Film Class for the Classics

by James Hearne

Horizon Reporter

Bob Winters couldn’t say when the first film class was offered at Whatcom Community College. “It predates me,” he said.

            Winters, who has been at Whatcom since 1985, teaches three different film classes: Introduction to Film, International Film, and Film Genre, in fall, winter, and spring quarters, respectively. In fact, these are the only classes he ever teaches, as he is now the division chair of the Arts and Humanities department. He says that all his classes, and the classes of the other film instructors on campus, are always at or near capacity.

            Winters said that his selection of films is, “guided by a sense of classical canon that serves as an introduction to cinema.” He said that there are certain films he feels are paramount when discussing parts of cinematic history, for instance, “Birth of a Nation,” or “Citizen Kane.” These films are considered vital in the development of cinema. “It’s a little like doing a course on Renaissance literature,” he said, “and not covering Shakespeare.”

He tries to keep his personal taste out of it, he said, because he doesn’t want it to become self-indulgent.

            There is another reason Winters said has to be careful about what he picks. Time is a big factor, he said, because the classes he teaches meet for about two hours a day, twice a week. That means he has to pick and choose. 

       Winters said that when he arrived, films were still being shown in 16mm format, and the library only had one film in its collection: John Ford’s “Stagecoach.” He noted that he was the first to use videocassettes in class. He remembers, before video projectors were acquired, having to connect a bank of three TV’s so he could show a movie to his whole class.

            Winters said that Whatcom was quite interested when laserdiscs, the optical disc media format that was around 11 inches in diameter, came along. “There was such excitement around the new technology,” he said. “The quality you got was fantastic.” However, by the time the school had invested in 25 laserdisc players, and got them installed, the format was all but obsolete, and was slowly being replaced by DVDs.  

            Winters says that he would perhaps be interested in teaching a course that would revolve around a particular director, like Alfred Hithcock. He is limited, however, by student interest. He fears that not enough students know who Hitchcock is, and may not find the course interesting.

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