Film Studies faces growing pains

As the Yale Film Studies Program has learned in the past two years, popularity is not necessarily a good thing.

Although a recent surge in student interest has pleased members of the Film Studies Program, the growth has strained the program’s already-limited resources, igniting student petitions for increased funding and a more diverse curriculum.

A major that has historically attracted 12 to 15 students per class is now composed of 12 seniors, 25 juniors and 25 sophomores, Film Studies co-chairman Charles Musser ’73 said.

In recent years, the Film Studies Program has made significant strides through high-profile hires, such as that of Film Studies co-chairman Dudley Andrew, and a three-fold increase in course offerings since 1992, Musser said.

“Film Studies has now been legitimized,” Musser said. “A lot of the hard work we’ve been doing over the last 10 years is really coming together, and [expansion] is just the natural consequence. We’re pleased by it.”

But despite the benefits of growth, the program is struggling to keep pace with the rapid rate of expansion.



Theory vs. production

The program’s struggles were recently pointed out by Rebekah Fraser ’03, who sent an e-mail request for increased funding to top administrators, including Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead and Provost Alison Richard, Yale’s chief academic and financial officer.

Fraser highlighted the dearth of film production courses offered within the major. Currently, an overwhelming majority of film courses focus on theory and analysis.

“It’s pretty basic. What would an English department be without writing? What is art without painting and sculpture?” Fraser said. “It makes no sense that while we’re studying film, we’re not supposed to have a clue on how to produce it ourselves.”

Art professor Sandra Luckow ’87, who was one of Yale’s first film studies majors, is teaching the Art School-sponsored “Advanced Film Workshop” this semester. Because the seminar is capped, Luckow said she could not offer spots to eight qualified students, many of whom are film studies majors.

Regulations stipulate that graduate and undergraduate students in the School of Art be given first priority in Luckow’s seminar.

Luckow said she was disappointed that a second section could not be created because she believes production is an essential aspect of film studies and that undergraduates should gain experience with it as soon as possible.

“You cannot really understand critical studies until you at least attempt to practically make a film,” Luckow said. “Part of the problem with critical studies is that it gets so far away from the actual film-making that it can become irrelevant to the film being studied.”

Andrew said although the department is taking steps to make production a more prominent part of its curriculum, production would never become the focus.

“Every student should get the opportunity to take a production course, but [production courses] won’t become the dominant type of course in the major,” Andrew said. “We’re always going to maintain that liberal arts side of the field.”

A film studies committee is set to meet in the next few weeks in order to discuss funding issues and a possible modest rearrangement of the curriculum, Musser said.

“We’ve had a really significant increase in majors, so that forces us to appeal for more resources,” Musser said. “I think the administration has been responsive, but when they’re suddenly confronted with a large number of majors, there are going to be a few bumps along the road as we adjust.”

Rachel Watson ’03 said the administration’s financial support for the program is not apparent in the program’s resources.

“The impression I get is that we’re really poor,” Watson said. “If you take an English class, you get [Linsly-Chittenden]. If you take a film class, you get the basement of the Whitney Humanities Center.”

Brodhead said Yale fully supports the Film Studies program but the University must act cautiously when dealing with issues such as curriculum changes and funding.

“If demand is increasing, we have to seriously ask ourselves what amount of production classes will make educational sense,” Brodhead said. “Then we have to consider what scope of resources creating more production classes requires, in terms of teachers, advisors and editing equipment. Lastly, we have to ask ourselves if we can meet those demands.”

Musser said if enrollment in the film studies major increases, the program might have to resort to capping the major. But he added that capping would be the last resort.



Real world applications?

Fraser said her reasons for wanting more production courses are twofold: to fulfill her academic interests and to prepare herself for the industry after graduation. And with three more semesters before graduation, she said she feels unprepared.

“I’m not concerned about getting a job because Yale opens doors,” Fraser said. “But I’m concerned about how I’ll do once I get a job. I don’t want to be in a situation where people are looking at me and thinking ‘She got in because she’s from Yale, but she doesn’t know what she’s doing.'”

In contrast, Allison Crow, a sophomore in the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema-Television, said she feels very prepared to enter the industry after graduation.

“You have the opportunity to get hands-on experience very early on,” Crow said. “So I feel absolutely prepared. If you want to go into film or TV, I think USC’s the best place to study.”

Brodhead said he believes Yalies are at no disadvantage when they enter the job market even though Yale does not offer any pre-professional programs.

“Yale students are not stunted in their careers by not spending their undergraduate years in a preprofessional program,” Brodhead said. “Sometimes you have to bring general intelligence to the subject rather than just technical expertise. Yale students are hired because they’re smart and innovative.”

Musser said there should not be such a distinction between academia and the “real world” because the skills a student learns in school should be applied to all aspects of life.

“What I’d like people to do is take whatever they learned here on how to analyze films, how to criticize films and use them in whatever they do,” Musser said. “I hope what they learn here will enrich their lives.”

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