Fall 2014

Films That Try: Essay Film Production

Listed in: Art and the History of Art, as ARHA-444  |  Film and Media Studies, as FAMS-444

Moodle site: Course


Adam R. Levine (Section 01)


(Offered as ARHA 444 and FAMS 444) Essay filmmaking is a dynamic form with many commonly cited attributes—the presence of an authorial voice, an emphasis on broad themes, an eclectic approach to genre, and the tendency to digress or draw unexpected connections. Yet, true to its nature, the precise definition of the essay film is in constant flux. It can be both personal and political, individual and collective, noble and mischievous. Essay filmmakers themselves are equally diverse, ranging from established film auteurs to Third Cinema activists and contemporary video artists.

If we entertain the notion that the processes of cinema closely resemble the mechanics of human thought, then the essay film may be the medium’s purest expression. To watch or make such a film, we must give ourselves over to a compulsive, restless energy that delights in chasing a subject down any number of rabbit holes and blind alleys, often stopping to admire the scenery on the way. As with thought, there is no end product, no clear boundaries, no goal but the activity itself.

The term "essay" finds its origins in the French essayer, meaning “to attempt” or to try.” In this advanced production workshop, we will read, screen and discuss examples of the essayistic mode in literature and cinema while making several such attempts of our own. Students will complete a series of writing assignments and video projects informed by class materials and group discussion.

Requisite:  One 200-level production course or relevant experience (to be discussed with the instructor in advance of the first class). Limited to 12 students.  Fall semester. Professor Levine.

If Overenrolled: Priority to ARHA/FAMS majors, then attention will be given to achieving a mix of majors and Five College participation.


Artistic Practice


2020-21: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Spring 2020