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College announces new major and minor in film

Augustana College announced a new major and minor in film today, explaining that its broad liberal arts education fits well with the needs of the creative industry.

Discussions about a film program at Augustana started seven years ago, said Dr. Wendy Hilton-Morrow, vice president of Academic Affairs, provost and dean of the college.

She said Estlin and Kelli Feigley, the co-founders of the Chicago-based Fresh Films production company, started a conversation with college officials about what it would look like if if they were to house themselves on campus.

"I distinctly recall Estlin saying to me a camera is like a pen: It's just a tool. If you don't have anything to say, there is no power that comes with it," said Dr. Hilton-Morrow. "We need students who have the ability to tell powerful stories and meaningful stories with the camera, just as we teach students to do that with a pen."

She and others at the college recognized how a film program would be a match for Augustana, where students might take courses across several departments, ranging from Classics to English literature and creative writing, communication studies, business, accounting, computer science and graphic design.

"We educate our students broadly, as well as educating them very deeply, and so our students are learning how to tell powerful stories," Dr. Hilton-Morrow said.

She said these skills prepare students to be leaders in their careers as well as in their communities, going off to Hollywood as well as working in Illinois and in the Quad Cities.

Interest from students

Augustana began offering a film certificate program in 2016, followed by an experiential minor in entertainment media, thanks to Estlin (Augustana Class of 1993) and Kelli Feigley.

"The minor has grown substantially every single year and it's brought in a number of interesting students domestically and internationally," said Dr. Jennifer Popple, associate professor and chair of the department of theatre, which includes the new film program.

Fresh Film's internship opportunities helped with that growth, and upon graduation students have found themselves in a strong position in a competitive economy, landing internships and full-time employment in a number of different areas around the country, including California and in Chicago.

Dr. Popple said the college also began its exploration of an expanded film program with the help of Peter Hawley, director of the Illinois Film Office. 

New director and facilities

Film artist Stacy Barton will direct Augustana's new program. Barton shot her first video in 1999, and her body of audiovisual work includes short and feature narrative fiction, documentary, TV magazine, 16mm experimental, video art and multimedia sculpture. She has taught in higher education since 2004.

Barton previously has built two programs, one in film and one in video production, at the University of Colorado-Denver.

Barton said production facilities will be located on the first floor of the Sorensen building and will feature a state-of-the-art production studio and iMac editing lab.

Students will learn and create in a brand new shooting studio featuring a dynamic set of backgrounds, an LED lighting grid and professional grip equipment that can achieve high-quality professional standards in sound and vision.

In January, the college will offer documentary filmmaking in a three-week format. In the spring semester, Barton will teach gateway courses to the new major and minor, as well as a course on the business of producing.

"I am very excited to lead our talented Augustana students who possess worldwide viewpoints from local to international in expressing themselves in the evolving mediums of film and video," Barton sad, "which includes telling Quad City Stories, too so be on the lookout for all of the ways that the community will be able to connect with our Augie film students in the near future."

Boon for Illinois' industry

Dr. Jeff Coussens, professor of theatre arts, said Hawley could not attend the announcement but sent some information to share.

"These are exciting times, not just here at Augustana College but for the film industry in Illinois," Hawley wrote. "As you might know, Illinois has had a long history of film production. Of course, today there are the 'Chicago' shows on NBC and 'Fargo and 'Empire and before that 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off,' 'Groundhog Day,' the 'Blues Brothers,' but perhaps you are unaware that Charlie Chaplin made his first American films in Illinois."

In 2018, Illinois recorded about $475 million of production business. In 2022 that figure will be more than $700 million, he said, and by the end of 2024 he predicts it will be $1 billion.

He said that when he was interviewing for his position, he said Illinois needed more film infrastructure to grow.

"A new film program is an ideal way to grow our own film community, not only here in the Quad Cities but across the state," he said.


Nicole Lauer, 309-794-7645

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