Sitting in his office in Franklin & Marshall's Meyran Hall, Professor of Film and Media Studies Dirk Eitzen rattles off the names of film-related majors that individual F&M students have created for themselves over the past few years through F&M's Special Studies program: media and marketing, film music, and Italian art and cinema, among others. These self-designed, interdisciplinary special studies majors gave students a chance to focus on film in the absence of a formal academic major.
Now, Eitzen and the students can permanently add "film and media studies" to the list.
With the F&M faculty's approval of the formal creation of a new academic major in film and media studies on Feb. 11, students have a new opportunity to explore the complex roles film and media play in modern society. Shepherded by the faculty's Educational Policy Committee, the new major is part of F&M's Department of Theatre, Dance & Film. The major is available to current sophomores -- and juniors if they can meet the requirements in their remaining semesters -- and includes 11 courses that educate students in film history, criticism, theory and production.
"Film and media saturate the contemporary cultural landscape," said Eitzen, who chairs the film and media studies program at F&M. "Our students have grown up swimming in a sea of media, including iTunes and YouTube, and this major will help them navigate that sea more deliberately. We want the major to foster disciplined storytelling and critical thinking so students engage with media more effectively."
Rather than creating a "silo" major in film, Eitzen said the department designed the major to weave various disciplines together, a hallmark of a liberal arts education.
"We're promoting interdisciplinary work through this major," he said. "Students may take courses that combine film with philosophy, dance, foreign languages, and other disciplines. Film and media provide a fascinating window into cultures, and the fact is that the contemporary environment is full of media."
The College began offering a minor in film and media studies in the early 1990s, Eitzen said. In 2009, an external review team recommended adding an additional faculty member to join Eitzen and bolster the film faculty. Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies Jeremy Moss began a tenure-track role in 2011 after serving as a visiting professor for three years.
Moss believes the liberal arts environment at F&M is an ideal setting for filmmakers.
"In my documentary class, I've had students who are majoring in history, anthropology, sociology, film and theater," he said. "The liberal arts [approach] allows students to go beyond the discussion of film. With broad backgrounds, people become more interesting filmmakers."
F&M student Rebecca Gant '15 is among a small group of sophomores who have formally declared a major in film and media studies. Gant said film has always been her passion.
"I've been waiting for the major to be passed since my first semester at F&M," Gant said. "I couldn't be more excited to be able to study all the things I'm passionate about. Because F&M is such a small school, there's so much room for experimentation and collaboration…I really think this will make my next two years at F&M even better than the first [two]."
Elizabeth Meley '13, a creative writing major and film and media studies minor, developed a deeper understanding of film when she took "Language of Cinema" with Eitzen, and courses in avant-garde cinema with Moss. Meley said her studies in experimental video have complemented her other academic work in a liberal arts context.
"It's exciting to engage with a discipline like film and find ways to connect it to seemingly unrelated subjects," Meley said. "For me, this has meant pursuing connections between film studies and creative writing. Most people automatically assume this means screenwriting, which is definitely an option, but as a poet I have striven to find ways to incorporate the imagistic communication of film into poetry, and the poetic sensibility into my making of videos."
Film students at F&M have several resources to help them in production, including video equipment, a series of editing workstations and a large collaborative editing space in Stager Hall. In addition to Eitzen and Moss, the students work closely with Zach Reese, F&M's video production program manager.
The film and media studies program also gives students an opportunity to enhance their education by attending events such as the Sundance and South by Southwest film festivals. And in 2012, the College hosted the inaugural Wide Eyed Film Festival to give students a glimpse into the creative minds of aspiring filmmakers.
"I think the establishment of the film and media studies major validates the work by previous film students and the activities of the F&M film community while creating an exciting future platform for current underclassmen and prospective students," Meley said. "I'm very excited to witness the long-term, positive impacts that the major will have in years to come."