Class of 2020 Quarantine Graduation

We didn't let this unprecedented time of COVID-19 stop us from celebrating our graduating students in Film & Media Studies. On May 6, 2020, we held a graduation party virtually over Zoom. A mix of students, faculty, and staff were in attendance. Our seniors presented their theses and film projects, and reminisced about their time as FAMS students. Our faculty discussed our seniors' outstanding accomplishments. Congratulations to Josh Brainin, Nam Nguyen, Sophie Pu, and Kassidy Zhang! We are so proud of you!

Screenshot of 2020 FAMS graduation over Zoom.

Goodbye Team Columbo

From making gross recipes to watching hours of the 1970's TV detective series Columbo, students Maeve McNamara '19, Kiera Alventosa '21, and Sabrina Lin '21, discuss their experience as research assistants for Professor Amelie Hastie's forthcoming book, Columbo: Make Me a Perfect Murder.

Pooja Rangan Receives 2019 Henry Levin Prize

Congratulations to Film & Media Studies Assistant Professor Pooja Rangan! Rangan’s Immediations: The Humanitarian Impulse in Documentary has won the 2019 Harry Levin Prize for outstanding first book.

The Harry Levin Prize recognizes an outstanding first book in the discipline of comparative literature; fields may include literary or cultural theory or history, or any other field of comparative literature. Pooja Rangan's Immediations is an original and timely book. It delineates a new corpusof documentary sources in an innovative way. Rangan re-deploys a trite and over-used idea (giving a voice to the voiceless) and demonstrates beautifully how problematic and troubling (but perhaps indispensable) it is, and does so in a way that ought to trouble all future documentarians, and all of those who tend to assume that documentary “truths” speak for themselves. Rangan is a bold book, elegantly written, comparative in nature, but also goes beyond more traditional fields in the comparative literature crowded bookproduction. She creates the main concept --the humanitarian-- from the study of the documentary corpus. By doing so, she establishes a dialogue with both “the human” and the “humanitarian crisis.”

Read a review of the book by one of her former students. 


"First Words" by Amelie Hastie

In an article published in Amherst Magazine, Professor Amelie Hastie reflects on Debra Granik's 2010 film Winter's Bone, and how films provided her refuge during her long recovery from radiation treatment. 

"Rock Roll" by Josh Guilford

Josh Guilford, “Rock Roll,” 2015, 16mm, color, silent, 3 min

A camera roll film shot on the coast of Rabbit Island, an islet in Lake Superior three miles east of Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula. Built from sandstone formations dating back over 900 million years, Rabbit Island's coastline harbors traces of staggering geologic activity, conjuring images of ancient highlands, invading seas, and the slow, relentless action of sedimentation and compaction. While thinking about this drama, I charted a loose trajectory across the surface of a single expanse of sandstone at the island's northwest edge. I used my camera to map its diversity of visible forms -- the 'micro-events' of color variations, cracks and divots, distributions of lichens, etc. -- shooting in short bursts so that images might accumulate like falling waves.

Recent Screenings:
-54th Ann Arbor Film Festival, 16 March 2016, Ann Arbor, MI (link); 
-27th Onion City Film Festival, 5 March 2016, Chicago, IL (link); 
-"First Thought, Best Thought: A Compendium of Camera Roll Films," The Film-Makers' Cooperative, 4 December 2015, New York, NY (link).

FAMS Professor Pooja Rangan interviewed for "Fresh Faculty" feature

December 9, 2015

The Amherst Student interviewed Professor Pooja Rangan to find out what her hobbies are and her advice for students in Film Studies.

Read the interview.

Film and Media Studies Program Expands with New Faculty, Courses and Events

October 13, 2015
By Rachel Rogol

Students in Adam Levine's Experimental Cinema course gathered together under a tree on Valentine Quad.

Now in its sixth year, Amherst’s Film and Media Studies (FAMS) Program recently appointed two new faculty members and is offering more courses (24 this academic year) and public film screenings (with internationally renowned artists and scholars) than ever before.

The FAMS program originated at Amherst in 2009 and officially launched as a major in fall 2010. Since then, the program has steadily gained momentum. Nine students have graduated as majors and nearly two dozen filmmakers and scholars have shown their work on campus. In fall 2014, Adam Levine, assistant professor of art, film and media studies, oversaw the installation of a black box studio in Fayerweather Hall; students majoring in film and media studies, as well as art and the history of art, can access it any time, day or night.

Last fall, Professor Amelie Hastie—the first FAMS faculty member and current chair of the program—oversaw the hires of new faculty members Pooja Rangan and Joshua Guilford.

Hastie says she's particularly excited about the areas of study and practice that Rangan and Guilford bring to the program, which complement her own scholarship, as well as Levine’s creative work and research. "What's interesting is how we all intersect," Hastie says. Levine and Guilford explore experimental film practice and theory in their courses and creative work. Hastie and Rangan, both published feminist media scholars, focus on narrative fiction and documentary film cultures, respectively. And though the four approach film and media from different perspectives, Rangan says, “We all share an investment in questioning normative film studies.”

