After Possible Removal, Claire Trevor School of the Arts Announces Continued Support for Digital Filmmaking minor

by: Maison Tran

Photo credit: Corey Cao Nguyen

The Claire Trevor School of the Arts (CTSA) announced renewed support for the Digital Filmmaking minor on Oct. 30. This support comes after initially announcing that the minor would no longer be supported by the Art Department — a move that sparked protest and petition.

DigiFilm is a minor under the Art Department in the CTSA that provides students with hands-on filmmaking learning, rather than film analysis as taught in the Film and Media Studies major. Students and supporters of the program are still concerned about its future as the CTSA has provided contradictory information. This has led students to question the support of the CTSA for the minor and corroded their trust in certain members of the CTSA administration.

“We’re being deceived,” senior and President of DigiFilm Society Corey Cao Nguyen said. “They’re not being truthful about their intentions. They’re not operating in good faith.”

The issues began when Associate Dean of the CTSA John Crawford announced that the Art Department could no longer financially support DigiFilm at a DigiFilm Society annual meetup on Oct. 2. Art Department Chair Kevin Appel declined to comment.

Crawford then said that CTSA Dean Stephen Barker, Dean of the School of Humanities Tyrus Miller, Film and Media Studies faculty and himself have been meeting in hopes of bringing outside support to both continue and expand the DigiFilm minor under both schools.

“We have a new Dean in the Humanities who’s visionary about combining things together,” Crawford said. “We have the Dean in the School of the Arts who is also visionary about Humanities and Arts supporting each other. As I see it, it’s a really exciting time to move forward.”

According to Nguyen, who contacted the Humanities faculty directly to ask about these meetings, the faculty said that these meetings were mischaracterized by Crawford, and that the School of Humanities had no interest in taking on DigiFilm. However, Miller, Humanities faculty and Barker all declined to comment.

Crawford then sent out a DigiFilm curriculum update via email on Oct. 30 announcing that the DigiFilm minor had received additional funding from Provost Enrique Lavernia, and that two more courses were going to be offered this year in addition to the nine already offered.

The email also explained that in the future, DigiFilm would be expanded as a track under Emergent Media + Design (EM + D), a program directed by Crawford. However, this program would be strictly under CTSA, without the support of Humanities.

For now, students who are currently enrolled in the DigiFilm minor will be able to graduate with it by the end of the school year. Students are still striving to receive full transparency from CTSA administration going forward and are working with faculty and administration to reach an agreed form of student representation and input for DigiFilm’s future curriculum.

DigiFilm faculty declined to comment on any of this.

Many students were highly alarmed at the initial announcement on Oct. 2, as DigiFilm had grown substantially since its start in 2015, and to the students’ knowledge, had never been under threat. Now with more than 300 students, the minor is highly competitive due to limits in class space, admitting only 15 to 20 students a year. 

In addition to CTSA’s limited budget, part of the funding problem with DigiFilm lies in it being a minor. Because it is not a major, it relies solely on the small budget it receives from CTSA and lab fees that students pay. Students’ base tuition does not go towards funding the program. Students and faculty sent a petition to Provost Lavernia and Dean Barker in July 2018 asking for support for the minor to become a major.

After the initial Oct. 2 announcement, many students were concerned that they would not be able to finish the classes they need to graduate with the minor.

Some students like senior Gabriella Salinardo must take DigiFilm courses to fulfill Art Honors graduation requirements. Other students such as senior Megan Sullivan stayed at UCI specifically for the DigiFilm minor. Sullivan was able to graduate her third year but stayed an extra year, paying full tuition and board expenses, to complete DigiFilm.

“It’s really frustrating to know that I spent all this money for this one thing,” Sullivan said. “And now they’ve pulled the rug out from under my feet, one class away from me finishing it.”

Many were also concerned why, amidst UCI’s Brilliant Future fundraising campaign, which had raised more than $776 million according to the campaign’s official website, the Art Department still had trouble funding DigiFilm. However, in an email to the New University, Crawford said that the minor would not be terminated, and that some of the funds raised from Brilliant Future would go towards supporting DigiFilm.

According to Crawford, the new track of EM + D that DigiFilm would later be expanded under offers experience with new technologies, such as augmented and virtual reality, spatialized audio and live character animation.

However, some students are skeptical of this change in DigiFilm’s curriculum. Sullivan said that shaping the program to fit another department would change the unique character of DigiFilm.

“As a student, I’m not interested in that,” Sullivan said. “I think the really important thing about DigiFilm isn’t about new technology, it’s about new stories. It’s something that makes DigiFilm really unique is that we have women, people of color, queer stories being told for the first time … about stories and people that are finally shared, who five years ago couldn’t be shared in Hollywood.”

DigiFilm has given students a variety of opportunities for filmmaking, such as partnering with the Global Service Scholars to send students to South Africa, Paraguay and Nepal to create documentaries and do volunteer work.

DigiFilm student Ryan Wang filming in Nepal
Photo credit: Corey Cao Nguyen

Fourth year Nancy Nguyen had the opportunity to create a documentary on the last gay bar in Garden Grove, titled “Frat House.” The documentary was screened at the 2019 Newport Film Fest and received publicity from Daily Pilot and Advocate.

“Before that class, I would’ve broken anything I touched. After taking that class going into this documentary class, I was already able to go out and make this doc,” Nguyen said. “I’ve been really grateful for all the advice and time that they’ve given me, to be able to tell this story, and to tell it with dignity and to develop relationships with people in the [queer] community.”

CTSA Associate Dean for Undergraduate Affairs Alan Terricciano, who met with students and has been an advocate of DigiFilm’s continued funding, told New U that aligning student interest with faculty interest is crucial in creating quality curriculum going forward. Crawford told the New University in an email that student input was accepted in the form of an interest survey.

Following the initial announcement on Oct. 2, DigiFilm students and board members of DigiFilm Society created a petition on Oct. 11. This petition demands immediate search for support for the program, a new faculty tenure position specific to DigiFilm and full transparency through student representation by agreed upon means. The petition received more than 450 signatures and 70 testimonies.

“It’s been frustrating, to say the least, to see that administration doesn’t seem as committed to this program as we are, and they’re being especially opaque and non-transparent about it,” Nguyen said. “I mean, we’re all adults here, and we’d appreciate at least the directness of conversation to really inform us of what’s going on.”