New film studies major takes shape

For more than 15 years UC Davis professors and students have discussed the need to develop a film studies major. While a film studies minor has been available to UC Davis students for several years, a major has never been an option - until now.

This year, Elizabeth Langland, dean of Hu-manities, Arts and Cultural Studies, appointed Sarah Projansky, an associate professor of women and gender studies, to turn that dream of professors and students into a reality.

"We have the faculty here who want to teach, and students who want to learn; it seemed natural [to develop the program]," Projansky said.

Currently, more than 30 members of the UC Davis faculty are somehow involved with the study of film - more than there has ever been, she explained. Also, each quarter, Projansky noted, approximately five students will talk to her about working on an independent studies program in film studies.

Georges Van Den Abbeele, a professor of French and Italian and director of Davis Humanities Institute said "not everyone realizes how much is involved in the technical and interpretive study of the cinema." He has fielded students' questions about film studies options. Some have asked for his help in transfering to a university where they can major in film studies. "The whole proposal (for a major) is long over due," he said.

Langland agreed, noting the faculty has already been involved with film studies for quite some time. "All programs start with a faculty interest," she said. "There were many files from the past on which to build and shape the program of study."

Langland appointed faculty assistant Projansky, who is now working with 11 faculty members on a film studies major advisory committee. Members include Van Den Ab-beele, Christine Acham of African American and African studies, Sergio de la Mora of Chicana/o studies, Bishnu Ghosh of English, Laura Grindstaff of sociology, Lynn Hersh-man of art, Kent Ono of cultural studies, Pablo Ortiz of music, Blake Stimson of art and art history, and David Van Leer of English.

"If all goes well, someone could graduate with a major in film studies in spring of 2003," said Projansky, the committee chair.

Those students would have to have already been working toward the minor and taking the required classes, Projansky explained. For others, a more realistic graduation time frame is Spring 2004.

There are currently several film studies courses available to students. They are offered through a variety of departments, Projansky said, and the tentative course of study for the major will keep film studies connected to those other disciplines.

"Although film studies is its own field of study with a long history, it also depends on interdisciplinary work," Projansky said. "Both the major and minor reflect this," she said.

Requirements in the lower division would include broad-based knowledge coursework.

Students will choose courses in areas including pop culture; humanities; production and performance; and gender, race, ethnicity, class and sexuality. Upper division classes will include: cinematic traditions and movements; popular and visual culture; gender and sexuality; production; and race, ethnicity and class. Students will have the option of choosing to focus on one of these areas or to define their own area of study. The idea, Projansky said, is to have students focus on one area and to also take an upper division class in three of the other areas.

Students can opt to do a senior honor thesis or to write or produce a film.

Projansky said the major will include a production component, but those courses are currently limited. "We hope to offer more production courses in the future," she said, "but right now there are not enough faculty to teach those classes."

So, she said, students will most likely augment their studies with classes from departments such as art, design, and theater and dance. For example, a class in directing from theater and dance would offer insight into film directing, she said.

Students also will learn from professors who have worked in the film industry. Am-ong them is Hershman, a professor of art who was honored at the Sundance Film Festival. Her film "Teknolust," which she directed and shot portions of on campus in late 2000, was chosen as a feature for the popular independent film festival this year - one of only a handful of films to obtain that status.

The outline for the major is still tentative, but Projansky said films to be studied will cover a wide range - including Hollywood classics, avant-garde and feminist cinema, and films produced all over the globe.

Projansky's own interest in film studies began with a special-topics English class in high school. She went on to study film in college, eventually earning a doctorate in 1995 from the University of Iowa. "I enjoy studying the complexity of film, and its deep connection with history," Projansky said.

When she joined the faculty of UC Davis seven years ago, Projansky was also asked to help build the film studies minor. Since then she has taught numerous lower- and upper-division film studies courses, mostly in the women's studies department.

Langland is quite positive about the new major. "The faculty will be able to continue developing their expertise while working with students at the undergraduate level," she said. "We'll start at that level and see where we can go from there."

Hilary Wilkoff is a freelance writer for Dateline.

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