Tufts Launches Film and Media Studies Program
by Alexandra Erath, A16
Film and media studies, long popular subjects among Tufts students, will become a recognized major and minor on campus beginning this fall. The dynamic Film and Media Studies (FMS) program introduces new courses and will be integrated into existing curricula. Years in the making, the FMS program was created in response to continual interest from both current and prospective students in such a major.
The FMS program gained momentum when a group of alumni endowed a chair in honor of retiring Nathan and Alice Gantcher University Professor Sol Gittleman, says Howard Woolf, filmmaker and Director of the Experimental College. The Sol Gittleman Professorship honors the beloved German and Judaic Studies professor and former Tufts provost who taught his last class in spring 2015. The endowment provided the opportunity to bring in a new faculty member to head the FMS program and around whom the program could be built.
Film and Media Studies Program Director and Professor Malcolm Turvey (Kelvin Ma/Tufts University).
After an exhaustive nationwide search, faculty members are united in their excitement for the appointment of program director Malcolm Turvey, a film scholar with a special interest in film theory and philosophy, who taught at Sarah Lawrence College and New York University for the past fifteen years. Since the fall of 2014, Turvey has been working closely with a committee of Tufts faculty members to design the new program and its requirements.
Turvey, who is also Professor of Art and Art History, says the study of film as an art form is at the core of the program. "In order to be media literate, which is the goal of the FMS program, one has to have a sense of the variety of ways in which a medium can and has been used creatively by artists," says Turvey. "Only then can one become a truly discerning and active user of the medium. Exposing students to great works of film art empowers them by helping them to better understand how film works and how it impacts them."
Tufts' tradition of integrating film and media production with critical studies will continue in the new program. "You need hands-on production understanding to really appreciate the critical aspect of film, and so all students are required to take at least one production course," Turvey explains.
Dean of Academic Affairs for Arts and Sciences and Professor of Philosophy Nancy Bauer convened the group of faculty who developed the new FMS major. Bauer says that the key was creating the circumstances in which faculty from a variety of departments and programs could work together to create a new independent program. "Faculty from upwards of a dozen departments and programs worked for more than two years to pull the new FMS program together, and the result is a program that is cutting-edge with respect to such programs at other schools," explains Bauer. "It's a program that is thoroughly interdisciplinary. It trains students to be film and media makers and film and media scholars."
The FMS program incorporates and expands the very popular interdisciplinary Communication and Media Studies (CMS) Program. "In an era in which people are bombarded with video, the study of film is inextricably linked with the study of mass media and communication," says Julie Dobrow, formerly the director of Communication and Media Studies and now co-director of FMS. "It's essential for students to understand both, and the major is designed to instill a basic sense of media literacy in students, whether their passion is film production or journalism."
A goal in creating the program was to consolidate the large number and variety of film and media classes currently offered in a range of departments, from Art and Art History and Romance Languages to Anthropology and Philosophy. "There has long been an interest in creating a major from Tufts' film and media offerings," explains Woolf, who was involved in the creation of the new FMS program. "One of our biggest challenges was consolidating these different courses and faculty members into one interdisciplinary program."
Three core courses for the major are meant to form a communal knowledge base among FMS students, who can then choose a concentration in film studies, film production, or media studies.
Turvey is teaching two of the three core courses: Art of the Moving Image will examine cinema's aesthetic characteristics, various forms of cinema, and the extent to which these features are shared by television and interactive media. Global History of Cinema surveys the rich history of cinema, from the emergence of technologies in the late 19th century through the changes that have occurred in mainstream Hollywood filmmaking.
Assistant Professor of Anthropology Amahl Bishara will teach History and Theory of Ethnographic Documentary, which examines key works that have shaped the genre, and Media and the State and the Senses, which studies how media technologies and cultural and political norms shape expectations about the public sphere. Bishara is delighted that there is renewed attention to film and media studies at Tufts. "Media are part of our lives every day," says Bishara. "Their workings can seem invisible to us. Teaching these courses really helps students step back from their own media practices to consider different ways of looking and listening."
The program will also feature electives such as Department of Drama and Dance Lecturer Jaclyn Waguespack's Dance on Camera, in which students take dance and movement concepts outside of studio walls and into the community through site-specific collaborative video projects. Through storyboarding, shooting, editing, and choreographing/directing, students will learn video production techniques and advanced camera work. "The students who have taken this course in the past have demonstrated outstanding growth, both technically and creatively, over the course of the semester," says Waguespack.
Dobrow is confident about the program's future at Tufts. "Beyond being a vibrant academic program, the film and media studies program will continue to partner with the Tufts Career Center for internship and post-graduate opportunities, as well as host new events around campus to increase its presence with our students."
The consensus among the dozens of faculty involved in the new film and media studies major is one of excited optimism. Bauer, for one, is more than pleased with the results of the last several years' hard work. "The new program regards film and media literacy as vital to a 21st-century college education," she says. "This is the most exciting project I've worked on since becoming dean."