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Columbia College Chicago

Faculty Spotlight: Karla Rae Fuller

September 11, 2012

By Sean McEntee ('13)

Karla Rae Fuller came to interview for a part-time position at Columbia College Chicago in 1997, thinking it would be a fun job on the side. But that September, she arrived on campus as a full-time faculty member.

As an associate professor in the Film + Video department, Fuller’s main teaching focus is Cinema Studies—film analysis, history, and theory classes. She also teaches an entry-level course titled Foundations and screenwriting.

“The reason why I really [love] Columbia…is because I get a chance to teach filmmakers as opposed to just students who are writing about film,” she said. “That’s the work I’m really trying to do: to educate really smart filmmakers.”

The passion she has for the entire spectrum of film—technical, theoretical, and historical aspects—is what she wants to pass on to her students and future filmmakers.

“If you can hone in on something that you’re wild about, that you’re crazy about, that you love—and then work, work, work at it—you will feel like there is a reason to get up in the morning.”

Fuller didn’t discover her passion for film until her junior year at Amherst College in Massachusetts. She enrolled in a course on Japanese theater and film and found herself fascinated with both the culture and the filmmaking process. After graduating from Amherst in 1980, Fuller received a fellowship to teach English in Japan for a year. Upon returning to the States, she attended Columbia University in New York where she received her MFA in Cinema Studies in 1983.

Shortly after, Fuller got her first break into the business as an assistant for a producer at MTV, helping with the network’s first video music awards. After about a year, she went on to Vestron Pictures in Connecticut, where she had the opportunity to work on the script for the hit movie Dirty Dancing and travel to France for the Cannes Film Festival.

Fuller returned to her hometown of Chicago and was granted a four-year fellowship at Northwestern University, receiving her doctorate in film history and theory in May 1997. The dissertation she wrote for her degree at Northwestern was eventually adapted into a book, Hollywood Goes Oriental: Caucasian Performance in American Film, which she describes as a “labor of love.”

Although she teaches full time, Fuller still has her hand in the filmmaking world. She is finalizing her documentary on Chicago’s historic Pullman neighborhood.

“I shot it quite a few years ago, but I am making this,” she said. “I definitely have the filmmakers bug to do it. [Film] is a powerful medium, and I’m so moved by movies.”