Fall 2021

This one-credit screening course is available to Film Studies students. Regular attendance and participation is required throughout the semester.

Professor Ellen McCallum 
Thursday, 7:00pm, B122 Wells

From early cinema actualities to contemporary television and film, documentary film structure has had a deep influence on both cinema and on culture. This class explores documentary as a formal structure of societal critique and question, one that allows the viewer a glimpse into the lives and situations that we live in. We will look at the the historical trajectory of the genre, considering along the way the methods of distribution and reception of the films studied. Along the way, we will consider the relationship between the directors and the subject, as this is an often troubled and complex relationship that is often set aside when reviewed for public distribution. Coursework will include written analysis of films, weekly screenings, and in class discussion.

Professor John Valadez
TBA

This course introduces core concepts of film analysis, which are discussed through examples from different national cinemas, genres, and directorial œuvres. The coursework covers a wide range of styles and historical periods in order to assess the multitude of possible film techniques (camera techniques, editing, shot selection, etc.) and principles of narrative structuring. Along with questions of film technique and style, we consider the notion of the cinema as an institution that comprises an industrial system of production, social and aesthetic norms and codes, and particular modes of reception. Success in the course demands rigorous attention to both the films and the readings and requires students to watch, analyze, and write about film in new ways. Throughout the semester, students will learn different methods of viewing, analysis, exposition, and criticism and will have the opportunity to write extensively about the films seen in class. Films discussed include works by Brakhage, Burnett, Deren, Griffith, Eisenstein, Hitchcock, Sembene, Sternberg, and Welles.

Professor Kuhu Tanvir
Tuesday 9:10-12:00, Thursday 9:10-11:00, Friday 50 min. (varies by section), B122 Wells

The films of Stanley Kubrick

Dr. Rick Blackwood 
Tuesday 4:10–7:00; Thursday 4:10–6:00; B122 Wells

What’s changed in filmmaking technology in the past 20 years, and what impact does that have on the stories we tell? Have digital image-making tools, editing software, and distribution channels fundamentally changed the types of stories being told and the types of artists telling them? In this hybrid course we introduce students to a variety of emerging filmmaking technologies and give them a grounding in technical skills necessary to then move on to higher order concerns of storytelling. We screen, analyze and discuss new works and look over the evolution of filmmaking technology and how it relates to this historical moment. And students produce a variety of work in documentary, fiction, and experimental forms, focusing on iteration and repetition to hone filmmaking skills. 

Professor Ling Hsu
Monday 4:10–7:00; Wednesday 4:10–6:00; EBH 307

This course surveys the history of cinema from the end of the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century. Moving chronologically, we will track a variety of national schools and international trends of filmmaking in order to analyze the global development of film exhibition practices, the emergence of film audiences, and more broadly cinema’s role within the public sphere. We will examine the formal, industrial, and cultural changes of the medium from cinema’s emergence through the conversion to sound in the late 1920s. We will also explore the variety of national and international movements form the 1930s to the 1940s—including German and French cinemas, classical Hollywood cinema, and Japanese studio productions pre- and postwar. Through taking a broad and comparative approach to the history of cinema, we will gain critical perspective on the forces that shape the medium’s profoundly transnational character. To assist in this process, we will engage with a variety of primary and secondary textual sources in order to assess and cultivate theoretical methods for researching and writing film history.

Professor Joshua Yumibe
Tuesday 12:40-3:30, Thursday 12:40-2:30; B122 Wells

Screenwriting. Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? Well, it can be, but mostly it’s learning proper formatting, plot structure, characterization, good dialogue. Weekly workshops, ten to fifteen pages per week. Yes, hard work. But by December you will have a full-length script and you will know that you can do it.

Professor Bill Vincent 
Monday, Wednesday 7:00–8:50

Part of the Fiction Film Specialization, Film Directing immerses students in the job of the director through a combination of film screenings and production projects. By studying the works of great directors, and working through a series of filmmaking projects which culminates in the creation of a 3-minute short, students learn first hand the challenges and triumphs of Film Directing. See examples of previous student work.

Professor Jeff Wray 
Tuesday, Thursday 12:40–2:30, 307 Bessey

TBA

Professor Swarnavel Pillai
Tuesday 4:10–7:00; Thursday 4:10–6:00; EBH 307

TBA

Professor Bill Vincent
Monday 12:40–3:30; Wednesday 12:40–2:30; B122 Wells

Film theory examines how cinema uses all the means at its disposal—including images, sound, words, and narrative—to engage us emotionally and phenomenologically. Film theory takes up fundamental questions about representation in cinema, including what film is, how it represents, how it innovates aesthetically and evolves different styles. Film theory is concerned with individual films as well as how the cinema works as a system that has social, political, and cultural significance. Film theory also considers how movies fit into a broader context of media, art, and storytelling. As a mode of intellectual inquiry, this course in film theory builds upon the skills for analyzing film that you learned in English 230, but pushes you to refine and complicate how you watch films, even as some of the texts we will consider push the limits of filmmaking or of thinking about film. This course draws on the work of key film theorists from the first part of the twentieth century; our primary focus will be on film, although the role of other media—particularly theatre and photography—will come into play. 

