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Film Department Goals and Objectives

The study of Film at Vassar focuses on the artistic characteristics and development of the great art form of the 20th century, and on its emotional and ideological effects.  Our program proceeds through three interrelated perspectives: critical studies, film and video production, and screenwriting.  Critical studies emphasizes film theory and history, providing knowledge of American cinema and other national traditions.  Film and video production focuses on how films are created, beginning with initial concept, moving through production and post-production, and ending with exhibition of  the completed projects. Screenwriting emphasizes the study of screenplays and  the development of student screenplay ideas  into well-structured, effective film narratives.We are a small faculty and thus can offer only Film 175, "The Art of Film" as a general introductory course.  This course explores the central features of film and film study, including teaching the vocabulary of the field.  Film 175 teaches students basic visual literacy, - that is how to see, hear, analyze, and contextualize a motion picture.  Our 200-level critical studies courses, which are open to all students who meet the pre-requisites, majors or non-majors, complete the task of teaching visual literacy and pursue more complex topics.  The critical studies course sequence begins with a two semester survey of international film history and aesthetics.   Many courses thereafter emphasize individual areas of critical studies, such as genre theory, auteur theory, and feminist film theory.   We explore technological and stylistic changes in visual media, as well as the relationship between film and industrial organization, governmental policies, historical events, and intellectual history.  

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.Our goals are to teach the students to write clearly; to analyze the context, artistry, and ideology of a film; to gain knowledge of the major events in film history; and to understand the key philosophical, theoretical debates regarding film as an art.    The sequential structure of our courses moves from the simple close readings in Film 175 through the more specific examination of genre and other issues in the 200-level classes to the complex theoretical arguments explored in our Film 392 senior seminars.

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.