MU's film studies program continues to grow as popular major

Wednesday, December 12, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA — At MU, film studies wasn't even a major until 2010. Two years later, the program has found its footing: There are 78 students who have declared themselves film studies majors.

Roger Cook, director of the film studies program, said that puts the program ahead of schedule.

"This number is already ahead of what we proposed or expected for five years," Cook said. The number stated in the proposal of the degree was 35 majors in five years.

Film studies started being offered as a minor at MU in 2001. A student group called Mizzou Students for Film started campaigning for the program to offer majors in the area in September 2005.

Cook said getting the major to MU was important because film is a major record of human experience.

"To my mind, it's a little bit dumbfounding that film studies is not already an integral part of academic institutions," he said. "Here we are on the cusp of the digital age, and only now is film studies really beginning to have a more firm foothold in the academic curriculum."

Devoney Looser is an English professor at MU who also played the lead in a student film production called "Vampyras," filmed in 2012. She said the study of film is similar to the study of English.

"I think film studies offers the same rich combination of the critical and the creative as literary studies, but the texts involved are also visual and require a different set of skills to read and understand," said Looser, who does not teach film studies.

The major mainly focuses on the critical analysis of film, and students must take courses on film history, theory and method to earn their certificate.

Faculty who teach film studies courses come from several departments, including English, psychology and theater. Courses offered cover topics as disparate as studying film adaptations of Shakespeare to architecture's relationship to film.

However, one of the classes that has proven to be the most popular is Introduction to Film Production. The class used to be offered only in the spring and was taken in coordination with a summer internship during which students produce a feature film. Due to demand, it is now being offered both semesters, and students produce a short film at the end of the course instead of a feature over the summer.

Brian Maurer, an instructor in the film studies department, teaches the course. He said students learn about the different aspects of producing a film in the class, including cinematography, sound design, casting and directing.

"We look at films like "Apocalypse Now," and it's very dark and there's lights going across the guy's face. We know why they did that on an analytical level, but now they take the production course and they know how to achieve it," he said.

Maurer said learning about film production can affect how people watch movies.

"It's kind of a Catch-22. I watched Paranormal Activity 3, right?" he said. "And instead of enjoying the experience and getting frightened when things happen, I sit there and try to figure out, 'OK, I wonder how they did that. How would I do it?'"

For the future, Cook said he hopes to add a post-production course dealing with editing and special effects, as well as more classes in film theory and genre. He said the caliber of students the program attracts continues to impress him.

"It used to be film courses were what students looked at as, 'Oh, it's going to be easy,'" he said. "Now students who had that attitude find themselves in courses with students who have a sophisticated understanding of the history and aesthetics of film."

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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