Film Department: Goals and Objectives
All students in critical studies classes are expected to learn to read, write, research, and express themselves orally up to the highest standards of a liberal arts education. Students write research papers and critiques of films screened during the semester. Final examinations include essay and short answer questions specific to the topic and related to the broader historical significance of the subject matter examined in that course.
Beginning film and video production emphasizes complex story-telling strategies, advanced techniques in cinematography, computer-based editing of images, and the use of sound to enhance a viewer’s understanding of the film’s story or message. Students must research their film ideas and defend them using the knowledge gained from broader studies in film and other relevant disciplines. Film production is ultimately a means of communication with a viewing audience. To that end, student films and videos are screened for audiences at the end of each academic year. At these screenings, students learn if they have successfully communicated their vision to viewers.
Each class has a defined set of skills and knowledge that are predetermined by the faculty teaching that course. These skills are stated in the course syllabi and articulated constantly throughout the semester. As we developed our courses in both critical studies and filmmaking, we examined the leading film study programs in the nation to make sure that we were offering the most effective approach to the subject matter. One of the best indicators of our success may be seen in the feedback we receive from graduates who have used what they learned at Vassar to help them achieve extraordinary careers in varied aspects of the professional world of film and television or as scholars of cinema studies.
The success of students in critical studies is evaluated through the comments they receive on papers and examinations assigned in each course. Writing a thesis becomes an interactive process between student and advisor focusing on extensive research and exploration of the thesis topic. Quizzes, short papers, and hour exams are used to make sure that students are learning the specific content of each course. Students in critical studies courses should be able to conduct research using primary sources and use that research to create well thought-out and clearly constructed expository essays. The success of each project or paper indicates how well the student has absorbed the course material. We maintain an archive of films and theses produced by our past students, to which we can direct our current students to help them understand the high the level of achievement expected in each course. Critical studies courses use goals and methods designed to teach students critical analysis, research methodologies, and thesis preparation.
All senior exercises are incorporated within our normal course of study. The coursework is sequential, ending in a culminating project that reflects the knowledge students have gleaned from the previous classes. As seniors, students may elect to do a critical studies research thesis or a screenplay thesis, although this is not required of all film majors. All film majors are required to take a senior seminar in critical studies, in which they write a lengthy research paper and deliver an oral presentation. Several seminars focusing on different topics are offered each ear. In senior film and video production courses, the students form crews to create two films during the year (a documentary and a narrative). Specific members of each crew assume responsibility for one of the primary production functions: producer, director, writer, cinematographer, editor, or sound recordist. Although each student is primarily responsible for one area of film and video production, our approach also tries to insure that every student gains at least a basic understand of all the skills that contribute to the creation of a successful film. At the end of each academic year, we screen and critique all senior documentary and narrative film and video projects, so that the students will gain an understanding of whether or not their films communicate effectively with a viewing audience.