Film Concentration


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News About the Film Concentration, Our Students and Alumni, Local Film Events, and Related Subjects

Graduation 2012 Thoughts for our film graduates


Professor Elsie Walker offers some thoughts for our recent graduates as well as our current and prospective students.


June 27, 2012


Left to Right:  Dr. Walker, Matt Dietz, Dr. Johnson


The other day I picked up a prescription for my daughter and smiled at the “with us, it’s personal” slogan on the Rite-Aid bag. While I appreciate the sentiment, it just doesn’t square with my experiences of picking up routine prescriptions. It’s also difficult for me to avoid being cynical about a company claiming to be truly or “personally” interested in the consumers of its products.


Later on, it occurred to me that another person might easily observe that everything at university is just another kind of product. Every student and/or every student’s family does pay for the college experience. Yet I’m a shameless idealist when it comes to teaching and learning.


I recently attended the spring 2012 Salisbury University graduation ceremony at which many of our strongest film students claimed their degrees. I hope that all these graduates will apply the concrete skills Dave Johnson and I have fostered in our classes: skills of research, writing, visual literacy, creativity, collaboration, leadership, problem solving, and critical thinking. All these skills are surely applicable to infinite vocations. But our aims are even bigger than such measures of achievement, just as what our students have paid for should be more than countable hours and graded assignments. I hope that, at the very least, every one of our students leaves with a new, life-long love of cinema—a passion that will always enable them to potentially understand art, humanity, and even themselves that much better. Films are among the most potentially powerful ways of telling stories that endure: so understanding the stories of cinema can help us understand all the stories of our lives better.


Left to Right:  Dr. Walker, Rachel Holtzman, Dr. Johnson


Everything I have learned as a film professor enables me to derive more inspiration from each cinematic experience. All our students feed into this pattern—especially because Dave and I routinely teach certain landmark films annually but the conversations we have change from year to year. Ironically, people often ask us whether analyzing films takes away from our enjoyment of them: quite the contrary is true. Studying how films are made, who they are made for, and who speaks through them most powerfully allows us to more fully enjoy what they say, reflect, reveal, and open up for us.


Our Film Concentration students typically take six foundational courses: Introduction to Film, Film Genre, Film History, Major Film Directors, Film Theory, and International Cinema. These courses are routinely supplemented with other more specialist courses about more specific aspects of cinema (such as documentaries, or soundtracks). But, at the very least, every Film Concentration student takes six of our film courses and within every course we study at least fifteen films in depth. For every film we study, either Dave or I offer a full lecture to provide cultural, artistic, historical, and technological contexts for understanding it and then we run a discussion-based class after the screening. Since each course contains fifteen films, and each film student takes at least six film courses, each student thus studies at least ninety films overall. The films come from all over the world and date back to the origins of cinema leading up to the present day. In addition, we never double-up on films across our courses, but the films we choose often complement each other. So, all our students benefit from a coherent program that allows them to apply their skills to ninety different processes of understanding the reality, truth, art, perspective, and vision of a film.


Left to Right:  Dr. Walker, Chris Johnson, Dr. Johnson


Each semester, we “live” each film with the students who encounter them for the first time. We consider it a responsibility and a privilege to present Citizen Kane to first-time viewers, for instance, just as we consider it a responsibility and privilege to introduce students to marginal or international forms of cinema they might not otherwise see. The four-year undergraduate degree is a four-year conversation about movies. The conversation keeps changing direction, but our ultimate faith in the power of cinema remains constant.


Our film program is modest in size, though it grows every year. We currently have a core group of about thirty majors and minors in the program each year. So, our students get to know us, and each other, quite well. By the time we reach the end of our four-year conversations about more than ninety films, we feel great attachments to our film graduates. This year, we were delighted to honor the successes of several film graduates who have distinguished themselves with some exceptional work—whether we think of Mollie Palmer’s strong comparative study of the subversive female protagonists of Whale Rider and Heavenly Creatures, or of Rachel Holtzman’s savvy analysis of Double Indemnity as enduring and classical film noir, or of Chris Johnson’s original essay on the deeply affecting editing patterns within Christopher Nolan’s work, or of Matt Dietz’s stand-out presentation on the influence of Zen culture on Tokyo Story, we take great pride in what each of our students has already done. We will chart their future careers with just as much keen interest.


So, please allow me to say that “with us, it’s [truly] personal.” And film graduates, please accept out heartfelt congratulations. In the words of Ben Okri, “may a wonderful light always guide you on the unfolding road.”


Left to Right:  Dr. Walker, Mollie Palmer, Dr. Johnson