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May 19, 2008 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Reflections on Film Studies

As many of you will know, the recent proposal to incorporate the film programme into a new school of ‘Visual Culture’ was defiantly routed. With some 108 proposals made to the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, there was a clear indication that the proposal made little sense, both administratively and academically. To be frank, it reeked of bureaucratic wankery.

That is not to say there are no problems within the film school – there is evidence to suggest some changes would not go amiss. But the furore surrounding the proposal affirmed the popularity and relevance of the practical film courses, as well as the need to have a strong core of staff. Film as a discipline has only recently been considered legitimate within the academic community and needs more support, not less, to encourage the ever growing body of postgraduate students to continue their studies.

Most interestingly, the complete lack of academic support for the proposal indicated that the woolly concept of ‘visual culture’ was exactly what we expected, a nonsensical cover for some sneaky manoeuvres. Even the Art History department, who stood to gain the most (and have since been approved a second professor) denied the legitimacy of such a notion, as stated at the meeting of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences Board;

We do not accept the academic rationale for the “visual culture cluster” as outlined in the proposal.

Not that many of us really believed this to be the true impetus behind the proposal. This suspicion was confirmed at the meeting between Faculty staff and students in March – when asked about the disinclusion of Media Studies from the proposal (the natural home of visual culture) Prof. Deborah Willis stammered that the concept itself might be rethought in the broader context of the restructuring. Ergo, it meant shit. As the initial proposal suggests (and yes Prof. Willis, most of us did actually read it, despite your condescending insinuation that we were all reactionary hotheads at the aforementioned meeting), it is the concept of visual culture that would give the inclusion of film in the school of Art History some kind of vague legitimacy. With that gone, nothing made sense. There is, however, some evidence to suggest that a Faustian pact may have been made between a member of the film department and certain members of the Faculty. The reason for this curious alliance is not entirely clear, but may be a result of the bitter disputes that went on in the film department last year between staff members. That particular academic cat-fight was successfully mediated by the end of 2007 but it appears animosity lingers still. Let us hope that by securing the future of the film department (at least for this year) there will be a renewed drive to patch things up . . .

Recently there have been suggestions that Professor Simon Jenkins, Head of the Design school would be interested in a potential interdisciplinary link with schools at Victoria campus under the auspices of Visual Culture, something that seems to make far more practical sense. Who knows, maybe something useful may come out of all of this?! Interdisciplinary ties between different schools, I believe, are hugely lacking at Victoria. There is so very much to be gained from watering down the Cartesian model and allowing us to think across a broader spectrum . . but more on that later.

As VUWSA President Joel Cosgrove succinctly put it: “We got what we wanted”. Whether that was entirely a result of student resistance is unclear, although it sure as hell helped. Apparently now the Faculty of Education is under threat, with the potential of 24 academic redundancies. Rally the troops! Grab your torches and pitchforks! Another fierce attack on our venerated institution. Seriously though, if non-film students can see the idiocy of the FHSS proposal, here’s hoping we can get our shit together and lend our support to the next generation of teachers. Lord knows they’re a dying breed right now.


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