URI Film Media Program

The unique curriculum is taught by faculty members who bring creative expertise from a variety of disciplines—art, communication studies, education, journalism, English, French, Italian, Spanish and more.

URI’s film media program is sizzling with student enthusiasm. Here’s proof: When the major was first offered in 2005, 30 students enrolled. Today that number is 130 and counting.

Visualizations Film Festival
A Decade of Encouraging Budding Filmmakers

No story about the popularity of the film media program would be complete without mentioning URI’s own Visualizations, the College of Arts and Sciences Student Film Festival. Open to all undergraduates interested in film, the annual spring festival just celebrated its 10th anniversary.

Since its inception, more than 500 budding filmmakers have competed for cash prizes in diverse film and writing categories: animation, experimental, commercials/public service announcements, narrative/open, news segment, critical essay, and film treatment. The Dean’s Choice Award and the Fred Joyal Best of Festival also come with cash prizes. All told, more than $60,000 has been awarded. Perhaps more importantly, the festival provides students with a venue to have their work screened and an opportunity to meet film professionals.

Fred Joyal ’79 of Manhattan Beach, Calif., has provided major funding for the festival, which has been also supported by R.I. International Film Festival, the Richard Beaupre Hope & Heritage Fund, and Scott Randall ’76 & Brand Games.

“I was surprised how fast the program took off,” says Gerald DeSchepper who helped spearhead the major. “We projected 10 to 15 students would enroll each year after the initial offering, but enrollment actually quadrupled the second year.”

Several factors account for the program’s popularity including the escalating number of career opportunities: corporate video creation, advertising, independent filmmaking, Web site design, science or art animation, production, lighting, editing, and set design to name a few.

“Moving images are part of students’ lives in ways we never could have imagined,” says Thomas Zorabedian, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and adjunct professor of communication studies. “Today’s affordable equipment allows students to create films, edit them on a computer, place them on YouTube and even enter them in one of an increasing number of film festivals.”

URI Film Media Program YouTube channel.

John Leo, professor of English and former director of the film media program, is equally as enthusiastic. He credits the program’s appeal to its unique curriculum taught by faculty members who bring creative expertise from a variety of disciplines—art, English, education, communication studies, journalism, French, Italian, Spanish, and more. The program is flexible and collaborative and has an international emphasis.

Under Leo’s leadership from 2006 to 2008, the major expanded its offerings at URI’s Providence Campus, increased the variety and number of production and critical studies courses, and became more involved with outreach, recruitment, and retention of students.

Alain-Philippe Durand, honors professor of French, film media, and comparative literature, became the program’s interim director this fall. He teaches, in English, the popular FRN 320 Studies in French Cinema, French Film Comedies, and Films of Luc Besson. “I’m very proud to be part of this program and to continue promoting a discipline that started with the Lumière brothers in my native France,” he says.

The program’s international influence interested Kyle Keough ’08 who studied under Rebecca Romanow, a well-published scholar and the program’s only full-time lecturer. As a teen-ager he hung out at the Cumberland Public Library looking for Japanese films, especially those directed by Akira Kurosawa. “My passion was always in film,” the 21-year-old alumnus said shortly before he graduated, “but I didn’t consider it a realistic career option until my first film class at URI. After that, I was hooked.”

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Like a number of his classmates, Keough’s zeal was not focused from the lens of a camera, but on critical theory. Last fall, Keough began graduate studies at the University of Iowa, considered one of the premier film schools in the nation.

Keough isn’t the only alum pursuing film studies in graduate school. Others include Reshad Kulenovic ’04, ‘06 at Boston University, Carson Smith ’08 at Columbia University, and Michael Shawyer ’06 at the University of Southern California. Stephan Stifano ‘06 is examining the role of emotion in films en route to his doctorate at the University of Connecticut. He’s sold on a joint career as a filmmaker and an academician. His second film, The Summer of .45, which he wrote and directed, is in post-production.

Dana Neugent, the URI Providence Campus media supervisor and adjunct assistant professor of film media, teaches production courses that instruct students how to shoot, light, and edit. Sound and special effects are also part of the class that requires each student to create a two-minute video incorporating the different elements. The completed projects run the gamut from TV commercials, to educational videos, to music videos, to movie trailers.

