cate in black and white using film camera
Cate Knothe films a project for her 16mm Production class. (Photo courtesy Cate Knothe)

Limitless Lens: Future Filmmaker Reaped the Benefits at Duke

Cate Knothe openly admits she applied to Duke on a whim. As a high school senior who was focused on Northeast schools, she felt a need to broaden her horizons a bit — a common theme repeated throughout her four years at Duke. It was a conversation with an alumna that sealed the deal for Knothe, who will graduate in May with double majors in German and Cinematic Arts and a minor in Chemistry.

“I talked to a doctor who had also done a degree in Art History and studied abroad with Duke in Oxford,” Knothe explains. “Her experiences with not only Medicine and Biology, but also Art History, were really appealing to me.”

“There’s a linkage between the humanities and STEM that I wanted to explore in college, and I started to think that maybe Duke was the perfect place where I could have this really thorough liberal arts education while following all of my different passions.”

The original plan was to major in history and chemistry, her two favorite subjects in high school, but Knothe took a FOCUS cluster, The Middle East and Islam in Global Contexts, that changed everything. Drawn to the program’s filmmaking aspect, she learned the power of visual and cinematic storytelling and how film can be a tool for social justice.

“My Mom and I would always see movies at The Flicks, this little movie theater in my hometown,” Knothe shares. “I grew up with this love of film but never really considered it as a career until I came to Duke.”

While Knothe eventually wants to become a documentary filmmaker, she’s currently preoccupied with graduating. Between working at the Duke Coffee House, serving as a Trinity Ambassador and savoring her final Duke Independent Film Festival, she’s also finishing capstones for Cinematic Arts and Documentary Studies, as well as her thesis project in German Studies.

Having studied German in high school, the cinephile came to Duke thinking she would fulfill her language credits and move on, but she simply fell in love with the department. The small class sizes and the close connections she formed with peers and faculty convinced her to stay.

“Studying German at Duke provided a way to learn literature, history, art history — all these different elements and interests in one major,” she says. “I also knew I wanted to study abroad for a year, so I went to Berlin and discovered a love for German film.” 

She brings this love to her thesis project, where she explores the 1981 West German film No Mercy, No Future, directed by Helma Sanders-Brahms. Knothe looks at the film through three different lenses: reproductive rights, semiotics and Marxist film theory. In a chapter devoted to reproductive rights, Knothe examines how institutions such as prisons and the Church exert influence over women’s bodies. Another chapter looks at how the film constructs depictions of reality and subjectivity through a unique cinematic language, with the final chapter discussing the emergence of class critique within the film.

After graduation, Knothe will travel to Germany this summer to work on a project with a fellow documentary colleague. Funded by the Benenson Award in the Arts, they will tell the story of her friend’s ancestors, forced to flee to the United States in 1938. Before they fled, they managed to sell the home for one dollar to another family —  who selflessly hid the matriarch, suffering from multiple sclerosis and unable to leave, for three months until her death. 

As she looks back on a very prolific four years at Duke, what will Knothe miss most?

“Definitely the resources and support systems that have enabled me to follow my passions and these threads of interest I’ve had throughout my time at Duke,” she shares. “Duke allowed me to bring my interests together and find ways to pursue all of it, without having to make those hard decisions about letting go of my favorites.”