When world-renowned French film director Bertrand Tavernier was approached by the American Film Institute to attend a screening of his newest film “Holy Lola,” he agreed, but also wanted to meet with the group of people that the former Motion Picture Association of America president Jack Valenti once called “the future of the film business” – college students.
The students chosen were none other than GW’s own. Recently, Mr. Tavernier passionately and captivatingly spoke in Gelman Library to an audience comprised of GW student film enthusiasts and representatives from the AFI and the French Embassy about his experiences in and views on the film business.
Tavernier’s decision both to visit D.C. and to speak at GW mirrors that of noted directors Sydney Pollack and John Waters, both of whom have spoken at GW in the past few years. However, Tavernier may be surprised to learn that among the students he spoke with on Friday, none of them are majoring in film for the simple fact that at present, GW doesn’t offer a film major.
But why not? Since the inception of the film studies minor, the demand for undergrad film classes has been overwhelming. Even with the departure of the famously colorful professor Ranjan Chhibber last year, Professor Jay Lorenz’s film classes have consistently been at or beyond enrollment capacity.
“The moving image is the most influential technology of the past century,” Lorenz said. “It’s changed the way we perceive ourselves and the world. We’re taught how to interpret print but we are seldom taught how to interpret images. We live in a culture in which the image has replaced the word in terms of importance. Interpretive skills are absolutely crucial here.”
Lorenz’s view of film studies’ present role was echoed on March 6, when The New York Times published an article entitled “Is a Cinema Studies Degree the New M.B.A.?” In it, Elizabeth Van Ness argued that film studies programs are “beginning to attract those who believe that cinema isn’t so much a profession as the professional language of the future.” She elaborates that the number of academic institutions in the United States offering comprehensive film studies programs has been steadily increasing over the years despite scarce film business opportunities.
Although GW does not offer a comprehensive film studies major, Columbian College Dean William Frawley explained that CCAS works film studies into other disciplines. “CCAS has strengths in what might be called, broadly, ‘visual representation,’ with accomplished faculty working in film and related areas from across the College. The plausibility or desirability of a major in film is very complicated and depends on at least three things: student interest, faculty judgment and commitment, and available resources for support,” he said.
But student interest and faculty commitment are certainly in no short supply here. Extracurricular groups such as the Silver Screen living and learning community, which screens mainstream hits like “Jaws,” “E.T.” and “American Graffiti”; and Kino Fist!, which has screened films ranging as far as Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator,” Alain Resnais’ “Hiroshima, Mon Amour” and Kinji Fukusaku’s “Battle Royale,” serve as forums for GW students with serious motion picture interests. When asked about his experience with GW film students as compared to students at the other universities where he has instructed (including Georgetown), Lorenz replied that “the film studies minors (at GW) are the brightest and most committed students in this University. It’s wonderfully satisfying as a professor to be screening movies that are over 50 years old and have the students not notice when we run over the class time. I’ve had students enthusiastic for films before, but it wasn’t until I arrived at GW that I witnessed standing ovations after screenings.”
Despite this, students paid $75 lab fees in Lorenz’s film theory and film history classes last semester and had to view the films in conditions so abysmal that they bordered on absurd. Throughout the semester, at least three different projectors that tinted the films’ images in blue or red and that blocked the bottom half of the screen were used – obscuring subtitles on several foreign films. Students also had to hear the films through small desktop computer speakers.
Despite clear student support and dedicated faculty, GW is without a film studies major that would be nothing but a substantial benefit both to the Columbian College of Arts and Science and – more importantly – to its students.
Where does that leave GW students like us? Students that are looking for an academic foundation in film studies that could jump-start careers in the film business. There’s a trend among many GW student film enthusiasts students minoring in film and majoring in another field like psychology or international affairs because the necessary academic apparatus for a film major is absent. To these students, a film studies major isn’t just an idealistic, “One day we’ll be Steven Spielberg”-like endeavor; it’s a very real career decision that would help launch us into the field that we love.
-Nick Fraccaro, a senior majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet staff writer. Jason Mogavero, a sophomore majoring in English, is a Hatchet contributing arts editor.