Professor Kaveh Askari 
Monday 4:10–7:00; Wednesday 4:10–6:00; B122 Wells

Design and development of documentaries in a team setting using video and audio, still photography, web design, and print media. Participation in a production cycle including idea generation, research, design, production, and distribution. Capstone course for the Documentary Production Minor.

Cross listed with JRN411. Enroll in JRN411.

Professors Swarnavel Pillai & John Valadez 
TBA

Okay, you’ve written a script, now what? Revision, tightening, polishing. Workshopping. Another full- length script, better than the first one. Pitching. Treatments. Log lines. Tag lines. After all, you want to know how to sell it.

Professor Rick Blackwood

Tuesday 12:40–3:30; Thursday 12:40–2:30

The capstone class of the Fiction Film Specialization tasks students with writing, producing, finishing and distributing a short film over two semesters. In the first semester, students must form a production team, create and polish a short script, and move through the processes of pre-production and principle photography–no small feat. The professors are there to act as guidance and councel, but make no mistake: students are truly thrust into the independent filmmaking world. Past productions have gone on to screen and win awards at film festivals in Michigan and beyond.

Pete Johnston; Rola Nashef
Tuesday, Thursday 12:40–2:30; EBH 307

TBA; meets with FLM 200.

Professor Ellen McCallum
Thursday 4:10–6:00, C640 Wells; Thursday 7:00–10:00, B122 Wells

This course examines the history and legacies of modernism and modernity in and around the cinema. Moving from the mid-nineteenth century to our contemporary media landscape, we will explore topics such as industrialization and mechanization, the formation of mass culture, commodity fetishism, ethnographic surrealism, modernist poetry, and the avant-garde. The relationship of these topics to film—ranging from slapstick comedies and musicals to experimental and postcolonial works—will be discussed throughout the semester. As a theoretical context, readings will focus on the writings of Walter Benjamin and his interlocutors, in particular Siegfried Kracauer and Theodor Adorno.

Professor Joshua Yumibe 
Tuesday 9:10–12:00; Thursday 9:10–11:00; EBH 307

Spring 2022

This one-credit screening course is available to Film Studies students. Regular attendance and participation is required throughout the semester.

Professor Kuhu Tanvir
Thursday 7:00pm, B122 Wells

This course introduces core concepts of film analysis, which are discussed through examples from different national cinemas, genres, and directorial œuvres. The coursework covers a wide range of styles and historical periods in order to assess the multitude of possible film techniques (camera techniques, editing, shot selection, etc.) and principles of narrative structuring. Along with questions of film technique and style, we consider the notion of the cinema as an institution that comprises an industrial system of production, social and aesthetic norms and codes, and particular modes of reception. Success in the course demands rigorous attention to both the films and the readings and requires students to watch, analyze, and write about film in new ways. Throughout the semester, students will learn different methods of viewing, analysis, exposition, and criticism and will have the opportunity to write extensively about the films seen in class. Films discussed include works by Brakhage, Burnett, Deren, Griffith, Eisenstein, Hitchcock, Sembene, Sternberg, and Welles. 

Professor Joshua Yumibe 
Tuesday 9:10–12:00, Thursday 9:10–11:00, Friday 50 min. (varies by section)

TBA

Professor Bill Vincent

Monday 12:40–3:30; Wednesday 12:40–2:30; EBH 307

TBA

Mashya Boon

Monday 9:10–12:00; Wednesday 9:10–11:00; B122 Wells

What’s changed in filmmaking technology in the past 20 years, and what impact does that have on the stories we tell? Have digital image-making tools, editing software, and distribution channels fundamentally changed the types of stories being told and the types of artists telling them? In this hybrid course we introduce students to a variety of emerging filmmaking technologies and give them a grounding in technical skills necessary to then move on to higher order concerns of storytelling. We screen, analyze and discuss new works and look over the evolution of filmmaking technology and how it relates to this historical moment. And students produce a variety of work in documentary, fiction, and experimental forms, focusing on iteration and repetition to hone filmmaking skills. 

