Artist Spotlight: Student filmmaker in pursuit of creative freedom

Rosen (left) is making a video reel as a representation of his work, which he plans to send out to potential clients for musical venues and events. (Diler Haji/The Daily Campus)

Joe Rosen’s eyes switch back and forth across the screen of his Macbook Pro while he compiles a set of tapes and tracks in Adobe Premiere. He’s making a video reel as a representation of his work, which he plans to send out to potential clients for musical venues and events.

“Ultimately, I want to completely curate my manipulated perception of things,” Rosen said. “Film is the most dishonest of all mediums, but in a good way.”

Rosen is a senior English major individualizing his undergraduate education toward film. Over the past few years, he has thrived on a passion for creating works of art through visuals and music, edging into the nascent world of VJing (Video DJing) to bring real-time visual performances to audiences in both Storrs and Boston.

Many know him as the creative director for a local Hip Hop producer that goes by the name ONEHALFHUMAN, for whom he has performed live shows at both the University of Connecticut and Boston area. As an upcoming creative himself, Joe said his story is a series of building blocks chipped skewed by unexpected inspiration, opportunity and people.

His story begins before college.

“I’ve had a lot of background in literature,” Rosen said. “Poetry and prose appealed to me starting in the eighth grade. In high school I had a really good relationship with my English teacher.”

From then on, he began taking his writing seriously and became the poet laureate of his school, he said, while helping out in a literary arts magazine in which he published monthly poetry. He knew he wanted to communicate stories. 

That’s how he got into video. As a child, he said he was really attracted to film because of the story telling aspect. He never thought he could get into film or film school because of the cost and the unavoidable circumstance of his family’s financial barriers.

That didn’t stop him, though. He remembers going to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston with his mom and being completely taken by an unlikely piece of art.

He watched a nine-minute video loop in the corner of a room in one of the contemporary galleries. The video was called, “Everything’s Happening” by Suara Welitoff and included crow-like birds flying in and out of a fixed shot against a backdrop of blue sky.

“I never saw anything like that,” Rosen said. “It made me appreciate the moving image the same way you would appreciate a painting. I found myself wondering how many people actually stood there for the full nine minutes until it all collapsed. I’m not even sure if I stayed for the full nine minutes.”

He called the video “hypnotizing.” He even had his mom go back with him and watch it again. For Joe, it wasn’t just about a narrative. Art video, he said, was something new.

“There’s something so human about wanting to record memories and something that’s happening right in front of you in the exact way you’re processing it with your eye balls,” he said. “I think that’s why people like Snapchat so much.”

Snapchat shouldn’t be criticized, Rosen added, because it’s an example of a very human trait. To him, though he doesn’t have Snapchat, snaps are isolated moments and experiences through an individual person’s perspective.

The summer between his freshman and sophomore year, Rosen got a job on set for an independent feature length film called, “The Missing Girl,” which was officially screened at the Toronto International Film fest last year. As part of the job, he worked during pre-production and production, meaning he got to experience the full sequence of how an independent film was made.

“My goal is to make non-genre films with a close knit team,” Rosen said. “I want to have creative freedom that’s not limited by investors or audience expectations. I’d like to just make what I think is right.”

That same summer, he stumbled on a piece of old analog video equipment called a “Palmcorder” in a thrift store while on the job trying to find props. The owner of the shop gave it to him for free and he took it as an opportunity to start experimenting.

“When I got it, I was so excited to have something. I knew it was old and it wasn't the standard. It wasn’t an HD camera, but somehow it didn’t matter,” Rosen said. "I could capture whatever was around me. There’s a certain safety in it for me because tapes and old audio formats are already outdated.”

The following year, he bought his first DSLR camera and used his mom’s old 50 mm Cannon lens. Even with the latest technology, he missed his old Palmcorder.

“I was intimidated by high quality video,” Rosen said. “It didn’t allow me to hide behind hazy color grains or simplistic composition.”

He collaborated with another student on a project for Digital Rhetoric class using his Palmcorder. They ended up making a short film "Rain Check", which then introduced him to the world of video editing.

For other students interested in film, Rosen said, they should develop interests and look up artists, pieces and ideas mentioned by others. In the end, he said the field of art film is highly independent and requires artists to be proactive in searching for new ideas and creating themselves.

“Don’t ever let anyone else tell you what’s beautiful,” Rosen said. “Don’t fit the standard of what you think a good artist should be.”

His philosophy has developed in him a love for Hip Hop, fashion and the contemporary art world, where many artists are braking barriers and creating themselves outside of the normative perceptions of the music and culture around them. Like film, these are all part of a realm open to experimentation, he said.

Diler Haji is a staff writer for The Daily Campus and can be reached via email at