By Jamie Schafroth
Although Grinnell does not have a film study major or concentration, students have managed to create a vibrant film community here, in many ways comparable to other well-established film study programs throughout the nation.
“I see [film studies] as a discipline as valuable as economics, art, sociology or politics. It’s just as rigorous, deep and important as any other discipline that the college represents. This is because we live in a visual era. It shapes everyone’s lives who live around the globe,” said Professor Theresa Geller, English.
Students agree with Geller’s argument that film study is as much a valid and academic field as any other discipline available at Grinnell.
“There’s a lot more to cover and analyze,” said Benji Zeledon ’14, a political science major. “With film, I have to say, ‘I can look at this with a feminist approach, with a racial approach, through symbolism, through post modernism,’ and it’s just so expansive.”
Like every other discipline at Grinnell, students are expected to translate their knowledge to a broader context well beyond their time at the college.
Last year, several Grinnellians attended film conferences throughout the United States. Brian Buckley ’14, Vilma Castaneda ’14 and Claire Fleckenstein ’13 all attended the Society for Cinema and Media Studies National Undergraduate Conference at the University of Notre Dame.
Pamela Robertson Wojcik of Notre Dame’s Film, Television and Theatre, sent an email of praise to Geller after reading the abstracts these three presented at conference.
“It was really rewarding having that email come back from Notre Dame saying ‘You’re really doing something right there. Your students are writing really strong.’ That’s impressive. And we don’t even have a major. That’s huge!” said Geller.
Zeledon and Victor Kyerematen ’14 were two others who were able to attend a film conference outside of Grinnell, the (dis)junctions Humanities and Social Sciences Graduate Conference at the University of California, Riverside.
Grinnellians’ success has been present in past years, as well. Other students, including Paul Dampier ’12, Mike Kleine ’11 and Kramer McLuckie ’12 were on the editorial board of Film Matters 2.4, an undergraduate journal that mentors other undergraduate students within the field.
Students who have studied film have shown that it can be applicable to the real world job market. Graduate Courtney Sheehan ’11 got a Watson Fellowship to study film festivals and is starting a graduate program. Kenneth Wee ’16 is giving a paper on new media at a major graduate conference in San Francisco. Both prove that they are equally qualified and talented as film study majors at other universities or colleges.
“Students are getting into the top graduate programs for film,” Geller added.
Even though Grinnell only offers a limited number of classes pertaining to film, students have found ways to integrate film into other areas of study.
“I declared both sociology and GWSS majors because it allowed me to take as many film courses as Grinnell offered,” Castaneda said.
Even though students have built a bridge between their majors and the interdisciplinary study of film, they would like to see more development towards a vibrant film community on campus.
“I would like to see those students who are interested in film to step up and participate in the events that occur on campus,” Castaneda said. “Such events include film screenings, clubs and courses that could really benefit those students who are interested and do not have another outlet to practice film or study it.”
It’s a far more complex and extensive program than most would give it credit for. It covers many of the areas and issues that Grinnell students are passionate about.
“My classes are my very much interested in social justice. They always deal with issues of inequality. [Students] see political activism deeply tied to their study of film and media and that they’re inseparable,” Geller said. “The way cinema works with social justice is a no brainer.”
For Geller, film studies is more than just watching movies. It’s a concrete, intellectually and creatively demanding discipline.
“[Film studies] is a way to talk about what’s happening in the world that people don’t talk about,” Geller. said “Film studies is a way to be socially astute. Film studies is a way to be a Grinnellian.