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Nhi Dinh, left, edits her documentary with filmmaker Branwen Okpako, a guest lecturer at the College this spring.

Acclaimed international filmmaker helps students explore identity in film

May 09, 2014

Nhi Dinh’s ’16 passion for filmmaking got a boost this spring when she made her own documentary that explores issues of identity with one-on-one mentorship from an acclaimed German filmmaker. 

Dinh enrolled in this spring’s “Navigating Identity in Documentary Film” workshop offered by Visiting Guest Lecturer in German Branwen Okpako, the award-winning writer and director of several films, including 2011’s The Education of Auma Obama

“The course has really given me a different perspective about myself as a filmmaker and person, going back to the identity question,” Dinh says. “Branwen doesn’t use her films in class but she explains the techniques she uses so we can develop our own ideas and style.” 

As part of the course, Dinh, a psychology major, directed and edited a documentary that explores the notion of the “autotelic self” in three Earlhamites by exploring what motivates them as young adults. Autotelic means having self-directed goals.

“The film allowed me to look at their personal stories — past and present — and show a side of them you wouldn’t normally see,” Dinh says. 

Branwen _6

Because the workshop was limited to six students, Dinh received personal attention from Okpako during class and in the editing room. 

“She really wanted to get to know me as a student and has really given me a different perspective that I can use in my studies,” she says. 

Okpako also taught a course on contemporary and classical German cinema this spring and served as a judge at the inaugural Earlham Film Festival, organized by Dinh as co-convenor of the Student Filmmakers Guild. The event featured 18 films produced by students. 

“Being at Earlham has been so interesting to work alongside so many interesting colleagues and students with various global perspectives,” Okpako says. 

The Nigerian-born filmmaker lives in Berlin, Germany. She regularly gives talks at universities across the world and works primarily with German college students. In 2006, she was an artist-in-residence at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

“All of my films deal with German identity, and I believe filmmaking offers an opportunity for students to see themselves in film and learn about who they are as people,” Okpako says. 

The Education of Auma Obama premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and is a feature on the life and times of the Kenyan-born woman during the run up to the landmark 2008 Presidential Election that brought her brother, Barack Obama, into power. Okpako met Auma Obama in Berlin where they both were attending film school. 

The film received three awards: Festival Founders Award for best documentary at the Pan African Film Festival; the African Movie Academy Award for best Disaspora Documentary; and the Viewers Choice Award from the Africa International Film Festival. 

She also directed other acclaimed films, including her 2000 film Dreckfresser (Dirt for Dinner), and 2002’s Do I see Something You Don’t see? 

Dinh says Okpako’s resume and one-on-one mentorship eased her apprehension about learning from a professional. 

“I was nervous about taking the course because she is an accomplished filmmaker whose films have been screened around the world, but on the first day of class she was very warm and was interested in why we wanted to take the course,” Dinh says. 

“I feel like she has the same kind of diverse background that many Earlham College students have,” she says. “She was born in Nigeria, went to a United World College in England and went to Germany for film school. That’s been really helpful to me.” 

— EC —

Earlham College, a national liberal arts college located in Richmond, Indiana, is a "College That Changes Lives." We expect our students to be fully present: to think rigorously, value directness and genuineness, and actively seek insights from differing perspectives. The values we practice at Earlham are rooted in centuries of Quaker tradition, but they also constitute the ideal toolkit for contemporary success. Earlham is one of only 40 national liberal arts colleges ranked among U.S. News and World Reports' "Great Schools at a Great Price."

Brian Zimmerman is director of media relations at Earlham College. He can be reached at (765) 983-1256 and


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