In addition to being on the faculty in the FAMS program, Hastie, Rangan and Guilford are also members of Amherst's English department, and Levine is a faculty member in the department of art and the history of art. Many other professors from various academic departments also contribute to the FAMS curriculum, in part, Hastie says, because of the program's inherently interdisciplinary nature.

Christian Rogowski, professor of language and literature in Amherst's department of German, was an early advocate for the FAMS program and has taught courses about the German contribution to the emergence of film since before the FAMS program began. "The FAMS program was created in recognition of the fact that developing an awareness of how media operate is a crucial component of a liberal arts education," Rogowski says. "In today’s media-saturated world, it is increasingly important, especially for young people, to gain an understanding of how media images are constructed and how they impact our sense of being in the world."

Film & Feminism: Amherst Scholar To Deliver Distinguished Lecture at International Women’s Film Festival

May 21, 2015
By Rachel Rogol

Ida Lupino
Actress and filmmaker Ida Lupino (1918–1995)

“I am not exaggerating when I say that women have been publicly calling for better roles behind the camera for a hundred years—almost since the inauguration of film itself,” writes Amelie Hastie in the most recent issue of "The Vulnerable Spectator," her recurring column in the academic journal Film Quarterly.

Hastie, professor of English and film and media studies at Amherst, has written extensively about historical and contemporary women in film. Her first book, Cupboards of Curiosity: Women, Recollection, and Film History (Duke University Press, 2007), explores notions female authorship in the silent-film era.

Her 2009 book The Bigamist, authored for the prestigious BFI Film Classics series, examines the directed works of actress and filmmaker Ida Lupino, which Hastie describes as providing “a complex commentary on the fantasies and fears of mid-century domestic life in the USA” from a female point of view.

It’s this research on Lupino in particular that will bring Hastie to the 17th annual Seoul International Women’s Film Festival to deliver the distinguished lecture “Ida Lupino and Historical Legibility” on June 1. Lupino, an English-American actress and filmmaker, was the only woman actively directing in 1950s Hollywood and the first woman to star in a film she also directed. As an expert on her life and work, Hastie will examine Lupino’s filmmaking career and consider why her name and accomplishments have been largely lost to cinematic history.

Hastie’s lecture will be part of a retrospective honoring the late film star. What’s interesting about a retrospective of Lupino in 2015, says Hastie, is that her directed works explored various social issues in mid-20th-century America that are still relevant, and her 48-year cinematic career is especially relevant to the career trajectories of women in film today.

Hastie suggests a variety of complex reasons for why such an enigmatic figure would fall to the margins of history, including a lack of attention by feminist scholars as well as the much more widespread sexism in and out of the academy. Regarding the latter, she references a New York Times article published in December 2014 and a viral Tumblr blog that persistently tells personal stories of women facing bias in the industry and casts Hollywood today as a perpetual “boys club.”

In her teaching at Amherst, Hastie says she interjects her own feminist training in every course by insisting on the presence of women filmmakers in students’ studies. At the film festival in South Korea, Hastie hopes the collective efforts to screen and discuss films by women will help revive figures like Lupino and empower contemporary women filmmakers to change not only filmmaking practices but also history itself.

Production and Critical Studies Student Work, with Ken Howard '66

Ken Howard '66 returned to Amherst College as a Croxton Lecturer in fall 2012 to teach "The Role and the Self." A winner of Tony and Emmy Awards and most the recent president of the Screen Actors Guild, Howard is known for his roles TV series such as "The White Shadow" and "30 Rock" and films including J. Edgar. His course was about more than just the craft and history of acting, however—its aim was to help students develop their writing and speaking skills, media literacy and understanding of human behavior. In the final two weeks of class, students demonstrated what they'd learned, performing sonnets and character roles.

"Knowing Television"

October 12, 2010
By Peter Rooney

For all the hand-wringing about “What’s on TV these days,” working for television—as a writer, for example, or director, producer, actor, or cinematographer—remains an alluring goal for many a liberal arts graduate contemplating his or her professional future.

As well, there is no doubt that television continues to have a profound impact on society, whether through opinion-laden shows on Comedy Central, Fox and MSNBC; sports broadcasts and talent shows on the major networks; or appointment television dramas on premium networks such as HBO and Showtime.

Making sense of the “vast wasteland,” which is what Newton Minnow, the Federal Communications Commission chairman called television way back in the medium’s early days, is the goal of “Knowing Television,” a course in the film and media studies major that launched this fall.

The class is taught by Amelie Hastie, associate professor of English and chair of the recently formed program in Film and Media Studies, who describes it as follows in the college’s course catalog:

“For better or worse, U.S. broadcast television is a cultural form that is not commonly associated with knowledge.  This course will take what might seem a radical counter-position to such assumptions—looking at the ways television teaches us what it is and even trains us in potential critical practices for investigating it.  By considering its formal structure, its textual definitions, and the means through which we see it, we will map out how it is that we come to know television.” 

