Film Studies department gets new outlook and expanded support from community

Amanda Hutcheson

Lou Buttino has a vision. As the new head of the Film Department, which has grown from 40 majors to 280 majors in two years, he has a lot of changes to keep up with.

“The administration has really been very supportive of that growth in terms of we’ve got a substantial amount of money to get our equipment up to speed even though we are behind with so many students,” Buttino said. “We are trying to keep our movie-making, actual film-making equipment, rising along with our digital equipment, and helping critical studies, that’s the other area of our department, to grow in terms of the rentals they need for DVDs or purchases for that.”

The school-owned equipment can only be used for class projects right now, but students are able to use their own equipment for projects as well.

The administration has created a new office staff position along with as two faculty positions, one in critical studies and one in production. Donations from parents have helped the department grow and new courses are also being offered. Buttino said that because of the growth, space for offices and classrooms is needed, but he emphasized that space limitations are a problem campus-wide.

Buttino said the department also needs more venues to show films. Kenan Auditorium is equipped to show digital films, and the department is trying to get it outfitted with projectors as well. This would provide room for 1,000 people to see a film. A new student theater opening on campus will also provide a place for screening films.

Offering films in venues available to the public will help raise the visibility of the department. “I want to raise the visibility of film studies as much as possible. I think that’s the way to attract maybe investors or partnering with other people,” Buttino said.

The department is also adding a summer internship program in Los Angeles. It will arrange for housing for students but will only be available for second-semester seniors.

Film Studies is also sponsoring a contest through “Film International,” a film journal. The contest would give the best writing by an undergraduate the Frank Capra Award and a $500 prize.

“Narrative film production is only one aspect of our department and its plans for the future,” said David Monahan, Assistant Chair of the department. “We’re expanding our critical studies faculty to offer expertise in a broad range of film scholarship covering international and experimental cinema. The department is working on mentoring and teaching students to apply the knowledge and experience gained as film studies majors not just to filmmaking, but to film scholarship, writing about film, graduate study and the broad array of application of cinematic language and analysis.” he said.

“We want to get our students out there,” Monahan said. “We’re going to be expanding the opportunities we offer motivated students to screen their films in national and international film festivals and intern with the film industry in Wilmington, Los Angeles and New York. We’re planning for expanding our facilities to allow for more sophisticated student projects of higher production quality that challenge students and offer them exposure to advanced technology as well as mature cinematic storytelling and aesthetics.”

Film studies also has a new program to help students get their work in film festivals and conferences. If students come up with unique screenplays, films or scholarly writings that stand out, the Film Department and UNCW will provide the financial support and encouragement to get the project to a film festival or conference.

In addition, the department is starting a “Summer Cinema Academy” for seniors and rising seniors in high school. It will be open to local students at first, but later to students nationwide. Students will come for two weeks and participate in a program taught by UNCW faculty and adjunct faculty. While increasing exposure, it also helps UNCW get a taste of the talent available, similar to recruitment by sports teams.

“I think the more national attention we get, the more exciting it is for our program in terms of people wanting to come here and people wanting to support the program.,” Buttino said. “If they hear about it, they hear that you’re doing wonderful stuff, which we’re starting to get calls from people about, then maybe we can get more donations, that type of thing. I’m hoping that someday maybe we can have a building.”

There is also hope for a film festival on campus. Such a festival would provide the community with a chance to see films different than what is offered in mainstream theaters and would generate excitement among the general community towards film. Buttino mentioned the possibility of a conference next February for film scholars to come and talk about a specific theme or director or other aspect related to film.

“I think the students will tell you it’s a very exciting time for film studies. We’re really trying to raise the bar with the support of the community here,” Buttino said.

But Buttino’s biggest vision involves the nature of the department itself.

“One of my big dreams is to set us apart as a different kind of film school. And that is to say, a lot of the old ways they taught film was tied to actual filmmaking. The digital revolution has changed everything in terms of how you shoot, how you edit, all that type of stuff. I would like to create a film center here that’s very different. So what’s happened is that nobody’s broken the mold. And I’d like to see us break the mold, and this is what I’m thinking, and I’ve talked to other faculty about it, is that film studies becomes a hub on this wheel,” he said.

Buttino went on to describe a system that would combine Film Studies with other departments to offer a major with a concentration in Film Studies. It would provide a more complete background. For examples, students interested in screen acting could major in theater with a concentration in Film Studies and receive background knowledge of the history and type of cinema. Students interested in animation could combine a Computer Science major with a Film Studies concentration or students interested in writing scripts could combine a Creative Writing major with a Film Studies concentration.

Film Studies students are encouraged to take advantage of any film opportunities in the area, including being extras, for the experience to be on the set. The department also has access to Reel Carolina and a list serves to help department students see what opportunities are available in town.

Screen Gems Studio in the area is a major asset to the department. Screen Gems is the largest production studio in a medium sized city, which offers students opportunities not available in Los Angeles or New York.

“We have a very intimate relationship with Screen Gems and the community here,” Buttino said. “Number one is we hire film professionals to teach in our department. We believe it’s very important to have people out in the field coming into the classroom. They also help students get jobs, and sometimes [the students] go to work for the person themselves so it’s a very good thing.”

Frank Capra Jr. of Screen Gems is one such distinguished professor on the faculty, and is described as a tremendous asset.

“The second thing is we have internships at Screen Gems and about fifty or sixty other agencies in the area. Almost anybody that’s doing anything in film, we have an internship relationship with them,” Buttino said.

“A lot of people are thinking that film has become a pretty powerful cultural medium, internationally. Some even think of it as a second language. So I think the more partnering we can do with film, it’s a way of really impacting students more and the community, but it also demonstrates our own growth,” Buttino said.