Pete Johnston
Tuesday 4:10–7:00, Thursday 4:10–6:00

This course surveys the history of cinema from the middle of the twentieth century to the present. Moving chronologically, we will track a variety of national schools and international trends of filmmaking in order to analyze the global development of film exhibition practices, production cycles and trends, and the changing landscape of distribution. We will examine the formal, industrial, and cultural changes of the medium from neorealism and film noir to the blockbuster franchise cinema of Michael Bay. Putting Hollywood in dialogue with its various “others,” we will engage a variety of national and international film movements:  global new waves, auteur and art cinemas, Third Cinema, experimental film, exploitation cinema, contemporary “slow cinema,” and more. We will also discuss key moments in the transformations of Hollywood since 1948: its postwar boom, the blacklist, the decline of the studio system, the rise of independent production, the demise of the production code, the New Hollywood of the 1970s, and the film industry’s gradual conglomeration. The course’s final weeks will be devoted to exploring the so-called “death” of film in the digital domain, from the rise of computer animation and digital 3-D to revolutionary changes in the distribution and consumption of cinema. This broad and comparative approach to the history of cinema will engage with a variety of primary and secondary textual sources in order to assess and cultivate theoretical methods for researching and writing film history. 

Professor Kaveh Askari 
Monday 12:40–3:30, Wednesday 12:40–2:30, B122 Wells

This course offers an exploration of the documentary film as a category on its own, with an implicit opposition between nonfiction and fiction films. Starting with the early silent films (actualities) we will study the opposition between “fiction” and “document.” Through the different theories of the documentary form, and by studying various forms of the documentary film, we will explore how a filmmaker mediates between the viewer and the subject as he tries to represent or reconstruct reality. We will analyze the different styles of the documentary films and their content to discuss the fundamental issues concerning the documentary form: What is the “voice” of documentary? Is it possible to film an event objectively? How does persuasion inflect a documentary? How does a documentary persuade its viewers? What is the role of narration in documentaries?

This course has an equally significant production component to it, and it will introduce the students to the basics of production like shooting with a camcorder or a DSLR still/video camera. The semester will be divided equally between learning history, theory, and production, and the students are encouraged to shoot with easily accessible technology like the cell phone or the DSLR cameras and edit their footage with the basic editing software installed in their computer or in our editing lab. The focus will be on informed narration and creativity.

This is an interdepartmental course that is required for the Minor in Documentary Production. Students should register for MI 311.

Professor Alexandra Hidalgo
TBA

This course introduces students to significant discourses surrounding ‘acts’ in a screenplay. Starting with the foundational “three-act” screenplay, it interrogates the strengths and weaknesses of formulating rigid structures. Students in this class will learn conventional as well as alternative ways of thinking about the structure of screenplay through analysis of mainstream, art as well as independent categories of films. The aim is to enable students to look critically at the screenplay of seminal and significant films so that they can work out a structure for the story they want to tell. The students in this course are expected to engage with the creative process of writing a screenplay by watching, analyzing, and discussing films, while at the same time pitch their ideas, and observe the transformation these ideas undergo as they work toward the final goal of writing 1/3rd of their story in a chosen screenplay format—in the conventional sense it could be the act-1 and the beginning of act-2, or the end of act-2, and the act-3, but one could opt for an episodic, or a short film, or other unconventional format as well.

Professor Swarnavel Pillai
Monday, Wednesday 4:10–6:00, EBH 307

This course introduces students to significant discourses surrounding ‘acts’ in a screenplay. Starting with the foundational “three-act” screenplay, it interrogates the strengths and weaknesses of formulating rigid structures. Students in this class will learn conventional as well as alternative ways of thinking about the structure of screenplay through analysis of mainstream, art as well as independent categories of films. The aim is to enable students to look critically at the screenplay of seminal and significant films so that they can work out a structure for the story they want to tell. The students in this course are expected to engage with the creative process of writing a screenplay by watching, analyzing, and discussing films, while at the same time pitch their ideas, and observe the transformation these ideas undergo as they work toward the final goal of writing 1/3rd of their story in a chosen screenplay format—in the conventional sense it could be the act-1 and the beginning of act-2, or the end of act-2, and the act-3, but one could opt for an episodic, or a short film, or other unconventional format as well.

