Created by the Wagner faculty in 2014, the major was approved by the state and launched in January 2015 with the hiring of a new faculty member, Sarah Friedland, assistant professor and director of the film and media major.
The excitement is audible in the voices of students like Shane Ertter ’16, who this semester is taking Introduction to Video Production with Friedland.
“I’m taking this course and am interested in this major because I see the value of media and communications in everything we do,” he says. “I think the film and media studies major is going to help a lot of students convey their stories and open them up to a whole new world.”
It’s not just the students who are excited; Friedland is equally enthused. “Building a new program is a thrilling and exciting project anywhere; it’s a creative endeavor,” she says. And there are several factors that make it especially exciting at Wagner, she adds, such as the involvement of departments across the College, the nexus of civic engagement and documentary filmmaking, and the prospects for international exchanges.
A documentary filmmaker as well as an educator, Friedland taught video production part-time at Wagner previously and loved the experience. “The students were so excited and invested in their projects,” she says. “You don’t always have that experience as an educator, so it was really refreshing.”
“I’m so thrilled to be here,” she adds.
A Glimpse into the Film and Media Studies Major
“One of the things that is so fantastic about teaching film,” Friedland says, “is that everybody, in some way, is an experienced film watcher and an experienced filmmaker. We’ve all picked up a camera at some point in our lives; we’ve all made moving images. But, we don’t always have the opportunity to look at that pastime and take it apart. What does it mean to see film?”
Just one session of the class Introduction to Video Production demonstrates the range of skills that students can acquire — from seeing and analyzing film to using those techniques themselves.
The class of 14 students sits in a semi-circle in the third-floor Main Hall classroom, newly equipped as a screening room for the film program. An array of camera bags sits in the middle of the room. (A new computer lab for the program is coming as well.)
After reminding the class of their upcoming field trip to the Meerkat Media Collective’s production house in Brooklyn, Friedland introduces the students’ next assignment: the one-shot. They are to tell a story, as simple or as complex as they can manage, using only one camera shot, no edits.
“You think it’s really simple, but this is going to be more difficult than it appears,” she says.
Friedland cues up two film clips, from the 1964 Soviet production Soy Cuba and from this year’s multi-Oscar nominee Birdman, that make masterful use of the one-shot technique. The class discusses what effects it produced on the storytelling and the viewer. Clearly, as Friedland mentioned, these students are careful observers of film.
They are not necessarily as adept with the next lesson: Using the cameras and tripods — all brand-new equipment acquired for the program and made available for the students’ use.
But, between Professor Friedland’s instruction and the help of a few more experienced students, the class is on its way to making their one-shot videos, and much more.
A Distinctive Program
Wagner’s program in film and media studies is distinctive for a few reasons, says Department Chair Laura Morowitz. First is the focus on documentary filmmaking. The major was designed to promote that type of filmmaking not only because it fits well with the College’s existing facilities, but also because it meshes so well with its mission of civic engagement. Documentary filmmakers often come to the medium from a background in journalism, social justice, and history, Morowitz notes.
Friedland strongly agrees. “As a filmmaker and a documentarian, most of my films are focused on communities, and I’m focused on doing that in a responsible and meaningful way. And there’s a lot of space to bring that into the program here,” she says.
Film’s interdisciplinary nature is also a good fit for the interdisciplinary core of the Wagner Plan curriculum, and the widespread interest of Wagner faculty in film.
The film and media studies major offers three concentrations: filmmaking/digital arts, focused on production and creation; film studies and criticism, focused on film theory; and media studies, which incorporates the context of civic engagement, non-profit, and community-based careers.
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