“I’ve had some students come to class with a low cumulative average and do outstanding work. Film lets them discover and develop their own creative talents,” says Neugent. He and student Beth Czerny were part of a team that won the 2008 Best of Providence award in the local 48 Hour Film Project, besting 54 other teams all of which were given a line of dialogue, a character, and props and just two days to produce a complete short movie.

Roy Bergstrom, lead information technologist and an assistant adjunct professor of film media, taught an innovative course last summer that brought together five film media students and 15 scholar-athletes competing in the 2008 U.S. Scholar Athlete Games that are hosted on the Kingston Campus by the Institute for International Sport.

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The film media students worked closely with the scholar-athletes, some of whom had never held a camera before. They videotaped the games’ keynote speakers, including Vint Cerf, most often referred to as father of the Internet, and Colin Powell, former U.S. secretary of state and retired Army general; they shot footage of numerous events that they compressed and added graphics and photos to and then posted to the Institute’s Web site—all within 24 hours; and they created a montage of the event, producing a 60-minute DVD of the games—all within five-weeks.

Film media alumni are forming their own production companies. Take Rickie Laprade ’07. He picked up his first VHS recorder when he was 6, began shooting, and hasn’t stopped since. For five years he worked at Bonnet Video in Narragansett, watching every film in the store (it took him two-and-a-half years). Today, he heads Karate Werewolf Productions/Anubis Films Limited, a Narragansett production company that he formed. He is busily creating features, a neo-noir Web series, short films, a music video, and a documentary, often with the help Brit MacFarland ’08 and other URI students and alumni.

A Westerly high school video production class not only sold another alum, Tony Nunes ’08, on filmmaking, it also introduced him to his future wife, Marybeth.

While interning at Tango Pix, a film and video production company in Providence, Nunes met two filmmakers who rented space nearby and produced straight-to-DVD horror movies. That eventually led to Nunes’ first feature horror film, Zombie Allegiance, which he wrote and directed and describes as a slasher movie with political overtones. Horror films help pay the bills, but Nunes (and his start-up production company Solipsist Media Group) has his sites on other film horizons, including a pilot children’s television program.

Nunes also has an African connection. He spent a month in 2006 in Tanzania filming a short documentary on AIDS; he will soon return there to help the Allyu Initiative launch a youth transition program aimed at keeping kids off the streets. The group hopes to expand operations from Tanzania to Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda next fall.
Another filmmaker Dan Riordan ’03 co-founded Gnarly Bay Productions with longtime friend and collaborator Dana Saint and recently opened an office in Westerly. Riordan got hooked on film watching Fight Club starring Brad Pitt and Ed Norton. He keeps the wolf away from the door by creating television commercials for such diverse clients as Feet First, Bank R.I., 94HJY, Rhode Island Blood Center, and the Connecticut Sun Basketball team. He also created a yoga video and a sea duck hunting documentary for YouTube. Currently he’s creating promotional videos for Schick and a prominent online university.

“Forms of film media have become part and parcel of nearly every business transaction in modern markets,” says assistant professor of communications studies and film media Mary Healy-Jamiel, whose prize-winning film Holy Water-Gate was broadcast on SHOWTIME NETWORKS. She teaches critical studies and production courses. “Classes are taught by both film scholars and filmmakers, and our respective areas of expertise offer the film media student unique opportunities to develop his or her own critical voice and to graduate from our program with the essential writing, production, and research skills needed in today’s competitive environment,” she says.

One of Healy-Jamiel’s former students, Kylie Tanner ’08, a graduate student in URI’s Computer Science Department, comments that “multimedia is a part of everyday life, and many of the skills I acquired as a film student I have continued to use in the realm of computer science.

No matter what I do after I complete my graduate studies, I know that I will remain passionate about film throughout my life. My undergraduate studies in film media have provided me with multiple career opportunities ranging from digital art used in Web development to feature film productions.”

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“Crowded Spaces” by Kylie Tanner.
Kylie’s Web page, Shallow Leak Patrol.

— By Jan Wenzel ‘87