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CAREERS + ED ISSUE: Local film schools prepare students for reel life

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Bai Xie, a short film created as part of San Francisco State University's Shanghai Documentary Workshop.

cheryl@sfbg.com

CAREERS AND ED Ah, the bright lights of Hollywood — so close, and yet thankfully far enough away to allow Bay Area filmmakers to develop their own identities. The SF scene thrives thanks to an abundance of prolific talent (exhibit A: have you noticed how many film festivals we have?), and continues to grow, with a raft of local programs dedicated to teaching aspiring Spielbergs — or better yet, aspiring Kuchars — the ins and outs of the biz.

San Francisco's big art schools all have film programs. California College of the Arts offers both a BFA and an MFA in film, with an eye toward keeping students trained not just in cinema's latest technological advancements, but its ever-changing approaches to distribution and exhibition. One look at the staff roster and it's not hard to see why CCA's program is so highly-acclaimed, with two-time Oscar winner Rob Epstein (1985's The Times of Harvey Milk; 1995's The Celluloid Closet; 2013's Lovelace); indie-film pioneer Cheryl Dunye (1996's The Watermelon Woman; 2001's The Stranger Inside); and noted experimental artist Jeanne C. Finley, among others. www.cca.edu

The Art Institute of California has a Media Arts department that offers a whole slew of programs, including BS degrees in digital filmmaking and video production, digital photography, and media arts and animation, as well as an MFA in Computer Animation. The school, which offers a number of online courses, is affiliated with the for-profit Argosy University system and aims for "career-focused education." www.artinstitutes.edu/san-francisco/

The San Francisco Art Institute has this to say about its programs: "The distinguished filmmaker Sidney Peterson initiated filmmaking courses at SFAI in 1947, and the work made during that period helped develop “underground” film. From the 1950s to the early 1970s, filmmakers at the school such as Bruce Conner, Robert Nelson, Stan Brakhage, and Gunvor Nelson brought forth the American avant-garde movement. Our current faculty is internationally renowned in genres including experimental film, documentary, and narrative forms." The school has embraced new technology and offers extensive digital resources, but it also supports artists who prefer working with celluloid. 16mm and Super 8 filmmaking lives! www.sfai.edu/film

The Academy of Art University may be largely known around SF for the number of buildings it owns downtown, but it does have a School of Motion Pictures and Television that offers AA, BFA, and MFA diplomas, augmented by an extensive online program. Its executive director is Diane Baker, eternal pop-culture icon for her role in 1991's Silence of the Lambs ("Take this thing back to Baltimore!") Other faculty members include acclaimed choreographer Anne Bluethenthal. Students can also take classes from Guardian contributor Jesse Hawthorne Ficks, who programs the popular "Midnites for Maniacs" series at the Castro Theatre and is the school's film history coordinator.

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