College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences

University of Southern Maine Offers New Cinema Studies Minor

PORTLAND, Maine – With its numerous film festivals, popular movie theaters and creative milieu, the greater Portland area already is known as a vibrant film community. The new Cinema Studies Minor starting this fall at the University of Southern Maine (USM) adds a significant component to the region’s reputation as a thriving and innovative film center.  

The nine class offerings – including two sequential courses on the history of international cinema and for this fall, a course on activism and film as well as online courses focusing on film noir and three prominent movie directors – provide a foundation of research and scholarship plus the opportunity for important community outreach, a hallmark of the university’s educational mission, according to USM officials.        

“Portland is the main creative community in the state, and there’s a strong interest in film and cinema,” said David Pierson, associate professor of media studies and chair of the USM Department of Communication and Media Studies. “It makes sense to offer this film program here.        

“When you look at the entertainment industry, one of the biggest industries globally, movies seem to be at the center,” Pierson said, noting their pervasiveness throughout new media and technology such as smart phones, tablets and video games. “Understanding movies helps us to understand our own culture.”        

Film studies, which looks at cinema as a means of communication, an industrial product and an art form, has been a growing and important academic discipline in the U.S. since the 1970s, said Ariel Rogers, assistant professor of film studies, who will teach the cinema history courses among others.        

The new minor allows USM “to offer some of the same areas of study that other major universities are offering,” she said.        

“To have our students studying film will contribute to the cultural fabric of Portland,” the assistant professor pointed out.        

Pierson said that USM’s faculty in the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences has always been interested in cinema. Courses on such topics as philosophy and film and French and Hispanic cinema have been offered but not as a concentration, he commented.        

“We recently decided to get more serious with our film course offerings, and we’ve started out with a minor to gauge interest,” he said. Rogers, whose scholarship focuses particularly on film spectatorship and movie technologies, was invited to USM to teach as part of the development of the concentration, the department chair said.        

Cinema studies, however, isn’t just about students sitting in the dark, eating popcorn and watching movies, both professors indicated. Under the guidance of Matthew Killmeier, USM associate professor of communication and media studies, the department’s Cinema Studies Committee determined the curriculum, which includes an introductory course, the film history sequence, a “theories of cinema” course and elective courses on specific film genres, women in film and other topics in cinema studies.        

Rogers said the concentration would focus on three academic approaches: analysis – “How do we talk about the way films work formally and thematically?”; history – “How do we understand differences among movies in terms of their contexts?”; and theory – “How do we understand what cinema is, what it does, and how we relate as viewers?” Students, Pierson said, should come away from their studies with critical thinking skills, visual analytical skills and a strong sense of scholarship, philosophy and history.        

Both professors believe the Cinema Studies minor could become a major course of study at USM and definitely could offer opportunities for community outreach. “I think we could become one of the few institutions in New England, certainly in Maine, offering this full major,” Pierson said.        

Rogers said she also could see the development of a student film group with community film screenings that would give students experience in film programming.        

“It would be exciting to be able to offer movie screenings open to the public followed by discussion, to get the community more involved and to tie in with our classes,” Pierson added.        

Enrollment for the cinema courses is under way. Potential participants should be aware that class size is limited to allow for film showings and class discussion.        

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