University Archives and Records Center

For many college students, winter break is a time to see high-school classmates and unwind from exams—and maybe go to the movies. When Josh Gorin travels home to Pittsburgh, he catches up with old friends while making movies.

“It’s a three-week process, from concept to scripting to shooting to production to premiere,” says Gorin, a cinema-studies major whose quickly crafted group effort,  Winning Caroline, was named Best Undergraduate Comedy in the Ivy Film Festival last April. “It’s certainly a tight schedule, but a lot of fun.” The College senior was speaking from Los Angeles last November, while on a semester’s leave for an internship in research and development with Walt Disney Imagineering.

One of the first students to contact Corrigan, Gorin was originally a Digital Media Design major, but the extensive course requirements didn’t leave him much time to take liberal-arts classes or focus on his interest in film. “I was looking into starting my own major, so I was happy to hear they were creating an official program [in cinema studies].”

One of the benefits of the major is that, “You’re forced to see lots of movies you normally wouldn’t seek out,” and in the process learn much about storytelling and interpreting “the messages contained in the media,” he says. Students enrolled in cinema-studies courses this spring can partake of a wide range of selections, from Mexican horror movies to adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels to Fellini’s contributions to postwar Italian cinema. Coming attractions include Mike Nichol’s The Graduate, Fritz Lang’s M, Luis Buñuel’s Los olvidados, and Ayub Khan-Din’s East is East.

“After you go to Penn or to any academic institution to study film, you’re not really satisfied going to the theater back home, where all they have is Shrek or Spider Man II or stuff like that,” says Wesley Barrow, a senior cinema-studies major from Houston.

In his spare time Barrow has reorganized a campus student organization called Talking Film, which combines formal events with casual biweekly excursions to the Ritz. The group also runs a listserv that functions as “kind of an open marketplace for kids interested in any aspects of film,” including those working on film projects who are looking for actors or cinematographers.

With 600 students on its mailing list, Talking Film isn’t limited to cinema-studies majors, Barrow says, pointing out that, “Some of the Wharton kids are the biggest film nerds we have.”

Before he even came to Penn, Barrow traveled around the country with a cousin’s band, getting his first taste of the entertainment industry. A highlight of his Penn studies was traveling to the Cannes Film Festival during the summer after his sophomore year for a non-credit course.

Through the film-production classes he has taken here, Barrow found that his talents lie in “picking out what would be more successful rather than making something successful. If I enter the film industry, it would be as an agent or producer,” he says.

Barrow spent last summer working at the William Morris talent agency; after graduation he’s thinking of pursuing one of the coveted jobs in the company mailroom, where some of the most famous names in Hollywood got their start. The minimum-wage assignment is a prerequisite for becoming an agent, he says.

Because the cinema-studies major wasn’t available when he first got to Penn, Barrow is now scrambling to gather the credits he needs to graduate in May. Last semester he was taking three courses in cinema studies, each of which required watching one film a week on top of attending classes.

Now that cinema studies is a reality at Penn, Corrigan is already hearing from high school students interested in pursuing the major. Last fall one of them asked him to watch a film he had made.

“A lot of [student] are already making their own [digital videos] or writing their own scripts.” Though some may dream of becoming the next great filmmaker, Corrigan says, “in general, I think they just find this a really exciting way to express themselves and to engage with the world. [Film] is where they find a lot of their ideas—if not presented, at least provoked.”

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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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