Film and digital media at UC Santa Cruz teaches students more than the typical shooting, editing and production aspects of film.
After UCSC’s film department was ranked No. 7 for Best Bachelor’s Program for Film, Video and Photographic Arts by College Factual, UCSC was also nationally recognized by USA Today for its film and digital media undergraduate major. The major focuses on teaching students how to critically analyze the cultural impact of cinema and new media.
“The pedagogical philosophy of the department is that practices and critical studies must go hand in hand,” said film and digital media associate professor Yiman Wang. “Our most ambitious students are the ones who bring these two together, producing an integrated senior project that demonstrates their versatile abilities of maintaining dual focus, and thanking one through the other.”
Wang said the Film 20 A, B and C prerequisite courses offer a strong introduction to the major that help students understand how to be critical film watchers.
“[The courses] build the foundation of film, TV and digital media studies by helping students acquire the basic skills of analysis and criticism through understanding the media forms in relation to specific socio-cultural, political and technological circumstances,” Wang said.
Katie Haggard, a second-year proposed film and digital media major, said the prerequisites taught her how to understand films. Haggard said film and digital media is the “underdog major” at UCSC and that she finds the independent scene in Santa Cruz more meaningful as a film student.
Fourth-year transfer student Patrick Delaney said UCSC is not the first choice school for many film and digital media students.
“I’ve been told this wasn’t the school for film,” Delaney said. “Everyone who wants to pursue film goes to LA [for] UCLA or private schools down there. I don’t think anyone put into consideration how strong the staff and faculty is in this department.”
Despite opinions that UCSC may not be the ideal location for students to become successes in film, there are alumni who have garnered critical acclaim for their work as producers and writers.
“Instead of being narrowly focused on Hollywood, our students make a productive career out of independent film and media making, working with film festivals and actively contributing to more mainstream media making,” associate professor Wang said.
Alumna Sarah Schechter graduated from UCSC with a degree in film and video in 1998. She is the president of Berlanti Productions and was the senior vice president of development at Warner Bros.
“The education I got at UCSC laid an excellent foundation for all I have done so far in film and television. I learned how to think, talk and understand film,” Schechter said. “What’s great about UCSC is that it doesn’t try to replicate the film industry, which is too wild to do. It teaches you to deeply understand the history and power of the medium and teaches you the language of film — a language I use every day with writers, directors, actors and [executives].”
Martin Berger is the acting dean of the arts division. He teaches in the history of art and visual culture department and agrees UCSC teaches students how to critically analyze the cultural impact of film.
Both Berger and film and digital media department chair Gustavo Vazquez agree there should be stronger alliances between film and other art departments on campus, so different art majors can collaborate on projects.
“We will continue to invest in the film department because it is one of the stronger majors in the arts division,” Berger said. “Over the next few years we will also try to build alliances with other departments.”
Film department faculty members hope the major will continue to gain recognition to help further the growth of the major and attract more students to help develop stronger tools, such as better faculty and more investments in infrastructure to help analyze how students create and watch films.
“Film watching is different than filmmaking,” Vazquez said. “Because we can see a drawing, can we draw? Because we can read, can we write? Because we can see a film, can we make a film? Not necessarily. It takes discipline to be a maker. The discipline applied to being a film viewer is to develop and have the tools to be analytical. Instead of [just being] entertained, we want to have the critical tools to analyze what we’re watching, whether it’s news or television programs.”