Fulbright Impact with Meredith MorranAn interview series by Filipa Dias, Intern at Fulbright (2024)
I have always been interested in culture and from my point of view, it is something crucial to our society because it can increase our empathy for the world around us and it can also teach us things, whether it is through media like literature, cinema, or television. To better understand how different people became interested in different fields of culture, how it affected their lives and – most importantly – how the Fulbright Scholarships enabled them to pursue and explore these areas, I was given the opportunity to interview Portuguese and American Fulbrighters who had studied or are currently working in these fields.
Filipa had the pleasure to interview Meredith Morran, who is currently a freelance editor and videographer. In 2020, they received a Fulbright Research Grant to travel to the University of Coimbra in Portugal and conduct research alongside students and faculty in the Materials in Literature Programme. Their field of study is filmmaking.

Here’s the full interview: 

  1. What inspired you to apply for a Fulbright grant to study filmmaking in Portugal?

It’s probably useful for me to start by saying I studied experimental filmmaking in the form of digital writing during my Fulbright grant—which my friends like to joke is a highly niche subject! Without getting too technical, I’ll say that I like to “write in time,” and filmmaking allows me to do just that. My films usually feature a lot of text on the screen. Letters might morph or shift into other letters, emphasizing how meaning-making itself is a slippery task. Based on this description, you can probably imagine that the global community of digital and computational language artists is a fairly small one, so people know each other worldwide. Within that community, Portugal also has a robust presence. Just last summer (2023), the Universidade de Coimbra hosted the annual conference for the Electronic Language Organization (ELO).  

I learned about this community of experimental writers in Portugal during my senior year at Brown University. My mentor and professor John Cayley spoke highly of Dr. Manuel Portela, with whom I ended up studying in Coimbra. After conducting background research about experimental Portuguese poetry and contacting Dr. Portela, I decided Portugal would be the ideal place for me to study both filmmaking and writing.   

  1. What specific Portuguese films have influenced or inspired your own filmmaking style and interests?

While I conducted preliminary research to prepare for the grant application process, I came across this group of Portuguese poets, Poesia Experimental Portuguesa or PO.EX. Among this group were some prolific concrete poets like Ana Hatherly, who is one of my favorites. And then there was E. M. de Melo e Castro who has such a vast collection of work, some of which includes his “videopoems,” and I thought Hey! That’s a useful term for the kind of stuff I’ve been making. I read this really incredible article by Professor Rui Torres, who teaches at the Universidade de Fernando Pessoa in Porto, about the work of these poets during the dictatorship. I was impressed by the many ways writers and creatives were able to disguise their political criticism by giving their language unique forms. They combined writing, drawing, and filmmaking into genre-bending work that was largely unfamiliar to the general public. 

  1. Are there any particular themes or stories of Portuguese culture that you would like to explore through your filmmaking projects?

As a queer artist, one of the most meaningful parts of my experience in Portugal was connecting with other queer creatives. I was lucky to have dated a really incredible illustrator from Coimbra while I was living there. They totally shaped my time in Portugal and taught me more than I could have expected about Portuguese culture, particularly queer culture. I listened to a lot of António Variações, went to queer parties, and talked to as many queer folks as I could.   

Engaging with the queer culture in Portugal today was very important to me. As I have grown older, I have also become especially interested in learning more about queer histories. Through the queer folks I met in Coimbra, Lisbon, and Porto, I was able to learn much more about the queer history in Portugal—and the lack of documentation as well. A friend of mine in Porto told me about his own artistic project that centered on interviews with older queer people in Portugal. As this friend explained, the lack of documentation is, in part, a product of the dictatorship. Queer people were not safe during that time to gather and create community spaces. Though it was also not a safe time in New York City with all of the police raids, there was a level of visibility in America that it seems the dictatorship foreclosed for queer folks in Portugal. 

These cultural lessons have inspired me to explore more about the history of queerness in Portugal and how it relates to such a history in New York. I am specifically interested in learning more about queer resistance under political oppression. 

  1. Have you had the opportunity to work with local filmmakers or production companies? If so, what was that experience like?

I had the opportunity to work with students at the university’s new MA in Creative Writing in Coimbra. By participating in that course, I was able to meet other excellent artists and writers. Our work with Dr. Portela culminated in a reading/performance at the Fundacão Cupertino de Miranda. I made a few films which were screened as part of the performance. One of these was inspired by a work by Antonio Aragão titled “POVO/OVO & OVO/POVO.” While we were there, we were also able to tour the fantastic Torre Líteraria, which provided a nice survey of Portuguese literature. 

  1. How do you think your Fulbright experience influenced your career in filmmaking?

The Fulbright experience has influenced both my filmmaking career and my life. Living in Coimbra for nine months radically expanded my knowledge about language, Portuguese (and European) culture, and politics. It also prompted me to look back at systems in America with a new perspective. As a product of rapid technological development, we live in a time of heightened global connectivity. We also live during a time in which we are seeing a lot of turmoil in many different parts of the world. While there are lots of ways to interact with people from different cultures, there’s nothing quite like the experience of living somewhere international for an extended period. That’s what makes the Fulbright program so unique. Cultural immersion and exchange are crucial in the world we are living in, as we can all learn so much from one another. Just the other night a friend and I were discussing politics in America, and I ended up telling him what I had learned about the political system in Portugal. That’s just one small example of how I carry the Fulbright with me. It’s hard to put into words precisely how it has influenced my career in filmmaking because I feel its impact on everything I do today. 

Thank you for participating in this series, Meredith! We wish you all the best!