Photography by Candace diCarlo

The job offer was still fresh in the spring of 2003 when Dr. Timothy Corrigan saw a couple of emails sitting in his in-box. Both were from Penn students. Having heard that Corrigan, then teaching at Temple University, might become director of a cinema-studies program at Penn, sophomores Wesley Barrow and Josh Gorin were eager to meet with him. Each had prepared a pitch about what a new undergraduate major in this field should look like.

“You don’t expect undergraduates to be in touch with you at that point,” Corrigan recalls with a laugh. “It was a nice surprise.”

The students were more than ready for a cinema-studies major, he notes. “It just needed some organization and someone to galvanize it a bit.”

Despite an early brush with film history—when photographer Eadweard Muybridge performed his famous human- and animal-locomotion studies at the University 120 years ago—cinema studies has taken a long time to make it to Penn’s big screen.

The College of Arts and Sciences introduced a film-studies minor in 1999 and cinema has played cameo roles in Penn’s curriculum since the  1960s, but until now there has never been a core group of faculty committed to teaching it.


Listed at the top of the marquee is Tim Corrigan, professor of English and cinema studies, who has taught at Temple, the University of Amsterdam, the University of Iowa, and campuses in Tokyo, Rome, Paris, and London. His research focuses on modern American and international cinema, and his books include A Cinema Without Walls: Movies and Culture after Vietnam; New German Film: The Displaced Image; Film and Literature: An Introduction and Reader; and A Short Guide to Writing About Film.

Last fall Corrigan sat at a table outside Cosí, a coffee bar and gathering place on University Square, giving his plot summary for the new major:  It will stretch across the disciplines and collaborate “in as many directions as possible”—with the college houses, the Philadelphia Film Festival, The Bridge Cinema de Lux, and International House, to name a few—to build upon a burgeoning local film culture. Alumni in the film and television industries will help shape and bring visibility to the program, donating their time as speakers and offering summer internships.

“I want high-school students who are sitting around saying, ‘I want to study cinema’  [to be told,] ‘Penn would be the place you’d go …  because of the quality of the courses, because of the other students, and because it is really a dynamic, intellectual place for the movies,’” Corrigan says.

With its focus on film history and theory, cinema studies at Penn is not a program designed to teach budding M. Night Shyamalans how to operate a movie camera. (Some film-production classes are available through the fine-arts department, however.) “I’m not so concerned about training the next generation of filmmakers,” Corrigan says, though he guesses “there will be plenty of Penn grads who will end up working in the business in one capacity or another. I think of this major in the broadest of terms—that it’s a really exciting major because we’re talking about what is at the center, for better or worse, of most people’s lives, that is the media, visual technology, and how it communicates ideas, perspectives, opinions. And I think that presence is true, whatever profession they go into. Whether they end up being attorneys … CEOs … educators … knowing what the media is about and knowing what visual technology is about is going to figure into their lives really importantly.”

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©2005 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 01/05/05

Now Playing on the Big Screen
By Susan Frith

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