Film department to offer master's program

After Sonoma State University film students have had the opportunity to showcase their work at the Cannes Film Festival for the last two years, the number of students enrolled in the Film Studies minor program has increased from 6 to 36, which has caused the university to expand the film department into a master’s program that would start in the fall, pending approval from the Chancellor’s Office.

The description according to the program’s website is that the Film Studies degree program is an interdisciplinary degree designed to teach students that film can be used as an agent of social change and advocacy. The program strives to provide students with the proper tools for them to film as a method of communication and a clear art form.

The program also shows off Sonoma State University’s prime location for studying film, since the Bay Area and Sonoma County in particular has a long and illustrious history as a filming location.

The program will be offered through the School of Extended and International Education and will consist of 30 units spread over two years. Students will have the choice to conclude their studies by either writing a Master’s thesis or creating their own film.

“The program is particularly innovative in that it offers two tracks – one in film studies leading to a traditional MA thesis and another in digital media leading to a final creative project (screenplay or film),” said Ajay Gehlawat, associate professor of theatre and film for the Hutchins School of Liberal Studies and faculty director for the Master’s program in film studies. “Regardless of which track you ultimately decide to pursue, you get a grounding in the fundamentals of film history and theory and a chance to learn the basics of digital storytelling. So the program combines theory and practice in a very cool way. It’s also one of the most affordable graduate film programs offered in California.”

According to Gehlawat, the number of students enrolled in the film studies minor has increased since the program was updated a few years ago.Considering the number of students with an interest in film, the film department decided that introducing a master’s program would be worthwhile.

“The goals of the program are to prepare students for careers in the film and media industry, and to lay the foundation for a career in higher education,” said Gehlawat. “The MA program in film provides students with a critical toolkit that allows them to analyze film and media texts from an advanced perspective and apply their knowledge of film towards larger collaborative ventures including independent features, documentary films and social advocacy.”

The program aims to teach students the technical knowledge necessary to create their own films, as well as how film can be used as a powerful instrument for change.

“Beyond the basics of film theory and history, students can expect to learn about the history of particular genres, such as documentary cinema, and how they have been used to advance social change,” said Gehlawat. “Students can then apply the knowledge they have gained through hands on coursework in digital storytelling and advanced digital storytelling. Along with covering basic filmmaking techniques, such coursework also provides students with the tools to create and distribute their own films using new delivery platforms.”

With the program still in its infancy, it is not yet set in stone how the program will work with related fields. Instructors for the program will come from several departments on campus, including Communication and Media Studies, Hutchins School of Liberal Studies, American Multicultural Studies and Modern Languages and Literature.

“Regardless of what your academic background may be, this program allows you to combine your passion with a critical knowledge of film and media which enables you to enact and document social change,” said Gehlawat.

The Communications Department, in particular, is home to Studio Blue, formerly known as SSU-TV, another organization that teaches students about filmmaking, as well as hosting their own film festival on campus.

“While Coms will definitely have some involvement with the program (and some of our students may be interested in participating), I haven’t had enough conversations with Ajay at this point to have a clear idea on how we might collaborate,” said Ed Beebout, the faculty advisor for Studio Blue.