Sell Us Your Major: Film Studies

This column is devoted to sharing student and faculty input on the various majors offered at Lawrence. The goal is to highlight areas of study that are not well known and to provide undecided students an inside look at things they may want to study.

While the Warch Campus Center seems to be a staple part of the Lawrence experience to current students, the relatively new building would come as a shock to alumni that graduated before 2009. They may try to seek out a meal at the Jason Downer Commons, only to find their main center for food when they were students at Lawrence has been replaced by offices for Admissions, Career Services, Alumni and Constituency Engagement and the state-of-the art 9,400-square-foot Hurvis Center for Film Studies.

The Film Studies major joined the ranks of the interdisciplinary studies at Lawrence after the construction of the Hurvis Center was completed on the lower level of the former Downer Commons, renamed Alice G. Chapman Hall. The major consists of all aspects of visual culture, primarily the production, history and theory of film.

Jill Beck Director of Film Studies and Associate Professor of Film Studies Amy Ongiri is among the dozens of faculty members that are extremely passionate about this major.

“Film is one of the most powerful mediums of our time,” Ongiri explained. “The Film Studies major at Lawrence encompasses three ways of studying film: production, film history and theory. We offer production classes in film, digital and animation. The other components involve the actual study of film from a historical and theoretical perspective. These classes help students contextualize the power of this medium in a historical and modern context.”

The opportunities that students have with the brand new facilities and equipment seems limitless. With state-of-the art equipment and a two-to-one, student-to-camera ratio, film students enjoy relatively limitless access to resources. The handful of well-crafted studios, classrooms and editing rooms filling the Hurvis Center make it possible for Film Studies students to focus on projects that deal with virtual reality, animation and almost any other form of visual production that humans are able to create.

“Movies, film and the internet are the way we understand the world and how we communicate to people in other parts of the world,” Ongiri said. “This is so important in a liberal arts context because our students can begin to understand how visual culture works. One unique part of the program here at Lawrence is that every film studies student will get a taste of production, history and theory. At other universities, students are often restricted to just one of those concentrations.”

Already, Film Studies graduates from Lawrence have gone on to do spectacular things. There are two graduates who work at VICE, an internet global media channel that produces investigative, journalistic videos. A recent Lawrence grad is the digital content manager for a NPR affiliate in Missouri. The person running the newsroom in Duluth is a graduate from last year. Students have had internships at BET and other organizations at the forefront of visual culture.

“One of the biggest criticisms we get, mainly by non-film studies majors,” Ongiri chuckled, “is that film studies seems to be an impractical area of study. Yet, you can look at the successes that our film studies students are already enjoying and you can see pretty clearly that our graduates truly do well in terms of getting jobs and internships.”

Last year, the Lawrence Film Studies department hosted the First Annual Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) Film Conference and Festival. This festival spotlights the creative and academic work of student filmmakers, screenwriters and film scholars from ACM campuses. The Conference allows students to show off their research in the world of Film Studies and film culture, while the festival accepts student-produced works to be displayed and recognized at the regional level.

“We’re also going to host the event next year,” Ongiri said. “Students here need to know that it’s not just for film students. Anyone who writes or make films can submit something to the festival. All are welcome.”

Ongiri’s attitude towards openness also applies to the Film Studies program in general. “Come down and check out the facilities!” she said enthusiastically. “If you’re interested in Film Studies, take a few classes. This has only been a major for a year now, so we’re definitely open for all students to try out this brand new program with some brand new equipment and facilities.”

This relatively new major certainly offers its appeal to students who are interested in film and visual culture. The interdisciplinary aspects of the major makes it a perfect starting place for multi-interested students to examine the world through the lens of film production, theory and history. Anyone interested should definitely take some time to explore the relatively unknown facilities in Chapman Hall and talk to the dozens of passionate students and faculty all across campus.