IN MY SHOES is an educational film project created by César A. Hidalgo


Q1: How did the project come about?

It all began with a missed flight.
In 2014 I was scheduled to give a talk at  the Santa Fe Institute, in New Mexico. My plan was to fly to Albuquerque on Thursday night, drive to Santa Fe, give my talk ,and return to Boston the next day. The connecting flight from Boston to New York, however,  was delayed so I could not make it Albuquerque. On my way back from the airport I notified the people in Santa Fe that I was missing the event and told them I was going to send a video instead. That night, I sent a text message to Manuel Aristarán, a graduate student who had recently joined my group. Manuel had mentioned that his wife was a filmmaker, so I asked him if I could hire her to help me make a video the next day. The next morning we filmed, edited, and submitted a video.  A few months later, I offered Luisina a desk and a paycheck in my lab. 

Q2: Is this a representative view of academic life?

To make a project that was visually attractive, I focused on filming mostly trips and events. The film does not include the time I spend writing, teaching, or working with students. Also, trips have an inherent narrative to them which facilitate the construction of a visual story: they start with a  departure, develop by introducing new  characters and executing the purpose of the journey, and wind down on a  return to normal. More importantly, I am sure my life is very different from that of many scholars. Scholars are a diverse group that includes people from every corner of the world who vary on their living conditions, personal narratives, and perspectives on life. In My Shoes tries to show--in a real but entertaining manner--some aspects of the life of one academic. 

Q3: What made the project most challenging?

Figuring it out.
When we began filming we were unclear about the format and narrative of the project. For more than a year, we experimented with a sitcom format, and with a film format. After two false starts, I decided to give it one more shot before cutting our loses.  So looking forward into my schedule, I saw a spurts of trips coming up and decided to film these trips and we edit them linearly. That got  the project going. Then, putting all together was a struggle, that forced us to figure out voice overs sequences to complete the episodes, since the narrative from the trips was not enough. 

Q4: Did you (César) film everything?

Almost everything, but not everything. Sequences that I did not film include the the Lincoln Memorial and the subway sequence in Washington DC, my talk in Portland (which was recorded by one of the conference organizers siting next to me), and my talk at the OECD, which was filmed by Anna. 

Q5: Was everything filmed between March and June of 2016?

Most of it. All of the material that supports the basic narrative of the series was filmed between March and June of 2016. Important parts of the B-roll footage, however, come from video we recorded before that, when we were figuring out what to do. For example, in the Paris episode, the sequence that talks about the development of places and the development of people uses footage I recorded in Hong Kong and London in 2015. In the Portland episode, we use footage from a trip to Chile I did in January of 2016. In the Media Lab episode, we use archive footage from home videos, and also, from videos we recorded in a previous Media Lab member.

Q6: How many places have you visited in the last three years?

In the last three years, I've been to all of these places:


Q7: What does your family think about being on film?

They got used to it. The fact that the series was self-recorded, made the process very non-invasive. At the end of the day, there was no sound guy with a big boom microphone, or camera man. It was just dad with a camera, so it all felt very natural.

Q8: What equipment did you use? 

I filmed the entire series with a Canon T5i and two lenses, a 10-18mm f 4.5-5.6 (which I used mostly as a 10mm) and an f 1.4 50mm. I also had a camera mounted audio-technica microphone.

Q9: What is the goal of In My Shoes?

As a scholar, I often hear other scholars complaining about the banality of television culture, and about the inaccuracy with which television portrays academic life . Yet, most scholars who complain about television culture do not contribute content to it. Instead of just criticizing, I am trying to contribute by filming a series showing the life of a scientist as told by a scientist. Of course, my proposal is full of limitations. It is a mega-indie series, which was self-recorded while traveling. It has clearly, a limited production and entertainment value. Nevertheless, I think it can help us imagine what would be like to create a factually accurate show centered on the life of someone who is not a Hollywood celebrity or a New York City comedian, but a scholar. 

But In My Shoes also has layers. One of the layers that mattered the most to me is the layer showing the blurring of boundaries that happens in the life of an overworked and over-traveled person. The blurring of cultural differences you experience when you visit two or three continents in a few weeks, and when your nationality becomes being foreign. I find that blurring liberating. For locals in the U.S., I am a hispanic immigrant who works as a scholar. But even though I understand that is the identity that U.S. locals classify me into, I do not feel that as my identity. Why? Because I am constantly in and out of the U.S., and in and out of my academic field. I am constantly being foreign, experiencing other identities, and even choosing the identity with which I can be foreign with.  So the blurring of boundaries that comes with excess travel has two effects on me. One, is shaping my identity, since it provides me with an un-identity that is fluid and not narrowly defined. I can be a Chilean in Riyadh, a Physicist in an environment of Economists, an Economist among physicists, and a foreign in my own country. The other effect, is that when you move that much, and you live cultural differences--instead of just learning about them through media--you realize that those differences do not matter. You realize that if Anna, Jian, Almaha, Sanjay, Bogang, Carlos, Alex, Kevin, or Nuria are being weird, or  nice, or think you are an a**hole, has nothing to do with where they come from. It is more about the matching of personalities  that we grow up experiencing within our own language groups.  So the second goal of In My Shoes is to illustrate the liberation that we experience when we blur boundaries. I understand that the liberating effects of blurred boundaries are difficult to understand, but in my experience, they are the default behavior of humans once we cross the irreversible point when you are always foreign. 

Q10: Who is Cesar Hidalgo

César Hidalgo is an Associate Professor at MIT and the director of the Collective Learning Group at the MIT Media Lab. Cesar is a chilean physicist, who has focused on understanding how economies and societies learn, and on how that learning is shaped by technology and institutions. His work also involves the development of tools that facilitate collective learning in teams, organizations, and nations. These tools include The Observatory of Economic Complexity, Immersion, DataUSA, and DIVE, among others. Cesar is the author of Why Information Grows, and a co-author of the Atlas of Economic Complexity.

Q10: Credits and Acknowledgements

IN MY SHOES is a project created, written, and directed by César A. Hidalgo. Luisina Pozzo-Ardizzi edited the episodes and Daniel Magnani did the audio mixing. The work of Luisina and Daniel were supported through a combination of discretionary funding from Cesar's research group at MIT and César's own personal funds.