Dec. 2, 1999
Vol. 19 No. 6

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    [cinema and media studies]

    Committee strengthens its film studies program

    By Arthur Fournier
    News Office

    This fall for the first time, the Committee on Cinema & Media Studies has admitted four graduate students to its doctoral degree program. Although the program is young, it marks an important level of institutional maturity for the study of film and film-related media at the University.

    Kaveh Askari, one of the new graduate students in CMS, feels honored to be one of the first concentrators in the program. “I’m excited to be part of this small group for the first year. It’s really a privilege,” he said.

    After completing his bachelor’s degree in 1998 at New College, Askari came to the University with the plan to study film for one year in the Master of Arts Program in the Humanities. The committee’s decision to begin admitting students into a doctoral degree program beginning this Fall Quarter presented an opportunity for him to continue pursuing his research.

    James Lastra, Associate Professor in English Language & Literature and Chair of CMS, said he believes the presence of current students and those who enter the program in following years will provide a new focal point for the activities of the committee. “Although there have been courses related to the study of film within various departments in the Humanities Division for some time now, the emergence of the Committee on Cinema & Media Studies as a degree-granting program will allow us to offer students a more thorough training in the discipline,” said Lastra.

    Although the number of matriculants is small, Lastra said he expects interest in the graduate program to grow steadily in the next few years. “Since the program was not highly publicized in 1998, most of this year’s class came to the program through specific recommendations by faculty at associated schools,” he explained.

    Already the committee has had several hundred requests for information on the graduate studies program, and if the requests continue, it expects to have a significant pool of applicants from which to assemble next year’s class. Additionally, the committee is aware of nearly 30 graduate students currently researching film-related projects in other departments ranging from Comparative Literature to East Asian Studies. Lastra and colleagues expect that number will remain consistent, even with the admission of future classes of CMS concentrators.

    Askari said he was drawn to Chicago because of the University’s reputation as one of the best institutions in the world for the study of early cinema. “The core group here is just tremendous,” he explained. “My strongest area of interest is silent film––I can’t imagine assembling a more knowledgeable group of people to work with than the University’s CMS faculty.”

    Lastra explained that CMS has a strong historical orientation, much the same as many other departments in the Humanities Division. “I think because of that we have a reputation for a high level of seriousness, depth and rigor.”

    “But we’re still young,” continued Lastra, “and it’s a great time to be organizing a department in cinema and media studies. The committee is extremely fortunate to have such an incredible faculty. Some of the film scholars currently at the University––people like Miriam Hansen and Tom Gunning––are really the people who’ve helped to redefine the field as a whole.”