Spring 2020

The Film Essay

Listed in: English, as ENGL-480  |  Film and Media Studies, as FAMS-423


Amelie E. Hastie (Section 01)


(Offered as ENGL 480 and FAMS 423) The “essay” derives its meaning from the original French essayer: to try or attempt. In its attempts to work through and experiment with new ideas, the essay form becomes a manifestation of observation, experience, and transformation. Originally developed through the written form, the essay has also taken shape in visual work–photographic, installation, and, of course, cinematic. The “essay film” is exploratory, digressive, subjective; the “video essay” is similarly personal and simultaneously transformative. The “film essay” has the capacity to be all of these things, though in the past few decades this form has become arguably schematic. Working against the conventions of the “academic” or college essay and inspired by visual experimentation, this course will explore film through a variety of manifestations of the written essay. After all, since film comes in multiple forms and offers multiple experiences, it demands multiple possibilities of rhetorical exploration.

The models for writing in this course will come from both visual and written works. Course readings will be collected from a range of historical periods and will run a gamut of approaches to film: theoretical and experiential, critical and poetic, autobiographical and historical. Class screenings will similarly come from a variety of historical eras, genres, and national spaces. Because writing assignments will often explore the cultural experience of the movies, we will visit a variety of screening venues, including a film festival, “archival” and repertory houses, art cinemas, and commercial theaters. Though it will include some lectures to contextualize readings, this course will primarily be discussion-oriented, with attentive writing workshops. Thus experimenting with method and form, students will produce weekly writings, two extended essays, and a collaboratively-produced project.

Requisite: a 200-level foundations course in ENGL or FAMS. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor Hastie.

If Overenrolled: Preference given to junior and senior ENGL and FAMS majors.


Attention to Speaking, Attention to Writing


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2018, Spring 2020, Fall 2021