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Ramey’s ‘El Signo Vacio’ (The Empty Sign) World Premiering at Havana Film Festival

Ramey behind a camera
VMA Professor Kathryn Ramey (Courtesy photo)

Visual and Media Arts Professor Kathryn Ramey’s film El Signo Vacio (The Empty Sign) will have its world premiere at the Havana Film Festival (Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano) in Cuba this month.

The film is about the 125-year occupation of Puerto Rico, and Ramey dedicated almost a decade to complete it.

“Emerson College, the School of the Arts, and VMA were with me all the way, giving me time off, supporting me with graduate assistants and FAFGs and just putting up with me in general,” said Ramey.

El Signo Vacio uses archival educational, military, and tourism footage that was used to sell the occupation to the American public as a “benevolent gesture,” when in reality, America was and is exploiting and extracting resources from the island, Ramey said.

Ramey was previously named a 2022 Guggenheim Fellow, and used that time to finish the film, as well as develop new projects in the series, part of Alchemies of Anti-Colonial Cinema Practice. In 2021, she participated at the Camden (Maine) International Film Festival as an LEF/CIFF Fellow with the film.

In 2019, the film also received a Creative Capital grant for $50,000, plus advisory and career advancement resources and networking opportunities valued at another $50,000. The grant allowed Ramey to travel back to Puerto Rico to do more filming and production. Nearly everyone associated with the film, apart from Ramey and the occasional technical person, is Puerto Rican.

Ramey teaches in the Visual and Media Arts (VMA) department, and studies the social history of the avant-garde film community, the anthropology of visual communication, and the intersection between avant-garde and ethnographic film and art practices. She is the recipient numerous grants and fellowships, including Creative Capital, Yaddo Artist Colony, the Marble House Residency, the Social Science Research Council on the Arts fellowship, the LEF New England Moving Image Grant, and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowship

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