In my opinion, the University of Chicago's Cinema & Media Studies program is one of the most outstanding and underrated programs out there. I loved my experience getting a B.A. in CMS! (There's also a PhD program, but I'm speaking about my experience as an undergraduate.) However, it's not for everyone. I'll run through a list of important points that anyone considering the program should be aware of.
1. Core Classes. Every student in the College at UChicago must complete a large number of rigorous Core Classes ranging from physical and biological sciences, mathematics, and social sciences to arts and humanities. In fact, these Core Classes will take up about a third of your studies as an undergraduate. If you want to go to a school where you'll just be studying your major, UChicago is not for you. However, if you are open to it, I think having the opportunity to take classes in such a variety of disciplines actually ends up benefitting you.
2. Major requirements. There are a few prerequisite courses for the major including Intro to Film Analysis (basically a crash course in critical viewership and film language), plus a two-quarter sequence called History of International Cinema. I was lucky enough to be taking the History sequence when two very well-known professors were teaching it, and it's actually one of my favorite classes I took. I believe more recently the course has been expanded to a three-quarter sequence (when I was a student, it covered silent through 1960, but now it covers film up to present day.)
3. Thesis. Majors are required to complete either a written or intensive-track production thesis. The majority of students opt to do a written thesis, and all students must enroll in an additional seminar to prepare for their research, find a faculty advisor, and work with a graduate preceptor. You are also expected to provide periodic peer feedback to your classmates on their work and progress during this seminar. Writing a thesis was simultaneously one of the most terrifying and rewarding undertakings during my time as an undergraduate, but I'd say it's well worth the pain. Not only do you get to develop a relationship with and receive personal feedback from a professor, but also the research skills and knowledge you gain from the process are a big plus. My thesis was called From Canvas to Camera: F.W. Murnau's Intertextual Filmmaking Practice (I wrote a joint thesis with the Art History department, and both departments were very accommodating about allowing me to choose an interdisciplinary topic because of my second major.) For my few classmates who did production theses, their films were screened at the end of the year for everyone to see.
4. Facilities. I was very impressed with the facilities available. The majority of my classes were held in theaters either at Cobb Hall where the Film Studies Center is, or at the new Logan Center for the Arts which houses several state-of-the-art theaters as well. Logan also includes the Logan Media Center, which offers free training courses (I took a free training course in video editing in my spare time), a darkroom, printing facilities, equipment available for students to check out and work on projects, and a brand new computer lab with editing software. The majority of the film screenings for my cinema classes took place at Logan, which was really exciting because the facilities truly are top-notch. (You're also welcome to attend other courses' screenings!) Logan Center website: Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts
5. Events. There is something happening literally every single day. Special guests are constantly being brought in (one of my classes got to meet Agnes Varda as she personally guided us through her exhibition at the Logan Center), and there is always an abundance of lectures to attend. I remember at Halloween, Rockefeller Chapel did a screening of Faust with live organ accompaniment!
6. Doc Films. This is one of the most incredible student film societies ever. Located at Max Palevsky Cinema on campus, students create the programming of films to be shown each night of the week, every single night. For instance, Monday nights might be devoted to a particular director, Tuesdays for a specific genre, Wednesdays for films about a relevant theme, and so on. Saturdays are dedicated to new releases, and Thursdays are double features. Let this sink in: not only are there multiple showtimes each night, but every night of the week you could go see a film ($5 per film, or $30 for a season pass)! Students in Doc Films take turns introducing the films before they begin, students serve as the projectionists, students create the programming, students bring in special guests (once they brought in Woody Allen for a Q&A, but it was before I was a student there)... students do it all! Furthermore, Doc Films is committed to screening films in their original formats (I remember once they had someone come out and apologize for having to project a Blu-Ray instead of film stock.) Do Films is an incredible resource not only for those interested in running a cinema, but also for any cinema fans. I had such an amazing time diving into all kinds of films screened at Doc, and I regret not joining as a volunteer. Check out their website: Doc Films
7. Fire Escape Films. FEF is a student-run film production organization at UChicago, so if you want to get some hands-on production experience to go with all the theory you study in class, this is a great opportunity. Student directors choose from student-written scripts, and members of FEF team up into crews to produce the films and screen them in their own film fest at Max Palevsky Cinema. Equipment and resources come from the Logan Media Center, so students don't need to worry about paying for tech. FEF also runs a cool 48-hour film festival where you camp out in Logan and create an entire short film within the time limit. Here's FEF's Vimeo: Fire Escape Films
8. Film Studies Center. This serves as a supplemental resource for the Cinema & Media Studies program. They have an impressive library of films to check out as well as screenings rooms you can reserve. (In addition, the University's library system also has an enormous library of media available to you. If there's something they don't have, put in a request and they'll buy it!) FSC website: Film Studies Center
9. Study abroad. UChicago has tons of study abroad programs, and the funding to back it up (I studied abroad 4 times). The wide variety of programs allows students from diverse majors to participate. One program I did was a Spring Quarter in Paris with four courses; one on 19th Century Art in Paris Museums, one on Godard, one on Hegel, and one in French. It was an incredible opportunity to study Godard's work while being able to inhabit the spaces of his films and take field trips to places like the Cinémathèque Française and Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé, among others. Plus, it counted toward my major requirements!
10. Classes. Prerequisites aside, the majority of the classes are small and seminar-style. This usually means doing a lot of reading for homework, followed by intense class discussions and debates. You're encouraged to think critically about the texts you've read, and exams are usually in the form of final papers where you draw on analyses of the films you watched, texts you've studied, and themes from class discussions. (Note: you're trained for this kind of class from day one, since all the Core humanities courses are conducted in this style.)
To sum up, this is an outstanding program if you are looking for a solid grounding in film analysis and theory. This is not necessarily what every film student is looking for, but I think it helped prepare me for pursuing an MFA in film production in ways that perhaps students who focused on production in undergrad might have missed out on. If you are keen on getting production experience at UChicago, it's absolutely possible if you put in the work and join some of the student organizations. Even if you're starting with zero experience, you can get the training you need outside class time with the Logan Media Center and by learning from your classmates on extracurricular projects. Meanwhile, you will learn a ton and hone in on your interests while writing your thesis and completing research. Feel free to contact me with any questions about the program! Hopefully I didn't forget anything!!
Submitted one minute before the deadline (😬) but it wouldn't accept my link to my video submission. I emailed immediately after and sent the link along with my official transcript as they had also mentioned to email, and they messaged back the next day or so saying they opened my application...