossman '04, and Bennington College Board members Carolyn Heimburger Gannon '67 and Aarti Rana '06.