“Knowing Television” is a blend of theory and practice, with readings ranging from McLuhan to Freud that students are expected to reflect upon in writing each week so that Hastie can determine whether the 29 students taking the course are absorbing its lessons.

During a recent class, she added another task to their next reading assignment, René Descartes’ seminal meditation, “Concerning God: That He Exists.”

“What I want you to do is this,” she announced: “Every time Descartes says ‘God,’ insert the word ‘television’ and see how that works. We’re thinking about an infinite source of knowledge and an infinite production of knowledge and belief.  So, how do we apply that to our understanding of television?” (After the class, Hastie said she realized this assignment may seem odd, but its intent was to spark to discussion, and it succeeded in that.  “The students ended up being able to make connections across the various readings in critical studies of television in connection with it,” she said.)

Then, Hastie turned to introductions, summoning Rubicon producer Henry Bromell '70 to the Stirn Auditorium lectern and calling the guest speaker, one of three visitors this semester,  “the model of the Amherst alum.”

“He’s someone who’s done many things,” she said. “He’s a writer of novels and short stories, a writer and producer for television, and while he’s been working across these fields he’s totally excelled.”

Casually dressed in blue jeans and a striped blue shirt, holding a coffee cup as he ambled to the stage, Bromell, who’s written or produced for shows such as Northern Exposure, Chicago Hope, Homicide: Life on the Street and Brotherhood, recounted that his career in television had its roots on campus, where he arrived with a deep fondness for cinema but found little in the way of formal coursework.

“The college was very amenable to my suggestions, though,” he said. “I started a film society, finagled some Super 8 film and proceeded to make some really bad films.”

He credited professors for encouraging his love for writing and film, singling out English professor John Cameron as being especially supportive. Working in television had never occurred to him, he said, until Josh Brand, the creator of Northern Exposure, sought him out after reading some of his short stories.

In working with Brand, Bromell joined a small network of colleagues who were interested in subverting rules of various television genres such as the medical drama and detective show. That meant, he said, they began inserting more “parentheses and asides” into scripts, focused on ensemble rather that star-driven shows, and borrowed cinematography techniques from admired directors such as Robert Altman and Jean-Luc Godard.

Those Bromell has collaborated with over the years have included David Chase, who would go on to create The Sopranos, and who hired him to write for I’ll Fly Away; Barbara Hall, the creator of Joan of Arcadia and Chasing Amy; and David Simon, the creator of The Wire and Treme

The people he mentioned, Bromell said, had one common denominator: they didn’t set out to work in television, but once there they found it to be an interesting–and worthwhile–medium, with its own set of challenges and opportunities.

“We turned our ambition and judgment to what was on hand, and we started this run,” he said.

Bromell’s run continues, most recently with Rubicon, an AMC drama that focuses on the analysis side of gathering intelligence in a post-9/11 world, when making sense out of information overload is a nerve-wracking, never-ending challenge.

For students taking the course, perspectives like Bromell’s are eye-opening in that they help reveal the richness and influence of a medium that they may have underestimated.

“Even though there is a lot of trashy television out there, there are many gems as well that can stand their own against the various ‘high-class’ media of today,” said Leah Longoria ’12. “Analyzing the television medium is just as important as analyzing film or literature, especially if you think about how much most of us watch it. I mean, most of us spend more time watching television than we do eating. How can we  not analyze something that we spend so much time with?”

As the end of the class approached, Bromell fielded questions from students about visual influences for Rubicon (1970s conspiracy-themed movies such The Conversation, All the President’s Men and The Parallax View,  he said, along with directors Alan J. Pakula and Francis Ford Coppola); television viewing habits of young adults and how to measure them (“When they tell me, ‘Your demo is too old,’ I can honestly look them in the eye and say, ‘How do you know?’ Because they don’t.”); and the “political economy” of Rubicon appearing on basic cable rather than on pay cable. (The major difference between the two, according to Bromell: “HBO doesn’t have to sell ads, which means they’re in a different game. They’re in the subscription business.”)

As the class wrapped up and a student pressed him for thoughts on the future of television, Bromell had no simple answers.

Network television has lost 60 percent of its audience since Bromell started working in it during the early ’90s, he said, and there’s no reliable way to measure viewing habits of advertising’s most coveted demographic–young adults who increasingly are viewing most of their television on their computers. Those who do watch actual televisions tend to fast-forward through commercials, still the main source of basic cable and network revenue.

What it all adds up to, Bromell concluded, is that those in charge don’t know what to do.

“They’re making it up,” he said. Still, Bromell believes television is an important medium that, in the right hands, allows stories to be told in thought-provoking ways.

 That said, he finished with a smile, “I’m not asking you to watch more television.”