Assistant professor Sabrina Negri shows a scene from the 1903 film "The Great Train Robbery" Thursday during a film history class at the
Assistant professor Sabrina Negri shows a scene from the 1903 film "The Great Train Robbery" Thursday during a film history class at the University of Colorado Boulder. (Paul Aiken / Staff Photographer)

This summer, the University of Colorado's Board of Regents approved the Boulder campus' newest departments.

Biochemistry was split into two departments, chemistry and biochemistry, and the film studies program became the Department of Cinema Studies and Moving Image Arts.

The film studies program was already operating on its own budget and with its own cohort of faculty — and had been granting degrees since 1989 — so its leaders see the change as making "de jure what is the de facto function and identity of the unit." However, they also say the change in name and status will help the department gain national visibility and make students more marketable when they enter the job market.

"We wanted the promotion to department and the name change to show that we're no longer a dark horse," department chairman Ernesto Acevedo-Muñoz said. "We're no longer a marginal unit."

He cited recent national recognition of the department, including a ranking by Hollywood Reporter in August. CU's department broke into the Hollywood Reporter's annual ranking of the 25 best film schools, and the publication took note of the change in status and name.

In its blurb about the CU department, the publication wrote, "In June, it rebranded its film program: It's now the much more impressive-sounding Department of Cinema Studies and Moving Image Arts," and lauded the department for study abroad programs, a presence at film festivals and a push in independent filmmaking.


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The new name also better encompasses the changing nature of the industry — "film" is no longer a complete descriptor — and the department's emphasis on art-based education. The department emphasizes critical studies of film, rather than just the technical skills needed to make a film. Students study theory and history, too.

"We sincerely believe that it makes for better artists to know and understand the history, aesthetics and the major shifts in the development of their medium, and that it makes for better critical thinking for the historian or critic to know something about the technical and formal complexities of their object of study," Acevedo-Muñoz wrote in a blurb on the department's website.

For Mariah Diaz, a senior studying film production, she's become more well-rounded because of the wide array of classes and because she's written about and studied film.

"I've learned so much about what it means to be an artist, not just a screen writer or not just a director," she said. "I can read film, I feel like, much better because of this school."

Nick Houy, a CU alumnus and film editor on the 2017 movie "Lady Bird," put it this way in the Hollywood Reporter ranking: "What makes the school so unique, the emphasis on experimental film, DIY filmmaking, and most importantly film specifically — that is — the celluloid you hold between your fingers, up to the light. CU Boulder truly treats filmmaking as a fine art."

The department also has a preservation lab and plans to launch a program in film preservation and archival in coming years.

Preservation is relatively rare among university programs, either because they do not have the interest or the resources, assistant professor Sabrina Negri said. She is currently teaching a preservation seminar.

"Preservation is the discipline that makes sure that films are preserved and restored in order to be shown to audiences, even 100 years after they were made," Negri said.

The practice has become more complex in the digital age, she said. Film is a more durable medium to store. Put it in a cool, dry place and it will last for hundreds of years, she said. Digital files, by comparison, need to be migrated every few years. The program will encompass both theoretical and historical aspects, as well as work in the lab.

"We're very well equipped both technically and academically, and our alumni have become very prominent," Acevedo-Muñoz said. "We want that to continue and to be sure that our current students and our future students know that we are the real deal."

Cassa Niedringhaus: 303-473-1106, cniedringhaus@dailycamera.com