Hoffman On | Film/Video at Hampshire.
I just graduated from Hampshire. I concentrated in film studies and French. I wasn’t a typical film student because I didn’t do very much production, and the work I produced was mostly film criticism of one kind or another. But because I did do both, I developed a unique perspective on the study of film and how it can be a part of the production of film.
Navigating the film/photo/video program at Hampshire can be complicated. With the exception of a few courses, all involve production. Most of these involve weekly meetings and weekly screenings. Most of the time, there is a reading component, and professors assign theoretical and sometimes historical writings. Class time is initially used to discuss the readings and screenings. To some extent, the technical aspects of production are dealt with, but for the most part students learn that stuff on their own along with the course’s TA (with the help of media services). As things move on, it becomes increasingly about workshopping the students’ films, and this is probably the most rewarding part of the course.
Anyone can conceivably take production courses, but to actually be in the film program, one has to apply for a film faculty advisor. Students have to apply for Division II and III. What this means is that more than just being in production courses, students can work closely with advisors to discuss course selection, independent studies, and more. Then, at the end of Div II & III, the film faculty advisor evaluates all of the student’s work (including work not related to production).
The other side to film studies at Hampshire is, of course, the historical and theoretical side. Intro courses look at different ways films have been approached. A lot of the time in intro courses are spent learning a language to use to talk about film. The technological advances of cinema are discussed, from a historical, social, theoretical, and technical perspective.
The reason these kinds of film studies courses can be frustrating for production-oriented students is because some of the topics – especially certain types of film theory – can seem so abstract and divorced from cinema itself. But everyone feels that way sometimes, even those who’ve never touched a camera. And there are a lot things about film studies courses that are important for production students. By watching and studying films closely, one develops a sense of how films relate to each other – and if you’re making your own films, you get a sense of where they fit in.
I realized how important studying film is for making films when I discovered how steeped in cinema history so many of the greatest films are. I also realized that some of the greatest directors – Jean-Luc Godard, Wim Wenders, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, to name a few – were also critics. As Godard put it, writing film criticism is actually a form of making films.
To study films and learn how to write about them, there are several options at Hampshire. There are two our three courses offered each year. In addition, there is the time and flexibility in the divisional system for film students to watch as many films as they can – I did several independent studies and these afforded me a lot of time to just watch.
Within the four other schools in the Five College network (going to hamp, you can take classes at any of them), there are a lot of resources for film students. Smith and Mt. Holyoke Colleges have film studies departments directed by film studies Ph.Ds. In addition to courses taught by these professors, other departments often offer film courses (such as the English department, American studies, language departments, etc.). Amherst does not have an official film department, but offers course by English teachers and different language teachers (sometimes not in English). Finally, UMass has an interdepartmental film studies program. UMass might be the best place to take courses on national cinemas, history, and directors while here at Hampshire.
dan hoffman is a recent hamp grad and a lover (of film)