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Case Study: Women Filmmakers

COLEG/CPLIT 300. Professor Patricia O'Neill, Hamilton College

Please provide the course description as it appears in the catalog and the typical enrollment for the course.

The history of cinema takes on new dimensions when the focus is on women filmmakers. Their contributions begin with the earliest productions of the silent era; their influence ranges from narrative and documentary to experimental films; and their work raises awareness of the different struggles in women's lives around the world. By raising questions of genre, gender, and cultural identity, this course will investigate alternative histories of cinema and develop new approaches to feminist film theory. Prerequisite, one course in film or permission of instructor.

Enrollment varies from 7 this semester to 20 in other semesters

What are the learning goals of the media assignment(s) in the course. If your course assignments contain both analysis and creative production components, describe the learning goals of each.

There are two filmmaking assignments. The first is a one-minute film shot in the camera without editing. The purpose is to re-enact the conditions of the earliest silent films called "actualities." This assignment familiarizes the student with the camera and the importance of setting up the mise-en-scene for each take. There is some room for creativity since the students can choose any subject for their one minute shot.

The second assignment is a 3-minute remake of a sequence from a film we have seen in class or another film that demonstrates any of the issues about filmmaking that our course has examined. Students present the original clip and their remake. The goal is to give students hands-on experience of how all of the different elements of filmmaking must come together to create meaning for an audience. This exercise sharpens their critical awareness of film language and in particular how films create expectations about the representation of women. There is nothing creative about this assignment yet students feel that their solutions to problems in recreating the lighting, angles etc require a great deal of creativity on their part.

What are the relationships of the media assignment(s) to the other aspects of the course?

The media assignment make concrete the theoretical knowledge students learn from reading, class discussion and paper assignments.

Describe your assignment design/structure.

ITS gives the students a workshop on how to use the camera and instructions about where and when they can borrow cameras for their assignments. Storyboards and a rationale for choosing a particular sequence to remake is required before they shoot their second films. Another workshop later in the semester reviews the basics of Final Cut Pro and students meet individually with ITS to store, edit, compress and create the DVD for their presentations. Two class periods are given to student presentations of their films, one for the first assignment and one for the second.

To what extent does your assignment design address issues of visual/aural literacy?

Filmmaking addresses visual literacy in a very specific genre. I do not think that learning film language automatically translates to visual literacy in other genres.

To what extent does your assignment design address issues of information literacy?

The students meet with a librarian to develop resources for their research paper. This is not directly related to the media projects and the media projects do not require research, if this is what is meant by information literacy.

To what extent does your assignment design address issues of technology skills?

Learning to use a digital camera and to shoot and edit film that recreates the look of a professional film gives students an incredible high. They learn quickly how complicated the process is but then again they learn that cameras and editing programs are tools that they can master.

What are the resources necessary for your assignment (content/materials, institutional support, equipment)?

The course requires a room with excellent A/V equipment, black out curtains, and decent screens. This is a huge commitment on the part of our institution. The assignments also require library support for the research paper and ITS support for the media projects, including digital cameras, work stations with Final Cut Pro, professional and student support at night to help students complete their projects.

Describe how you evaluated the project outcomes? Did you evaluate process? Outcomes? Both?

I mainly evaluated the projects on the finished films and the written introductions that students made to accompany the presentations of their films. I gave them two grades: One for concept and one for technical competency. In the second assignment, because they were working in teams of three, I also asked for individual summaries of their experience in the process of completing the assignment. This was mainly to make sure that everyone had contributed to the project. But it also gave me extra information about what issues were most on their minds and how they resolved them. Since most of my students this semester had little or no experience with cameras and filmmaking I was more lenient in the final grade, although I still noted where they fell short in their conception or execution of the projects.

Estimate the time invested in the project by you, your students, and academic support staff.

My students and I and the support staff met outside of class two hours for the first workshop. The students spent time (probably at least a 1/2 hr and maybe more) setting up and shooting the 1 minute film. They met with ITS to download their films for presentation.

For the second assignment, my students met with ITS during a time when we would usually be watching a film to do their editing workshop. The students put enormous effort into scheduling, setting up, shooting and editing their remakes. (My guess is 20 hours for each student since they did work as teams on the entire process) I do not know how much time they spent with ITS interns or staff to complete their projects.

How many times have you taught this course/assignment? What would you do differently next time?

This is the first time I have focused this course on women filmmakers but it is the fifth or sixth time I have given these assignments. I will not change the assignments but I need to do some extra work on connecting the assignments to the ideas and themes of the course.

What is your level of expertise with respect to media technologies and scholarship?

There was a time when I felt fairly confident of my knowledge of the camera and iMovie. But my knowledge of Final Cut Pro is negligible. I have lots of theoretical knowledge of film technique and film history. I have published papers on film and made a couple of presentations on media and pedagogy.

Previous iterations of this course including an instructor created model, instructor comments and students projects can be found here.