By James Wegman ‘17
2016 is the year of movies with Deadpool, Finding Dory, Captain America: Civil War, and even another Star Wars movie Rogue One on the way. Not just in Hollywood however, even right here on campus, with the new Film Studies minor becoming part of the Merrimack curriculum and the establishment of the new Film Club.
The Film Studies minor was founded by Luis Saenz de Viguera Erkiaga and Cinzia DiGullio, both professors of the World Languages and Cultures Department, alongside Dr. Jacob Turner of Communication Arts and Sciences. They led a group of dedicated professors and created the minor to offer new opportunities to Merrimack students. The original lot to put this all together was facilitated by Associate Dean and Professor of Philosophy, Dr. Monica Cowart.
“I can tell you firsthand that all of the faculty members involved are knowledgeable and passionate about film theory and production,” Cowart said. “Listening to their discussions made me want to take each of their courses. It was inspiring to see such a talented group of faculty from different disciplines collaborate to provide this exciting opportunity for our students.”
This was no easy task, however, as the Film Studies minor is interdisciplinary. This meant five departments in the Schools of Liberal Arts had to come together and agree on which courses would work towards the minor. The five areas are Communication Arts and Sciences, English, Women’s and Gender Studies, World Languages and Cultural Studies, and Visual and Performing Arts, all according to Professor Nancy Wynn.
A new faculty member who came to Merrimack this past fall, Wynn specializes in Digital Design. After hearing about the mission to get Film Studies into the curriculum, she joined Cowart’s group of department representatives. Wynn and the departments involved in the minor’s creation worked quickly to respond to the interests of the Merrimack students.
“There is lots of great energy on campus-from faculty and students working together-to drive new learning experiences,” Wynn discussed about the group’s mission. “This is just one of them. So in the end, it might have been a challenge, but some challenges are easier than others.”
Wynn had great insight on just what Film Studies is about.
“Students will gain the knowledge to analysis and create films from a variety of perspectives. I would expect students will work individually, as well as collaboratively leading to a stronger understanding of filmmaking, producing, screenwriting, directing, editing, and film criticism,” she noted.
Turner also dove into what this new minor offers. He mentioned that Film Studies tackles the history, literature and production aspects of film, from classes that look into how graphic novels translate to the big screen to superhero genre. There are also two classes in Women’s and Gender Studies program that are, according to Turner, “looking at how to use film as a critical commentary on the world and how to make the world a better and less oppressive place for women and people of different gender norms.” These two classes are “Gender, Sex and Film” and “Women, Film and the Politics of Representation.”
Turner’s course offers a variety of new ways of looking into the film aspects to help increase the students’ appreciation of movies. He teaches “The Film Experience,” which involves watching movies throughout the semester to analyze and making short films. “The minor is set up to take either my class or the Women’s and Gender Studies class to be exposed to a form of production and then pick four other film classes from across the college.”
While students have already begun signing up for the minor, Turner hopes that the Film Studies minor will gain more courses that involve firsthand work with filming. These kinds of classes would include video editing, directing, and even more movie making. What he recommended for that kind of exposure in the meantime is joining the new Film Club, which he happens to be the academic adviser for. Founded near the end of the fall semester, the Film Club offers the more “active learning” in movie making, according to Club Co-President Gaby Worsham.
“I think we need more active learning instead of passive learning,” Worsham said, “Less history and more hands-on experience.”
He and Turner worked together with the club’s other Co-President Mike Ralphs to create the club and get the word out to more students passionate about filming. At the Winter Involvement Fair, the club was able to gain 27 new members. The trio hopes to have the minor and club work in tandem, especially with the upcoming music festival at Merrimack this May.
“The people with the music fest are going to come out and provide some equipment and tutorials for how to make short films and be entered into an on-campus contest.” Turner said of the fest. “We’re excited to see the support from student involvement, the School of Liberal Arts, and the communication department to make this possible.” The winners of the festival get entered into the national competition and the winners of that get to travel to Hollywood.
With a lot in store for Merrimack College in movie media, Wynn added some perspective for aspiring film students.
“For me, film or video work (this includes advertising) starts with the understanding of how to craft a great story. Depending on how the story will be disseminated—via screen, print, or audio—there are elements to the story that are universal,” Wynn said. “Students will learn about these elements, as well as specific storytelling elements that pertain to specific media. An example would be students will analyze what works in radio (or podcast) vs. short-form video vs. long-form film. What is different when animation is introduced vs. live performance? Another important feature about storytelling is that most people remember facts better when woven into a great story. How can students create great stories if they were charged with creating films that teach or help people understand complex problems? In my opinion, the Film minor is a wonderful way for students to learn about Film’s past and present, to work collaboratively with their peers in challenging ways, and help students further develop their own voice.”