Letter from the Chair

Spring 2021

Dear all,

I remember that last March, as the city and the University went into lockdown, I thought that everything would be pretty much over by June, and that by Fall 2020 things would be “back to normal.” Right now, that seems like a quaint thought. “Unprecedented” is certainly one of the more overused words in the academic, political, and cultural landscape, but it does seem to apply to the past year of remote instruction. It’s not that everything before was calm, normal, or even under control, but the sheer speed of change, of new information—and of new kinds of information—over the past fifteen months has been overwhelming.

The challenges have also changed so rapidly. From the stress and worry over the presidential election (and its ongoing aftermath) to the long-awaited roll-out of vaccines to the ravages of COVID-19 in India; from the ongoing work of Black Lives Matter, and the struggles against institutionalized forms of oppression, to the recent upsurge violence in Israel and Palestine—every day, every week, every month, seems to bring something new, something difficult, something unbearable.

We’ve all struggled at different times, and in different ways. We’ve helped each other, too. And we’ve also done amazing things. Our undergraduate majors completed their coursework; wrote exceptional theses; and made astonishing films. Our MAPH students navigated an exhausting situation to produce extraordinary work during their year here. And our PhD students continued to produce original research, projects, and scholarship that changes the way many of us think about film and media more broadly. Teachers have also responded, from graduate student instructors to senior faculty; in different ways, people have designed new kinds of courses, taught in new ways, and produced innovative—another buzzword—assignments. And throughout it all, we have had the extraordinary staff in the Department and in the Film Studies Center. I am grateful to them all.

The Spring quarter has been a busy one. We have had various events. An online screening of Judy Hoffman’s 2002 film, Stages: Three Days in Mexico – Britney Spears, drew a couple of hundred people. The Graduate Cinema Conference, a tradition stretching back almost twenty years, was held remotely in April after having been postponed a year ago, featuring extraordinary talks and screenings. Both the Mass Culture Workshop and the Digital Media Workshop continued to provide forums for conversation about ongoing work by students and faculty, and the latter recently hosted a public conversation between Christine Goding Doty, Tara McPherson, and Wendy Hui Kyong Chun on “White Supremacy, Affect, And Digital Culture.” We also began a new tradition of hosting a conversation with film and media scholars who have recently published their first books. We’re hoping to hold several events over the summer, and there is the promise of resuming in-person events this fall.

Perhaps most excitingly, CMS is part of a group that received an award of close to $500,000 from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) to preserve and present the history of the Guerrilla Television Movement. This three-year project, led by Media Burn, will digitize 1,015 videotapes produced from 1967-1979, a period when artists, activists, and community organizers utilized the new technology of portable video to create experimental works outside the restricted structures of broadcast television. The project partners include: Appalshop, Community TV Network (CTVN), Goldsen Archive for New Media Art at Cornell University, Kartemquin Films, Media Burn Archive, and New Orleans Video Access Center (NOVAC). The project will also create a dedicated portal, housed by the University of Chicago Library, to present this work. You can see a brief segment on the news here, and read more about the project here. We’re excited by the way this project aligns with the broader vision of creating a hub for community-created digital media that we have been developing over a number of years.

It’s time for the summer, to rest and recharge after a difficult year. It’s also a time in which we’ll all continue to develop ideas and projects, and so come back in the Fall with new things to do and present. I’m looking forward to that, and I continue to feel grateful to be in a department with these students, faculty, and staff.

I wish you all a wonderful summer, one in which a renewed social life becomes a source of pleasure and a pathway into a better Fall.

— Dan Morgan

Winter 2021

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost a year since the City of Chicago went into lockdown, and the University shut down the campus. We thought we might be back at the end of the spring quarter; then we thought it would be in the fall; now we are hoping for Fall 2021. There has certainly been some encouraging news lately, with the University’s schedule of vaccinations giving us no small measure of hope—but we have also learned to be cautious in our optimism.

The Winter quarter is usually a busy one, especially for students. PhD students are preparing job talks, applying for postdoctoral fellowships, and finishing work for internal deadlines. MAPH students are embarking on their theses. BA students are continuing to take a range of courses, and those who are undertaking a thesis project are entering the thick of it.

Many of the normal rhythms have changed from past years: students across all levels are dispersed, and remote instruction—from classes to mentorship—has challenged all the familiar patterns. Everyone has struggled, and in all sorts of different ways; it’s been a hard year. Yet our students continue to do extraordinary work, whether writing papers and theses and dissertations or creating new works of moving-image media. Looking at what’s being done, it’s an impressive testimony to the strength not only of each individual student but also of the community that surrounds all of us. We are all anticipating a return to normality, but it’s important to recognize what everyone achieved under difficult circumstances. And even though it will take a different shape, we will continue the tradition of celebrating all of our students at the end of the year.

