1. SPIDERS IN THE FILM STUDIES WEB (1 of 3)
(On Education in Film Production and Film Theory - Vancouver 1970's to 2000)
by Al Razutis
Updated December 25, 2003
Disclaimer to all the spiders on the web:
These commentaries are placed on the web to corroborate historical events, persons and circumstances as described elsewhere on this web site and in other chronologies. Any resemblance to events or persons, living or dead, is certainly a matter of intent, however perfect or imperfect the recollection of these events or persons may be. Let history be the judge of truth and consequences.
And no, I'm not getting paid to write this for future tenure and promotion.
Background - Chronology
Film Education, something I was involved in since 1972, is at best an agreement between student (who pays the fees in the form of tuition, lab fees, parking fees) and faculty (who financially are rewarded in exchange for their imparting of useful information and experience as described in the course outines or program mission statements.)
Pretty simple, right? Simple, if you have students and faculty of equally honest intentions. Complicated, if students are dishonest, or are mislead, hi-jacked into required 'theory' course taking; complicated. if faculty are dishonest, sexually predatory towards their students, lazy, or seeking to promote a self-serving agenda.
Film education underwent significant shifts from the non-credit college 'workshops' (of the 60's and 70's) to the 'academic programs' contained within departments of art or communications.
The beginning to my 'professional' carreer was in 1972 at Evergreen State College (Olympia, Washington) when I joined the faculty as a 'Visiting Faculty' appointment in the multi-disciplinary department of arts which included film, photography, and other fields of focus. Previous film faculty had made a 'feature film' using students as labor, and crediting themselves (the faculty) as the directors, producers, authors. This type of 'education' I was determined to change and did, by engaging with a number of students (under 'contract' - no grades) on a variety of film and video projects that would continue (after my departure) on the basis of repeating visits back to Olympia, Washington (and Portland, Oregon).
Throughout the mid 70's I taught film and holography at various school institutions (Vanvouver School of Art, Banff Center for the Arts) and conducted my own film-video-holography work in my studio, Visual Alchemy, Vancouver.
In 1978, I was appointed Visiting Associate Professor in Film Production at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada. The status of the Film Minor program (which was contained within the Center for the Arts interdisciplinary Major programs) was bordering on chaos. The teaching facilities were run down (a basement in the Theater building served as our primary teaching classroom, video studio, projection area), we were understaffed (two full-time appointments, one lab instructor, some sessional instructors, and a joint-appointment with Geography, Dr. Michael Eliot-Hurst, was what we had in 1978). The previous faculty, with film production backgrounds at the National Film Board of Canada, had done little to legitimize the learning experience and curriculum. With the support of the Director of the Center for the Arts, Dr. Evan Alderson, I proceeded to reorganize the curriculum, expand our course offerings, improve our budget and class rooms, and expanded our instructor numbers.
Nexus of Community Interactions
As a filmmaker and full-time Associate Professor I was committed to making sure that the filmmakers, the university, and the students who would make up the future film communities had a strong connection and that this nexus of interacting groups could benefit from university funding and support. And I supported the anarchist principles of freedom of thought.
Social organization by anarchist principles (freedom, personal responsibility, obligation) has been misinterpreted as Goldman commented (and predicted). The film organization based on integration of opposing views may have sounded 'Marxist' to some, and certainly it was consistent with my interpretation of 'Anarchism' (Bakunin, Kropotkin, Berkman, Goldman, etc.), and it was certainly 'socialist' (without the central committee), perhaps even 'situationist' (but allowing for personal intellectual-property ownerwhip), but this collaboration felt intuitively right, and it worked for a while.
Vancouver's old-guard institutions (CBC, NBF, CFMDC) had become ineffective, propped up only by generous government subsidies, whose workers (especially in the NFB) spent their most productive times at Friday coctail hour shmoozing sessions. The city needed something more. The city needed a nexus of production, distribution, and exhibition centers (corresponding somewhat to the marxian ideals for the 'means of production and consumption', a nexus free from homo-sexist media politics (The Western Front, Video In) and free of corporate or political sponsorship. This nexus would become 'whatever it chose to become'.
So, as a filmmaker and Associate Professor, I participated in initiating and implementing the
It was a busy time between 1980 and 1984, where 'teaching' and community activism were interconnected and open to forming alliances with diverse interests and ideologies. I always felt that the role of film teachers was to 'give back to the community' (from which we came) and not isolate ourselves in priveledged positions.
Some of these successes would become undone (by the mid 80's) by academics bent on staking out territories, and disputes of ideological nature. Territories were being 'staked out' in academic deparments in response to provincial government funding cuts.
In response to the Canada Council's (Francoyse Picard - Film Officer) program to set up a subsidized national network of 'independent film co-ops' I wrote and distributed a Manifesto: Cinema Arts (1980) denouncing the shift in Canada Council mandate toward supporting experimental film.
In retrospect, some of the issues that contributed to the loss of network and support:
These academic and cultural moves to the conservative 'Right' would serve to set the stage for the demise of progressive media networkings; they would be the 'kiss of death' for socialist, liberal, marxist, anarchist, feminist, individualist group efforts to influence the public Vancouver commuinity. (Details of these events and personalities are covered in the following pages.)
Our 1978-82 students were taught cinematography, editing, directing, writing, producing and innovation in film, including 3D (Razutis) and experimental film (Razutis, Rimmer); they were taught history and aesthetics theory, first only from a marxian perspective (Michael Eliot-Hurst), then joined with a experimental - film art perspective (Tony Reif), and a structural - semiotics film analysis course (Al Razutis).
Our visiting production faculty changed year to year and the students were given a wide range of perspectives on production and interpretation (beginnings of film study). No singular aesthetic, political, cultural, ideological view was permitted to dominate. Our general Center for the Arts faculty was energetic and opinionated (under the enlightened dialectical approaches of Evan Alderson, Director).
The student films won awards, and their studies and work led to a number of post-grad areas such as independent filmmaking, Cineworks co-op expansion, teaching, cultural activism, and commercial careers in cinematography, editing, directing, producing, and even 3D Imax cinematography. Most are still active, successfully working on their chosen careers, and these students were the testimonial to the success of this committed diversity on the part of their mentors (teachers, filmmakers).
Michael Eliot-Hurst, an awoved gay Marxist and film historian, taught the 'History and Aesthetics of Cinema' courses which were a required component in our Film Minor curriculum. My early frictions with his overtly gay, leftist political views changed into a carreer-long friendship and mutual respect, which included the co-creation of the short-lived Opsis, the Journal of Avant-Garde and Political Cinema (1984 / 5), and this friendship continued until my resignation and departure from Simon Fraser University (SFU) in 1987.