UTSA professor and students speak on forthcoming film & media studies program


Photograph courtesy of Professor Sarah Lasley

Mason Hickok, Web Editor

UTSA — for now, under the umbrella of University College — will be offering students the opportunity to major or minor in film and media studies. The program will be offered at the start of the Fall 2022 semester in August. 

The forthcoming degree path is a welcome opportunity for students interested in majoring in film, a degree not yet seen at UTSA. It is a fitting time for UTSA, given that San Antonio prides itself on a culturally-rich, diverse population. Dr. Paul Ardoin, Ph.D., is an associate professor of humanities and serves as the director of the film studies program at UTSA.

Ardoin referred to the degree as sort of  “cafeteria-style” in that students will have the opportunity to select courses from three different categories within the program.

“It’s divided into three boxes. A history box, a theory and culture box and a production box, and students in the major will choose four to five classes, minimum, in each box. It will also be based on the particular interests of those students … but it is not going to be conclusively giving any single student a whole education in all of film and all of media,” Ardoin said.

In the coming fall semester, the major will exist as a sort of “incubating major,” where students will have the opportunity to choose their own focus. After this period ends — Ardoin specifies two years — the program will migrate to the College of Liberal and Fine Arts (COLFA), where students can expect to focus on specific tracks such as screenwriting and directing. 

Emily Flores, a junior majoring in digital communications, spoke on the timing of UTSA’s film program.

“I think it was kind of like fate because … I was getting really frustrated, feeling like none of the classes for digital communications were gonna help me at all, or get my foot in the [film] industry. So I was starting to call other schools, thinking about transferring and going to another school that would possibly offer a film major … they [UTSA] announced that they were offering a new film major,” Flores said.

Brendan Martinez, a junior art major, who also will be switching his major to film, spoke about the arrival of the film major and the upcoming student film exhibition taking place on Wednesday, April 27.

“Definitely, I think it’s great that they’re [UTSA] doing this sort of film festival and inviting all the students out and giving the film students a chance to show off what they make,” Martinez said.

Before the fall semester, UTSA offered students the chance to minor in film studies. Aside from a student organization, the options for prospective student filmmakers are few and far between. Flores expressed hopes to see more student engagement come from the new major.

“I know there is one major club here at the school, the UTSA Film Club [Rowdy Film Association]. I hope like … what I think would be really cool, now that there is a film major, is that there’s just not one film club,” Flores said.

Ardoin spoke about the process of the various steps encountered in setting up the program. 

“Part of it was assembling a sort of advisory committee of current faculty that have these interests and this expertise [and] getting together and talking about what we want it to look like. Part of what it will look like is, of course, dependent upon who signs up in the fall. A lot of it has been talking about needs … What new courses do we want to add so that students have lots to choose from, which is our primary goal for the fall,” Ardoin said.

Ardoin further talked about the presence of UTSA’s program among the post-graduate film schools at NYU, USC and the University of Texas at Austin, to name a few.

“Given where we are, we are set up to have a wholly different kind of identity. None of the institutions that we have talked about are predominantly Hispanic-serving [institutions], none of them are serving the number of first-generation students that we are serving, none of them are in a community like ours … like our city, which is in some ways simultaneously recognized as [a] profoundly perfect city for movie-making, and has a history, but is also drastically underutilized,” Ardoin said.

As previously mentioned, this is the first time a degree like this has been offered at UTSA. There are film production courses on offer at the community college level in San Antonio, specifically at Northwest Vista College. However, Ardoin was adamant about the hunger for it to happen at the university level and San Antonio’s place as a film-friendly city.

“So there is production happening there [Northwest Vista College], but people are hungry for it to happen at the university level. This is gonna be the first time that this is sort of done in an established, committed way. So there [are] huge opportunities here. San Antonio is working hard to bring more productions to town, but also we should be creating more productions ourselves and we should be creating filmmakers, we certainly have the talent base for it,” Ardoin said.

Many students who will soon find themselves majoring in film likely found themselves in something “more practical” or film-adjacent. Ardoin spoke on the importance of making this degree path available to students now.

“Part of it is having the apparatus for students who could be doing this work [film], to do this work. And part of it is creating a legitimate career path out of this for them. Many of our students who have been making good films have been like majoring in something ‘practical’ while doing film work. But now that we have an official program, it allows us to set up community and industry partnerships to place people into internships. To make sure that this is both a practical and creative, field-growing major,” Ardoin said.

Martinez hopes to see more support from UTSA when it comes to supporting student filmmakers.

“I think it would be a great idea for UTSA to maybe reach out or partner with a theater-like Santikos [that’s also local] and maybe we can do screenings there. Outside at a park on a projector … it [would] feel much more real to the filmmakers too … seeing it on a big screen,” Martinez said.

Ardoin spoke about a space that is currently under construction in the McKinney Humanities building. When completed by the start of the fall semester, the room will house cutting-edge production spaces and a screening room for filmmakers.

“… that space is called the Film Production Hub, has nine rooms, and opens this fall. The space is approved. The funding is half-guaranteed with the other half fully expected–close to half a million dollars overall, north of 400k (I forget the exact number). 90% of our equipment will be brand new for the fall …,” Ardoin said.

More information on the film and media studies program, courses and contact info can be found on their website. Also, more information and news about the program can be found on the UTSA Film Studies Instagram @utsafilmstudies. The student film exhibition will take place on April 27, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Attendees can RSVP for the event on RowdyLink.