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BRIGHT IDEAS

The Reel World

Husband-and-wife filmmakers chronicle the changing lives of 10 students through college and beyond.

Mark Estes

DORM DAYS: Living with "the frosh" produced lasting friendships for Goldfine and Geller.

By Kathy Zonana

Many people wish they could relive freshman year, but Dayna Goldfine has actually done it. Thirteen years after she arrived as a Stanford freshman, she moved into an all-frosh dorm, Trancos, in Wilbur Hall. This time, she brought along her husband and a hand-held camera.

Goldfine, '81, and Dan Geller, MA '85, both documentary filmmakers, set out to capture the reality of life in a diverse freshman dorm. At ages 30 and 31, they spent the school year hanging out, eating and going to class with Trancos freshmen, and filming everything they could. They released Frosh: Nine Months in a Freshman Dorm in 1993 to enthusiastic reviews nationwide. Frosh focuses on 10 students confronting the challenges of freshman year: getting D's on chemistry exams, doing tequila shots in the hallway, arguing about whether posters of scantily clad women are offensive.

Now, the filmmakers have followed up with a sequel featuring the same students, who graduated in '94. Now and Then: From Frosh to Seniors premiered in Bay Area theaters October 1 and is expected to open in several dozen cities across the country by spring. "This is the best primer on dorm and campus life available," San Francisco Chronicle critic Peter Stack wrote the day after the film debuted.

Why the sequel? "We had thought freshman year would be the year they changed the most," says Goldfine during an interview in the bright kitchen of their apartment in San Francisco's Western Addition. But as she and Geller kept in touch with the students, they realized that some of the biggest changes wrought by college come after the first year. Now and Then depicts "the completion of a journey, from the last days as teenagers to the first days as adults," Geller explains.

While the film is a follow-up, it stands on its own, weaving freshman footage with senior-year scenes and interviews. With better cinematography and a sharper sense of story, it also shows off Geller and Goldfine's refined filmmaking abilities. (In September, their documentary Kids of Survival won one Emmy for outstanding cultural or informational program, and another for outstanding music.)

The seniors in Now and Then struggle to decide which pursuits and passions to leave at Stanford and which to take with them. Should I go to law school or perform as a dancer at Club Med? Should I try to become a sportscaster even though I majored in Afro-American studies? At the end, the film fast-forwards to the present, providing capsule descriptions of their lives today.

The former students say they're delighted -- and a little relieved -- to have Frosh updated. "Who wants to be fixed to what you say as an 18-year-old?" says Scott Walker, who tried to keep his mother from seeing Frosh because of his naive expostulations on oral sex. And Debbie Kahn, whose early missteps in chemistry are chronicled in the first film, says she does not want to be remembered as "an academic screw-up." Frosh "was pretty devastating the first time I saw it. I was cringing in my seat, looking through my fingers like it was a horror movie," she says. Now and Then reveals that Kahn went on to ace chemistry and start medical school at UCSF.

Some students underwent metamorphoses during their college years. Monique Reece -- lonely, academically frustrated and on the verge of dropping out as a freshman -- designed her own major and graduated with honors. Kahn pursued feminist studies and eventually dropped out of her sorority, fed up with the superficiality of Rush. Others in the group became more of who they already were. Sam Scuilli, who as a freshman charted a career path to become NBA commissioner, is now an assistant basketball coach at Portland State University. And Walker, who dreamed of a sportscasting job, is an on-camera reporter in ESPN's Chicago bureau. "I told Sam freshman year I'd cover him at a Final Four one day, and that could very well happen," Walker says in a phone interview from Cincinnati's Cinergy Field.

Watching the seniors make life decisions gave Goldfine and Geller new insight into some of the scenes they'd shot freshman year. "All the clues were there, in a way," Geller says. In making Now and Then, they retrieved telling bits of freshman-year footage from the cutting-room floor -- like Reece being mentored at her work-study job, and Scuilli relentlessly drawing analogies to basketball.

The filmmakers remain friends with about 20 of the 80 Trancos students, whom they still call "the frosh." Geller says these relationships are the "biggest gift" he received from the films.

For Goldfine, the biggest gift is the realization that she'd never want to be 18 again -- selecting a sophomore-year roommate, developing an identity separate from her parents', trying to figure out what to do with her life. "It's great to relive it from the vantage point of being 30, because you have a long-range view of life," she says. "But you realize you really don't want to go back in time."

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