Growing film courses over 26 years


By Mary Louise Speer


Whatcom Community College film courses are geared towards challenging students to think beyond their initial emotional response and determine what aspects are essential in crafting a memorable movie.

Film classes offered during spring quarter include “Introduction to Film,” “Film Genres” and “Film Adaptations,” as listed in the Spring 2013 catalog. Other cinematic courses, taught at on a rotating basis through the academic year, include “American Women Filmmakers,” “History of Film,” and other genres.

Successful completion “isn’t just a matter of sitting in a classroom and watching a film,” said Bob Winters, division chair for Whatcom’s Arts and Humanities programs.

Winters said the classes aren’t geared towards making movies. Whatcom doesn’t have the equipment or facilities needed for making student productions, he said, and students learn about movies as an art form and also as an industry. The curriculum aligns, more or less, with what students attending film school would experience in their first year of studies, Winters said.

In their classes, Whatcom film instructors highlight aspects of motion picture making from camera work to lighting, acting, editing, story structure and sound. The classes “really help students understand how a movie experience is a combination of all of those [factors],“ Winters said, “by the talented people who make movies.”

Tools for crafting motion pictures have evolved since the first moving pictures of the late 1800’s, however, “there are things done by filmmakers back in the 20‘s and 30’s that I think any cinematographer would be proud to do today,” Winters said.

Early movies such as the 1903 film, “The Great Train Robbery” show the shift to creating the forerunners of today’s features.  Winters said it was amazing what was accomplished in that short movie. “It tells a complete story in a tiny bit of time, all through editing,” he said.

Whatcom instructor Michael Falter teaches several film classes and is the program director for the Pickford Film Center in downtown Bellingham. “I definitely teach out of the sheer love of film,” he said.

Falter said he likes helping his students learn how to view the bigger picture, and part of the experience is screening a film at the Pickford. In his “Film Adaptations” class, students learn adaptions means more than just adapting films from literary sources. Falter also shows them “how different generations will interpret that same material” based on current happenings in society, relaxed censorship standards, and fresh interpretations of civil rights.

Winters initially began teaching film classes 28 years ago when Whatcom “was a college without walls,” he said.  The offering was listed as an English course. Since that time, tools for screening the medium have progressed from 16-mm film, to videotape and laser discs, and now DVD technology.

The 2013 film curriculum satisfies requirements for listed electives and most classes satisfy humanities requirements, Winters said. “I think it’s a topic that students enjoy learning about,” he said.

Winters said people will occasionally approach him with suggestions about adding more courses, however, the college budget plays a significant role in deciding when to introduce new topics. Animation would be an interesting course to develop, he said, adding there are no plans for that addition.

“I think we have a pretty good foundation,” Winters said. “My intention in growing this discipline is to be careful and conscious of what students really need.”

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