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Film studies

/ 09:08 AM November 04, 2012

Of the so-called seven arts, cinema is the newest but certainly not the least, as far as the impact art may have in our lives.

In  a little more than a century of its existence, we saw how cinema has evolved from a more sophisticated form of “magic lantern” and hand-cranked peep show to an expensive and technologically complex medium of storytelling strong enough to seduce a global audience.

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More than any other art, cinema has the power to immediately influence public opinion  and in a more massive scale. Such persuasiveness was first thought to be a boon to public education. But no sooner did pedagogues take advantage of it for political propaganda. In the guise of mass entertainment, cinema has effectively become a tool for enforcing what the Marxist writer Louis Althusser calls the “ideological state apparatus”.

Even today, the public continues to remain largely blind to the motivations behind the enchanting world of shadows projected on screen, the kind of deceptive phantasms that Plato seemed to have predicted centuries ago.

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Such effects of cinema on the public mind, how it is changing the way we look and experience art, and the inquiries on the nature of reality that it spawns, are only some of the reasons that inspired writers and thinkers even in early years of cinema to take a closer look at this new art.

Their investigations led to film studies, a discipline of knowledge that is just as young as film itself. And just as our interests in cinema may vary, film studies can be equally broad, covering, on the most basic level, its history, theory, aesthetics, philosophy, cultural and sociological dimensions.

While it remains largely confined to the academe, cinema studies provide material and tools of analysis for film writers and critics who write for popular media. Some film theorists inspire a movement, like how Andre Bazin’s writings on realism in cinema practically launched the French New Wave. Others become auteurs themselves, like the Soviet directors Vsevolod Pudovkin and Sergei Eisenstein who tried to translate the principle of Marxist dialectics in film editing.

Cinema is thus supposed to exist alongside criticism and research usually initiated in the academe. A university program in film studies provides theoretical grounding for local filmmakers and critics and helps locate their work and discourse in the context of world cinema. Such level of film education is thus essential if we have to develop a globally competitive local cinema.

Cebu is starting to become a center for film education in the country with the existence of the International Academy for Film and Television providing world-class courses in film production and the University of San Carlos’ undergraduate and graduate programs in cinema. USC  actually offers fine arts-based curricula, a general course in cinema for undergraduate students and a master’s program in cinema studies.

Given Cebu’s “lost” early cinema, there is an urgent need for scholarship in local film history and this is a subject that USC’s program in cinema studies can focus on. In fact, the author/auteur Nick Deocampo, who has written a monograph entitled “Films From A ‘Lost’ Cinema: A Brief History of Cebuano Films” is coming over to give a talk about it in USC (specific venue needs to be finalized) in November 10.

It’s been nearing our first year since USC’s program in cinema studies was  launched and already it has been helping create opportunities for discourse and screenings of local cinema, thanks to the faculty led by San Francisco State University-trained Misha Annisimov and former New York University and Fulbright professor Paul Grant, who is here on a three-year teaching contract.

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It is ironic that these foreign professors seemed  more passionate in championing Cebuano cinema than  Cebuanos themselves. They have read more books on the subject and perhaps seen more of what little there is to see of the old Cebuano movies than most of us. Both have also spoken in different forums about the cause for local cinema.

But there’s nothing like sitting with these professors in a classroom to watch films and talk about them over a cup of espresso and some shared nibbles. For those of us who enrolled last semester, the first courses were like watching the first episodes of an epic movie and already we can’t  wait to complete the series.

You can still join us as enrollment has just started.

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