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New Name and New Strategies

Design by: Eric Burton
We have a new name: Cinema Art + Science

Columbia College President Dr. Warrick L. Carter gave his official approval for this change March 21, 2013, following endorsement by School of Media Arts Dean Robin Bargar and Interim Provost Louise Love. In most usages, the name will appear simply as “Cinema Art + Science.” It won’t hurt that, colloquially, we will still be referred to as a “film school,” which has been the case with the USC School of Cinematic Arts since its name change in 2006.

It is common knowledge that movie origination is shifting rapidly from film emulsion to high-definition digital video, which follows what we saw unfold in post-production over the last decade. While this reality provided the impetus for a reassessment of the department name, our aim through the whole process was to move away from a name that defines the department in terms of a particular technology, be that film, video, or digital.

Although “cinema” originates with the concept of a public space for the exhibition of movies, that term is flexible and transferable. It is now common to speak of home cinema, online cinema, digital cinema, etc. So “cinema” clearly references an experience rather than a specific location or technology. As Dean Bargar put it: “Video and film are practices named for apparatuses. Cinema is a practice that governs and embraces a complex set of subsystems and, through this governance, asserts a coherent apparatus.” I like Steven Soderbergh’s recent claim that “cinema is a specificity of vision.”

Our discipline has always straddled polarizations, such as theory/practice, art/entertainment, and story/technology. In the movie world we can find a way to juxtapose almost any two concepts! But at its core, what we do is fundamentally both an art and a science, and this is what the new department title is designed to capture and communicate. We believe there is something substantial and particular about cinema art and cinema science, and that this will persist regardless of future technological and cultural changes. The new department name is also intended as an invitation: We want our faculty, students, and staff to be leaders in the exploration of cinema as both art and science, which we see as often interwoven but also legitimately distinct.

Film will continue to be an important element in our curriculum, just not the default production platform. For the foreseeable future, certain aspects of cinematography and lighting will be taught using film, and advanced students will continue to have the option of using film when it best serves the applicable learning aims and outcomes.

Our Hollywood lot-based Semester in LA program gives the department high visibility in that city and affords our students the best possible entry to the West Coast entertainment industry. However, our home community is the Midwest, so a key strategic aim is to strengthen our Chicago partnerships, especially with the organizations that make this a true “cinema city.” Lyn Pusztai, Internship & Industry Relations Coordinator, is central to that effort and continues to work miracles in placing current students and recent graduates with local companies and onto all levels of film production in the region.

Columbia College’s role as major sponsor of the Chicago International Film Festival is well known and very important, because that festival is deeply committed to new filmmakers and a broad range of cinema styles. This year we signed on as a sponsor of Mike McNamara’s Midwest Independent Film Festival, which holds screenings and meetings in Chicago the first Tuesday of each month, and is possibly the strongest local force in terms of building a year-round sense of film community.

We are pleased to announce that we also found a way to become directly involved with the Chicago International Music & Movies Festival (CIMMfest), an exciting four-day gala that, in just four years, is already referred to as the “South by Southwest of the Midwest.” The most gratifying aspect is that, at short notice, I managed to pull together a group of Columbia College departments whose academic foci relate directly to CIMMfest (Film & Video, Marketing Communication, Fiction Writing, Theatre, Audio Arts + Acoustics, Interactive Arts + Media, Music, and Journalism) and raise sufficient funds from those departments to place Columbia in the Bronze Sponsor group. I served on the Fiction and Music Videos juries and participated in various panels and presentations throughout the festival, as did several other faculty members.

Taken along with the continued success of current and recent students (for example, AJ Young and Heather Dunoon), the department has never been stronger—regardless of the name we use!

Bruce Sheridan
Chair, Film & Video Department