Professor Rick Blackwood
Monday, Wednesday 12:40-2:30, Wells Hall A236

TBA

Professor Kuhu Tanvir
Tuesday 12:40–3:30, Thursday 12:40–2:30, B122 Wells

Film theory addresses fundamental questions about the possibilities and limitations of the medium of film, and about the nature of representation, technology, aesthetics, subjectivity, politics, and culture that have gone into film as a cultural phenomena as well as the way that film itself has made contributions to these aspects of our lives. Starting from the late 1960s, contemporary film and media theory explores the development of thinking in and around the cinema and its related arts into the present-day. We will be following the development of film theory chronologically, looking at technological, aesthetic, and political changes in film as it moves from an analog medium into the digital age. We will also move thematically, looking at major trends of thinking in and around film including (but not limited to) psychoanalysis, Marxism, feminism, postmodernism, postcolonialism, and other relevant schools of thought. The purpose of this course is to give you a working understanding of how film theory has developed over the course of the twentieth century, leading to questions of film and its status as a technology, medium, and cultural form today. The central approach of this class is that both films and readings illustrate important conceptual and theoretical problems of the medium of cinema and, thus, both films and readings will be treated with equal importance. This course relies upon your active participation in readings, screenings, and class discussion and so it is vital that you come to class prepared with questions and concerns from the theoretical texts as well as specific formal details from the films.

Professor Ellen McCallum 
Monday 4:10-7:00, Wednesday 4:10-6:00, B122 Wells

This seminar explores what anthropologist and media historian Brian Larkin calls the “poetics and politics of infrastructure” through a range of films, videos, and art practices, from the late nineteenth century to the present. Both omnipresent and unseen, infrastructure has a way of receding from view until it fails, often catastrophically. Think of the BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill, the Dakota Access Pipeline stand-off, or even closer to home, the Flint water crisis. Globally, contemporary debates about the Anthropocene have brought into geological visibility the vast infrastructural project of modernity, one whose disastrous ecological implications, one would think, can no longer be refuted. Following the catastrophic Trump administration, which came to power on the promise of linking a restrictive nationalist vision to promises of infrastructural renewal, President Biden has promised to turn stake his narrow Democratic majority on a major infrastructure agenda.

Infrastructure, for ever-more-urgent reasons, continues to structure and demand our attention, our energies, and our resources, in every sense. Infrastructure’s current return to visibility in political and civic life has produced a discernible infrastructural turn in arts and humanities scholarship over the last decade. “To be modern,” as historian of technology Paul Edwards once insisted, “is to live by means of infrastructures”—systems that link the various scales of time, space, and social organization, and thus form the socio-technical foundations of modernity itself. This renewed attention to the substrates of modernities past and present is apparent in a range of disciplines and interdisciplinary formations, from film and media studies and theory, to art and architectural history, cultural studies, literary studies, urban studies, environmental studies, postcolonial studies, science and technology studies, the digital humanities, and their various intersections and overlaps.

This seminar aims to provide a broad introduction to the infrastructural turn in film and media studies, making visible the buried networks and systems that bring modern communities into being, inspire political activity and imagination, and organize bodies, labor, and commodities. Infrastructure has long been at the heart of debates about citizenship, democracy, and visions of a just public life. In this course, then, we will pay particular attention to the infrastructural dimensions of modern media, which function not just to transmit messages, but as what John Durham Peters calls “the fundamental constituents for organization.” This is what Peters and others have identified as the logistical dimension of media. World-enabling infrastructures,” media track and orient us in time and space, manage data and world, distribute and manage bodies and populations, and shift the basic conditions of culture and being.

Our goal will be to discuss how and why infrastructure has returned as a crucial critical problem in film and media studies, as well as for humanities scholars, for a range of artistic practices, and for contemporary civic and political life. We will pursue the substrates of cinema on two levels at once: we will explore infrastructure’s visibility in film and video (as representation, as documentation, as a formal and aesthetic matter); and we will think about film’s own infrastructures—the materialities, ontologies, resources, and modes of distribution that lay beneath film, and constitute the medium’s conditions of possibility. We will attempt to foster an infrastructural attentiveness to how and where media come from, what resources they consume and distribute, and how, elementally, they came to be what they are. Films and videos will be chosen for the range of infrastructural imaginaries and objects they take up.

Professor Justus Nieland

Tuesday 9:10–12:00; Thursday 9:10–11:00, EBH 307

Design and development of documentaries in a team setting using video and audio, still photography, web design, and print media. Participation in a production cycle including idea generation, research, design, production, and distribution. Capstone course for the Documentary Production Minor.

Cross listed with MI411B. Enroll in MI411B.

Professors Ling Hsu and John Valadez 
Time TBA

Okay, you’ve written a script, now what? Revision, tightening, polishing. Workshopping. Another full- length script, better than the first one. Pitching. Treatments. Log lines. Tag lines. After all, you want to know how to sell it. 

