Film

The study of film is primarily concerned with motion picture history, theory and criticism. These areas are approached through intensive critical analysis of individual films, through research into the primary documents of filmmakers and the film industry, and through the construction of theoretical models of film forms and styles, national cinemas, film genres, and the economics of the film industry. Film production is meant primarily for students studying history, theory and criticism as a way to enhance their understanding of the practical decisions filmmakers confront. The program is not designed for students whose sole interest is in film production.

Recent and forthcoming graduate level seminars include:

  • Metacritical Poetics (Professor Ben Singer)
  • Documentary Theory (Professor Vance Kepley)
  • Film Stylistics (Professor Lea Jacobs and Emeritus Professor David Bordwell)
  • Film and Allegory (Professor Jeff Smith)
  • Cognition, Emotion, and Evolutionary Aesthetics (Singer)
  • Film Historiography (Kepley)
  • The Hollywood Blacklist (Smith)

Recent and ongoing dissertation topics have examined:

  • Science Fiction and the American Film Industry (Brad Schauer)
  • The Hollywood Social Problem Film (Pearl Latteier)
  • Robert Altman before M*A*S*H (Mark Minett)
  • Stalinist Cinema in the Soviet Union (Maria Belodubrovskaya)
  • The Cinema of Errol Morris (David Resha)
  • The Invention of Robert Bresson: Style and Taste in the French Cultural Market for Quality Cinema, 1934–1959 (Colin Burnett)
  • Eastman Color: Technology and Aesthetics (Heather Heckman)
  • The Experience of Video in American Art of the Seventies (Eric Crosby)

 Need more information? Watch this video brought to you by Jenny Oyallon-Koloski, Maureen Rogers, and Nora Stone, three graduate students in the program.

So you want to study movies? from Nora Stone on Vimeo.

Criteria for "Good Standing" in Communication Arts

The degree track normally requires four semesters of coursework, with three courses per semester. Students admitted to the program are expected to complete the following masters curriculum:

  • CA 355: Introduction to Media Production
  • CA 358: History of Documentary
  • CA 454: Critical Film Analysis
  • CA 455: French Cinema
  • CA 463: Avant-Garde Film
  • CA 556: American Film Industry: Studio System
  • CA 664: Classical Film Theory
  • Two 900-level seminars.

Some required courses may be waived if the student already has taken equivalent courses (to be determined by the student's advisor after reviewing syllabi and other relevant materials). Students who enter the program without an undergraduate degree in film may be required to take additional coursework.

The MA Comprehensive Exam consists of six hours of writing, distributed across three questions, followed by an oral defense. Exam areas and reading lists are determined in consultation with the students' core faculty members. There is no option to write a thesis in lieu of the comprehensive exam.

Students' progress will be evaluated by the film faculty as a whole each year; a meeting to discuss performance may be required.

Successful completion of the Master's degree requires 30 credit hours of coursework. This requirement includes that at least 50 percent of these credit hours must be received in courses specifically designed for graduate work, which the Graduate School defines as: courses numbered 700 and above; courses numbered 300-699 that are specifically designed for graduate students in a graduate program; courses numbered 300-699 that assess graduate students separately from undergraduate students; courses numbered 300-699 that have a graduate student enrollment greater than 50 percent in a given semester. If you have any questions about which courses meet these requirements, contact your advisor, the Director of Graduate Studies, or the graduate coordinator.

Criteria for "Good Standing" in Communication Arts

The PhD in Film prepares students for a future scholarly career. It is designed to train students to conduct research and to disseminate knowledge in the classroom and in other professional settings. Reflecting this overall aim, the program integrates course work, research, and teaching experience.

