How Film and Media Studies Developed at Tufts

Not so long ago, in a nearby galaxy that included Medford, there was a college that unknowingly was about to witness a curriculum revolution.

In 1964, Tufts didn’t own a single movie projector. He didn’t own any copies of any movies and most teachers had no interest in getting any. But in those years there appeared a generation of new recruits who had frequented the art cinemas of Europe and America, where they had immersed themselves in the works of masters like Fellini, Antonioni, Bergman, Eisenstein, Buñuel, Kurosawa and Truffaut, then all but unknown on campus. I was one of those new recruits. Each of us had a story; Here is mine.

Growing up in Hoboken, New Jersey, I went to see the “pictures” three times a week with my Polish-born grandmother, who spoke only Yiddish. I started thinking about college after seeing the Marx Brothers in horse feathers with all those football players and an older woman called “the campus widow”. My plans were sealed at the age of 6 after seeing Knut Rockne, All-American and became a Notre Dame football fanatic. And in the middle of World War II, I couldn’t get enough of Humphrey Bogart or Errol Flynn fighting the Germans and the Japanese. Thirty years later, I gave a mini-course at Tufts called Five Films of Bogart: Warner Brothers Goes to War. My grandmother would have loved it.

But even before I set foot on a college campus, movies were part of my upbringing. Everything I knew about the American Civil War, for example, I learned from Clark Gable and Carried away by the wind. So it was with Seymour Simches, Georgette Pradal, Martine Loutfi and Juan Alonso in the Romance Languages ​​Department, as well as other early filmmakers at Tufts. We used to meet at the Brattle Theater or the Orson Welles Cinema in Cambridge, or the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline. No one had expertise; there were no film courses in graduate schools these days. We loved movies and theorized ourselves about their relationship to culture and art.

Young enthusiasts who quickly joined us – Vida Johnson in Russian Studies, Joel Rosenberg in Judaic Studies and Christiane Romero, who focuses on post-war Germany – took our discussions to the next level. Then Jeanne Dillon arrived at the department of Romance languages ​​in 1979 and relaunched the study of Italian cinema. She could be seen staggering up the hill from the college post office with huge spools of La Strada or The good life borrowed or rented from a local collection. That same year, a young poetry scholar named Lee Edelman arrived in the English department, and his course on Alfred Hitchcock became as popular as Sylvan Barnet’s Shakespeare course. Dillon and Edelman brought even more insight to our film discussions. It was no longer just an appreciation; it was literary criticism.

Television pioneers

The Tisch Library’s extensive film and media collection includes shelves of movies on DVD and videotape. Photo: Alonso Nichols

Meanwhile, others at Tufts were drawn to television – and they wanted to try it themselves.

In 1977, Andy Liebman, A78, E14P, founded Tufts University TV (TUTV), which aired local game shows like The roommate gamea take-off on The Newlywed Game, as well as Jumbo news and sports. Instant replays of basketball games were a particular challenge. Liebman’s former colleague at TUTV, Tony Bennis, A79, said the station met him tying a rope around the cameraman’s belt. Every time there was a shot they wanted to replay, Bennis would tug on the rope. Once there was a big hit and he shot so hard the cameraman fell to the ground.

Another television pioneer was Gerald Gill, who joined the history department in 1980 and embraced the format of television documentaries, serving as a key consultant on programs such as Eyes on the prize, the PBS series on the struggle for civil rights.

Then, in 1982, Howard Woolf arrived at Tufts’ Experimental College as associate director of media technology. Ex College offered a few courses in film studies, but Woolf felt that just as some students wanted to do TV shows, others wanted to do movies, not just talk about them. He also realized that TUTV could help these students. The campus was outfitted with a wired network for the station, new digital technologies that kept coming were commissioned, and TuftsFilmWorks, the university’s first dedicated film production program, emerged as Venus from the shell. of clam.

