Twenty-first-century culture is filled with visual images. Students encounter a daily barrage of imagery via social media, computer games, movies, television, and advertising - all created to capture their gaze and generate clicks, engagement, likes, and shares.
Three faculty members believe that a contemporary definition of literacy must encompass not only verbal literacy, but visual literacy as well. They have launched a Film Studies minor to help students develop the visual literacy skills that are necessary to participate in the civic community and workforce of a society in which the visual image is vital to communication.
Bill Hamilton (English), Kerry Hustwit (Communication and Digital Media), and Jim Kain (Liberal Arts) collaborated for more than two years to develop the minor in which students will choose from a wide range of theory, genre, production, and special-topics courses.
“Visuals, television screens, and film are the primary ways in which we all experience the world, and yet it’s secondary in the academic curriculum,” says Kain. “We haven’t provided guidance or instruction about how to interpret this visual language through which artists and documentarians are speaking to us. Students are growing up in this visual world. In school, we focus on verbal literacy, and yet all these messages they’re getting are through a visual domain.”
Hustwit agrees. “Students’ symbol systems are changing in ways that are happening super-fast with emojis and memes. They’re seeing images on their devices constantly. Images have the power to influence us and affect us emotionally, yet students are not educated about how to analyze images through an ethical lens. We need to elevate the study of images to catch up to the level of sophistication of our students.”
There’s even a civic component to visual literacy. To interpret edited and manipulated images, sometimes presented as news, Hustwit believes that students need to understand the complexities of sound and video editing software.
The 18-credit minor includes one required course, CDM 301: Introduction to Film Analysis, and offers two concentrations: Film Analysis (mainly English courses) and Film Production (mainly CDM courses).
Courses include Scriptwriting for Theater and Media, Advanced Video Production and Editing, The Many Faces of Comedy, Diversity in Film and Drama, and Documentary Production.
The goals of the program are to help students understand the basic techniques and elements of film, develop the critical thinking skills necessary to analyze film, comprehend the relationships between film and other art forms, and broaden their multi-cultural perspective with exposure to film from around the world.
All three professors believe that the minor has a broad application. “It crosses all disciplines,” says Kain, who emphasizes the interdisciplinary and multi-cultural component of the program.
“Students are way ahead of the curve in this,” notes Hamilton. “They’re talking to people on the other side of the planet.”
Hustwit believes that the logical progression of the minor is to offer programs to the community through the Knightflix film club, which she organized and advises. Student enthusiasm for this club is so high that the group asked Hustwit to continue to meet during the summer (yes, you read that correctly). The club has met every two weeks since spring classes ended.
Tentative events are a film viewing and discussion on Saturday, October 8, (film to be determined) and a screening of original films by Knightflix members on Tuesday, November 23. Hustwit hopes that the Knightflix club can become an extension of the film minor, much like Neumann Media is an extension of the CDM major.
Eventually, the trio sees Sun Center Studios, Media Theater, and the Media Arts Council as potential partners for events and internships.