Separate film departments have separate focuses

Sept. 16, 2013

Attiana Collins
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The campus’ separate film degree plans – digital filmmaking and film studies – could lead to confusion for students about which program is best for them.

Digital filmmaking, a communication degree, and film studies, a visual and performing arts degree, both fall under the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

Film studies is a theory, history and national cinema-based program, while, according to Professor David Nelson, chair of the communication department, digital filmmaking is “really production-oriented study.”

“We still study films and learn about different genres and that kind of thing, but the students in our classes make films,” said Nelson.

“So we have classes like introduction to film and video; they’re [students] out shooting film, digital film, coming back and editing it. Ours is a very hands-on program about making films,” he said.

“Film studies is just about the study of film,” Nelson added. “There is some confusion having two departments that deal with film.”

Nelson indicated students interested in film have been sent between departments due to that confusion.

“Both programs have tried to help students,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s working or not, but there have been times when the film studies faculty has said, ‘If that’s what you want to do, make films, you really should go into the communication department.'”

Senior Matthew Alvarado was a business major for two years before learning the campus had a film department.

“I know some students who joined the film studies department thinking they were going to make films, so they really should have joined the COMM department,” said Alvarado, adding he thinks some students are confused about the different focuses between programs.

“I know that for a long time a lot of people have wanted them to mesh as one major, one big group because it’s easier, especially for those people who want to make films,” Alvarado explained. “They want to know the theory, not just how to use a camera and film.”

Students, instead of choosing one department, have the option to double major, or major or minor in digital filmmaking and film studies.

“There are also other good subjects to minor in, depending on exactly what you want to do with filmmaking,” Nelson said.

“For instance, if you’re really interested in writing and screenwriting and even being involved in the film from the beginning from the writing standpoint, a pretty good minor is psychology.”

“As a writer, and even as a producer and a director, you really have to analyze the characters that are in this film and what is the psychology of those characters,” Nelson continued.

The separate film departments came along as a result of “timing, funding, creation of departments and programs, faculty philosophies and backgrounds … departmental approaches and pedagogical theory,” said Robert von Dassanowsky, professor and director of the film studies program.

“I think more difference and variety available to a student is a very good thing. Film studies grew from VAPA and is rooted in visual and performing arts, just as film/digital production in communication is rooted in the discipline of that field,” he said.

“The best option for a student, I think, is the program which offers them the courses and the path that serves their desire for knowledge and stimulates their creativity,” said von Dassanowsky.