In a short time, the magic expression “communications and media” had imposed itself. Ex College began offering a minor in communications and media studies, and it quickly became the most popular on campus. Tufts’ Tisch College has hired Julie Dobrow to lead a program in media and public service. Woolf hired one of his former students, Don Schechter, A01, AG03, who had his own media production company, as a film lecturer. And the School of Engineering made way for an editing laboratory and then created a minor in multimedia arts.

As media interest continued to grow, the drama department stepped in, led by Laurence Senelick and Downing Cless. The library’s budget reflected acquisitions in new formats – 16mm film reels, then a variety of tapes, DVDs and other media – and after a donation in 1992, the second floor of the Wessell Library, today Tisch Library has become the Bernstein Media Center. . Recently, the library had over 25,000 “film/video units”. With streaming, the Tufts community now has access to over 200,000 articles.

A new academic program

Filmmaker and Tufts professor Jennifer Burton, center, works with Kaveh Veyssi, A14, and Lai-San Ho, A13, on a short film at Crane Hall in 2014. Photo: Erin Baldassari for Tufts UniversityFilmmaker and Tufts professor Jennifer Burton, center, works with Kaveh Veyssi, A14, and Lai-San Ho, A13, on a short film at Crane Hall in 2014. Photo: Erin Baldassari for Tufts University

Three presidents of Tufts – John DiBiaggio, Larry Bacow and Tony Monaco – gave their blessing and raised funds for the study of different types of media. When Nancy Bauer became Dean of Academic Affairs for the School of Arts and Sciences, she saw that Tufts already had a cadre of world-class film scholars like Susan Napier in Japanese animation, Kamran Rastegar in Arab/Iranian cinema and Xueping Zhong, which examines Chinese culture through film and other media. Bauer built on this foundation and assembled a core faculty interested in film studies and filmmaking, including veteran Hollywood and independent filmmakers Jennifer Burton, A24P, and Khary Jones.

Tufts graduates quickly reaped the benefits. Take Lai-San Ho, A13, who worked on Burton’s web series Old mana comedy that stars Burton’s late father and draws on her experience as an actor facing ageism: she’s now the editor of the popular TV show It’s us. However, the truth is that the Jumbos have been making their way into the media world for quite some time. Among them are Meredith Vieira, J75, the former host of Today; Ben Silverman, A92, whose many accolades include an Emmy for production Office; and a host of agents, scouts, publicists, composers, playwrights, actors and others, many of whom got a head start from Tufts’ Winternship program and a group of alumni of LA called Tufts Entertainment, Arts, and Media.

Finally, in 2015, with the cheerleading of Jim Glaser, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, Tufts birthed a new University Arts and Science program that would integrate and expand the university’s offerings by communication and media: film and the media. Program of study, in which students could obtain a major or a minor. Malcolm Turvey, the first college history faculty member with a doctorate in film studies, came to Tufts to lead the program, accepting a professorship named after a Hoboken kid who grew up going to movies. (That’s right, he’s the Sol Gittleman Professor of Film Studies.) Turns out Turvey himself was brought up in the movies, only later, and in the UK, where those old Alec Guinness films made at Pinewood Studios and other classics were available on BBC2. and Channel 4.

In 2016, the program he leads had only six majors. At last count in 2021, there were over 100 majors and 25 minors. And what are all these students learning? Opportunities for hands-on training abound, but Turvey’s primary goals relate to developing critical thinking and other soft skills that will serve students well, regardless of career. Understanding the editing of a TV ad, for example, can help viewers understand how that ad is trying to persuade them to buy a product.

Yet there is more to Turvey’s educational philosophy than that, as he also notes that when watching a film instead of just a commercial, a general film education “allows you to appreciate and appreciate the talent artistry and the creative brilliance behind the work. “Spoken like a real movie buff. Turvey, it seems, is really my kind of teacher, one who likes nothing more than to sit hypnotized by moving images in the dark.

Sol Gittleman is Professor Emeritus of Alice and Nathan Gantcher University and former provost of Tufts.