There have also been many developments in the department over the past few months that are worth celebrating! Perhaps most excitingly, the new Media Arts and Design (MAAD) major was approved by the College and will begin accepting students for the next academic year. Housed within Cinema and Media Studies, and working out of the Media Arts, Data, and Design Center, students who graduate with a MAAD degree will not only learn aspects of media practice and design but will have a theoretically and historically informed understanding of the aesthetic, technical, and social context of the media they produce. Indeed, it is part of MAAD’s basic idea that those who make media should be able to think about its humanistic and technological capacities, and that those who engage in critical study should understand how to work with the objects they analyze. The interdisciplinary faculty will allow students to work across a variety of media, building on the successes of the MAAD minor and introducing a wide array of new intellectual and creative paths.

This newsletter also gives us the opportunity to gratefully acknowledge Rebecca West—featured in this issue! —who recently created the Marva West Tan Fund. The fund is named after her sister, Marva West Tan. Born in 1942 in Butler, Pennsylvania, Marva earned a nursing degree, and years later a B.A., but worked instead in areas of the medical field such as utilization review at hospitals nationwide, and as an author of numerous studies on diverse topics of use to physicians, medical administrators, and nurses. She gained prominence and was widely respected for her outstanding contributions, traveling extensively to run seminars for medical professionals all over the USA. Her untimely death in 2012 at the age of 69 was the result of a stroke, brought on in all likelihood by many years of harsh treatments for her rheumatoid arthritis. The Marva West Tan Fund will be used each year to support the intellectual activities of the department, primarily focusing on hosting speakers and filmmakers as well as supporting graduate student research. We are immensely grateful to Rebecca for her generosity, and for her continued commitment to Cinema and Media Studies.

Last, CMS has also begun working more closely with community institutions in Chicago. We’ve been collaborating in particular with Media Burn on a series of “Virtual Talks with Video Activists,” and we hope to have exciting news about future collaborative work to announce in the coming weeks. We’ve also begun discussions with Chicago Film Archives about creating annual graduate student internships that would teach practical archival and preservation skills along with aspects of public programming and curatorial work. Our goal is to have this begin in the fall.

It’s finally starting to turn to spring outside. The snow is melting; the weather has risen above freezing (for now). The spring will have more public events, both screenings and talks, as the Film Studies Center continues to develop new models of programming.

It’s been a hard year, to be sure. But I feel immensely grateful to be in such a community as this one, and am looking forward to everything that the coming year will bring.

— Dan Morgan

Autumn 2020

Welcome to the inaugural edition of The Long Take, the quarterly newsletter and blog produced by the Department of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago.

It is a strange moment to be beginning this newsletter. For many of us, students and faculty alike, the rhythms and habits of the academic year have provided a structure that has undergirded all sorts of changes in our own lives. The global pandemic has upset all of that. If the spring was about the desperation of trying to learn how to teach remotely, we’re now in a differently difficult stage of coming to grips with this situation as itself a normal activity. It’s brought with it a reminder of the fabric of our lives on campus, not least the regular interactions around the classroom and at screenings. How long will this current situation last? Is it a portent of more permanent shift? Amidst all the usual hustle and bustle, this is an underlying anxiety for many of us.

We all know that the shift to online instruction, and the move of all work to remote access, has been a profound transformation across the board, for faculty, staff, and students. That we have managed this transition relatively smoothly over the past seven months is due to our directors of study, and especially the extraordinary staff in the Department and in the Film Studies Center. I am grateful to them all.

We are also in the midst of other upheavals, national and local. The protests that followed the killing of George Floyd in the spring, as well as the looming election, have occasioned many conversations within the CMS community about how to respond these events, and the struggles against institutionalized forms of oppression. This involves the city and the University; it also involves us. For the faculty’s statement about Black Lives Matter, and also about the University’s plan for re-opening, please look here.

This fall we have been struggling with a different kind of upheaval. On September 7th, our colleague Robert Bird died after a nine-month struggle with colon cancer. Robert had been a vital presence in CMS, and his death shook everyone deeply. Jennifer Wild has written a moving and eloquent tribute to Robert for this issue, which gives a wonderful sense of his remarkable qualities as a scholar, colleague, and friend. We continue to mourn his passing—the name of this newsletter, “The Long Take,” is chosen in part to pay tribute to his work.

Yet we continue on, and continue to thrive. This year brings us two new faculty: Maria Belodubrovskaya and Thomas Lamarre, who will be central to the department for years to come. We also welcome a new graduate cohort; despite the fact that we cannot all be in the same place, they have already become a major part of our community. The Mass Culture Workshop continues to thrive, and was joined in 2019 by the Digital Media Workshop. And a recent virtual screening highlighted the extraordinary work of our undergraduate production students; the films shown that evening can be viewed here.

Other changes are afoot, too. The pandemic will reshape the possibilities of future employment for students, and we are working on designing a track for graduate students—MAPH as well as PhD—that focuses on global media and social justice, and that would emphasize skills and experience that translate for cultural organizations. We also continue to develop the new undergraduate minor in Media Arts and Design, which is attracting new faculty as well as new students to the department. And our recently re-designed undergraduate major has provided a much-needed overhaul to our curriculum, providing students with more possible trajectories through the program.

It is, in short, a new year, and one that is filled with excitement as well as anxiety. We hope that The Long Take serves as one of the many ways in which we are trying to create and maintain communities, that it can serve as a resource for current students and faculty, and that it can provide our alumni with snapshots of life in CMS.

— Dan Morgan