Professor Bill Vincent 
Monday, Wednesday 7:00-8:50, EBH 307

The capstone class of the Fiction Film Specialization tasks students with writing, producing, finishing and distributing a short film over two semesters. In the first semester, students must form a production team, create and polish a short script, and move through the processes of pre-production and principle photography–no small feat. The professors are there to act as guidance and councel, but make no mistake: students are truly thrust into the independent filmmaking world. Past productions have gone on to screen and win awards at film festivals in Michigan and beyond.

Peter Johnston & Rola Nashef
Tuesday, Thursday 12:40-2:30, 307 EBH 

TBA

Professor Jeff Wray 

Tuesday 4:10–7:00, Thursday 4:10–6:00, B122 Wells

TBA

Professor Kuhu Tanvir 
Thursday 4:10–6:00, C640 Wells; Thursday 7:00–10:00, B122 Wells

TBA

Professor Rick Blackwood
Monday 9:10–12:00; Wednesday 9:10–11:00; EBH 307

This course offers an introduction to methods of interpreting, writing on, and teaching film. It is designed to help graduate students to develop a research or teaching trajectory in cinema and media studies for their work at MSU and beyond. Students will begin by engaging with tools of close analysis and basic concepts of film form. They will move from there to categories of genre, authorship and other critical traditions, central to the formation of the discipline of cinema studies, that discuss aspects of the medium as a social institution, psycho-sexual apparatus, and cultural practice. The course will introduce students to subfields of film historiography, industry studies, and of studies of media infrastructures as they pertain to cinema as a medium in global circulation. Screenings will include work by filmmakers such as Burnett, Deren, Eisenstein, Hitchcock, Jia, Kiarostami, Mambéty, Rohrwacher, and Weber.

Professor Joshua Yumibe 
Tuesday 12:40-3:30, Thursday 12:40–2:30, C640 Wells

This seminar explores what anthropologist and media historian Brian Larkin calls the “poetics and politics of infrastructure” through a range of films, videos, and art practices, from the late nineteenth century to the present. Both omnipresent and unseen, infrastructure has a way of receding from view until it fails, often catastrophically. Think of the BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill, the Dakota Access Pipeline stand-off, or even closer to home, the Flint water crisis. Globally, contemporary debates about the Anthropocene have brought into geological visibility the vast infrastructural project of modernity, one whose disastrous ecological implications, one would think, can no longer be refuted. Following the catastrophic Trump administration, which came to power on the promise of linking a restrictive nationalist vision to promises of infrastructural renewal, President Biden has promised to turn stake his narrow Democratic majority on a major infrastructure agenda.

Infrastructure, for ever-more-urgent reasons, continues to structure and demand our attention, our energies, and our resources, in every sense. Infrastructure’s current return to visibility in political and civic life has produced a discernible infrastructural turn in arts and humanities scholarship over the last decade. “To be modern,” as historian of technology Paul Edwards once insisted, “is to live by means of infrastructures”—systems that link the various scales of time, space, and social organization, and thus form the socio-technical foundations of modernity itself. This renewed attention to the substrates of modernities past and present is apparent in a range of disciplines and interdisciplinary formations, from film and media studies and theory, to art and architectural history, cultural studies, literary studies, urban studies, environmental studies, postcolonial studies, science and technology studies, the digital humanities, and their various intersections and overlaps.

This seminar aims to provide a broad introduction to the infrastructural turn in film and media studies, making visible the buried networks and systems that bring modern communities into being, inspire political activity and imagination, and organize bodies, labor, and commodities. Infrastructure has long been at the heart of debates about citizenship, democracy, and visions of a just public life. In this course, then, we will pay particular attention to the infrastructural dimensions of modern media, which function not just to transmit messages, but as what John Durham Peters calls “the fundamental constituents for organization.” This is what Peters and others have identified as the logistical dimension of media. World-enabling infrastructures,” media track and orient us in time and space, manage data and world, distribute and manage bodies and populations, and shift the basic conditions of culture and being.

Our goal will be to discuss how and why infrastructure has returned as a crucial critical problem in film and media studies, as well as for humanities scholars, for a range of artistic practices, and for contemporary civic and political life. We will pursue the substrates of cinema on two levels at once: we will explore infrastructure’s visibility in film and video (as representation, as documentation, as a formal and aesthetic matter); and we will think about film’s own infrastructures—the materialities, ontologies, resources, and modes of distribution that lay beneath film, and constitute the medium’s conditions of possibility. We will attempt to foster an infrastructural attentiveness to how and where media come from, what resources they consume and distribute, and how, elementally, they came to be what they are. Films and videos will be chosen for the range of infrastructural imaginaries and objects they take up.

Professor Justus Nieland

Tuesday 9:10–12:00; Thursday 9:10–11:00, EBH 307