Proposed film major hits standstill

A proposal for a new film major for Portland State was hotly contested when the proposal was first announced at the monthly PSU faculty senate meeting March 5.

A proposal for a new film major for Portland State was hotly contested when the proposal was first announced at the monthly PSU faculty senate meeting March 5.

Some faculty members brought the proposal under fire because it would house the film major in the theater arts department. The major would focus on the production and technical aspects of film, rather than on the literary aspects like the current PSU film minor.

The proposal would offer elective film courses taught in other liberal arts departments, but would cater specifically to students looking to get into the production and technical aspects of film. The program would be better off housed in theater arts because of this focus, according to Richard Wattenberg, a theater arts faculty member who champions the major in its current form.

“They thought it should be an interdisciplinary degree, looking at film more from a cultural context,” Wattenberg said. “We can deal with theory, but our concern is actually with an interest with film as a practicing art with praxis rather than just pure theory.”

Some faculty present at the meeting from the departments of English, communications and foreign language had a different interpretation of the proposal. The film minor is interdisciplinary, working through multiple departments.

“The richest possible future for film studies is an interdisciplinary major,” said Lee Medovoi, an English department faculty member who opposed the proposal at the meeting. “All of the areas should be central in the core curriculum. The faculty that teach these approaches should be active in the designs and development of any film major.”

Faculty members at the March 5 meeting were upset that they first learned of the proposal during the meeting. Chair of theater arts Sarah Andrews-Collier had given prior notice of the proposal, but it failed to reach most professors, according to Wattenberg.

“Faculty didn’t know about the proposal. They looked at their minutes and they thought theater was trying to pull a fast one,” he said. “The news didn’t reach most department faculty.”

Even with a production-oriented focus the major needs a strong theoretical base, according to William Tate, theater arts faculty senator and long-time film professor at Portland State.

“Our goal was to set up a major in film,” Tate said, adding that the intention was not necessarily to make an interdisciplinary major. “This is a beginning, but we’re not moving forward with exclusive ideas. We hope to be inclusionary, but it should be a program we’re responsible for.”

Medovoi said the most important thing is to have a major that allows students to find what they are looking for. This would allow any student majoring in film to fully tap the expertise of the different types of film studies, he said.

“There’s a lot more people working on this outside of theater arts,” he said. “I don’t think we want anything different. English teaches a critical approach, communication teaches media studies, and foreign language takes an international approach. We all want to get the ball rolling.”

Tate said that the proposal says the interdisciplinary courses central to the film minor could be used as part of the elective component of the major.

“The thinking was, ‘Interdisciplinary minor, why not interdisciplinary major?’ With a minor, that student isn’t majoring in film,” he said. “They can use courses from different departments, but for the elective component.”

Medovoi said that film studies should not be pigeonholed into one discipline because of film’s multifaceted nature.

“Film studies is a necessarily collaborative enterprise. As we study film, we need to take advantage to all the other approaches and disciplines,” he said.

A major or program for film studies has been talked about since the 1970s, and within the last two years the issue has been given more serious consideration across campus. Student demand for the major is also significant.

“I know a lot of people interested in making their own films,” said PSU student Angela Krupp. “More people should validate and support artistic endeavors. The more the school can provide in art, the better off it’ll be.”

The proposed major will be reintroduced at the senate faculty meeting May 7.