Successful completion of the PhD requires 51 credit hours of coursework. This requirement includes that at least 50 percent of these credit hours must be received in courses specifically designed for graduate work, which the Graduate School defines as: courses numbered 700 and above; courses numbered 300-699 that are specifically designed for graduate students in a graduate program; courses numbered 300-699 that assess graduate students separately from undergraduate students; courses numbered 300-699 that have a graduate student enrollment greater than 50 percent in a given semester. Coursework taken towards the completion of a Master’s Degree in the Department of Communication Arts may count toward this requirement. Coursework taken outside of the Department and UW-Madison may count toward this requirement with the approval of the Graduate Committee. If you have any questions about which courses meet these requirements, contact your advisor, the Director of Graduate Studies, or the graduate coordinator.

Requirements for Successful Completion of Degree

  • Comm Arts 665: Contemporary Film Theory
  • Comm Arts 958: Seminar in Film History (when taught as Historiography of Film)
  • Completion of a 12 credit minor
  • Successful completion of the PhD Preliminary Exam
  • Timely progress towards the dissertation and successful dissertation defense

A tool requirement may also be required. Typically, the tool requirement involves the acquisition or certification of advanced skills in a language other than English. Such fluency is expected of students working with documents and texts related to the study of particular national cinemas. The specific terms of the tool requirement are worked out in consultation with the student's advisor.

PhD Minor

The 51 graduate-level credits required for the PhD include work in the doctoral minor. The minor requirement is designed to give breadth to the doctoral program and should expose the student to subjects and/or methodologies that expand upon and complement his or her work in Film. The minor requirement can be fulfilled in one of three ways:

  • Option A: 12 credits in a single department other than Communication Arts
  • Option B: 12 credits distributed across two or more departments other than Communication Arts; may include non-Film courses within Comm Arts (distributed minor)
  • Option C: 12 credits outside the Film area in Communication Arts (intradepartmental minor)

Preliminary Examination

Upon completion of the above criteria, a PhD preliminary examination totaling 12 hours of writing is administered. The examination is administered three times a year:

  • Late August
  • End of the fall semester
  • End of the spring semester

The examination covers a combination of general and specialized areas. General-area segments of the exam test overall knowledge of film theory, history, and criticism. One specialized-area segment tests the student's anticipated dissertation area, to be chosen in consultation with the student's advisor.

Dissertator Phase

Upon passing the preliminary examination, the student enters the dissertator phase. The student begins by writing a dissertation proposal. The aim of a dissertation proposal is to articulate a scholarly question or problem and a plan for addressing it. The proposal should:

  • Identify and explain the significance of the dissertation topic
  • Analyze the state of the scholarly literature on the topic
  • Describe preliminary arguments or hypotheses the dissertation will investigate
  • Identify the primary research sources for the dissertation
  • Sketch out a research and writing schedule

The proposal is developed in consultation with the student's advisor and must be formally approved by the advisor before the student may proceed with writing the dissertation. Once the proposal has been approved, the student must form his/her dissertation committee. A dissertation committee consists of five members:

  • The student's advisor
  • At least two members from within the program
  • At least one member from outside the department

In accordance with Graduate School policy, doctoral students must orally defend and deposit the dissertation within five years from the date of passing the preliminary examination.

Heather Heckman (2014)
"Undervalued Stock: Eastman Color's Innovation and Diffusion, 1900-1957"
University of South Carolina

Mark Minett (2013)
"Expanding the Standard Story: Rethinking "Early Altman" and the Elaboration of Classical Hollywood Storytelling"
University of South Carolina

Billy Budd Vermillion (2011)
"Art Cinema in Eastern Europe, 1956-1981"
University of Illinois

Colin Burnett (2011)
"The Invention of Robert Bresson: Style and Taste in the French Cultural Market for Quality Cinema, 1934–1959"
Washington University in St. Louis

Maria Belodubrovskaya (2011)
"Politically Incorrect: Filmmaking under Stalin and the Failure of Power"
University of Wisconsin, Madison

Bradley Schauer (2010)
"Science Fiction and the Exploitation Tradition in Hollywood, 1950-1986"
University of Arizona

David Resha (2010)
"The Cinema of Errol Morris"
Birmingham-Southern College

Pearl Latteier (2010)
"The Hollywood Social Problem Film, 1946-1959"
Johnson Health Tech