30 Years Film Studies

Camera Rolling... and Action!

It took a while for film studies to be offered at UZH. When it finally happened in 1989, the subject took off and has been going from success to success ever since.

Brigitte Blöchlinger

Seraina Rohrer, Director of the Solothurn Film Festival, praises the excellent support at the Department of Film Studies: “I never experienced elsewhere at university that people were so interested in the thoughts and ideas of students.” (Video: Brigitte Blöchlinger, Priska Feichter, UZH)

The year the Department of Film Studies opened its doors at UZH was a memorable one: 1989 saw the Berlin Wall come down, and with it many societal and political barriers. The fact that the Department of Film Studies, affectionately called “FiWi” (short for Seminar for Filmwissenschaft) by students and staff, was established in the same year as the German reunification is a coincidence.

However, the open sociopolitical discussions, which were as much a part of FiWi as film analysis, film theory and film history, were anything but coincidental. Christine N. Brinckmann, the department’s first professor, was a successful experimental filmmaker in New York, but her students were just as welcome to explore Hollywood movies. Brinckmann gained her habilitation on the documentary genres direct cinema und radical cinema, but also promoted research into films in Switzerland.

Remarkable culture of debate

This open, challenging and encouraging culture of debate has been upheld by the department’s current professors Margrit Tröhler, Barbara Flückiger, Fabienne Liptay and Daniel Wiegand. FiWi alumna and film festival director Seraina Rohrer (see video) is full of praise when the topic turns to her time at UZH: “I never experienced elsewhere at university that people were so interested in the thoughts and ideas of students and gave such precise feedback on the papers we submitted.”

International reach

The Department of Film Studies’ reach also extends beyond Switzerland, as evidenced by the many research projects that receive external funding.  For example, the professors at the department have received a coveted European Research Council grant, several instances of funding through the Swiss National Science Foundation as well as funding from various committees, business partners (e.g. Disney Research Zurich) and foundations. This success in acquiring third-party funds ultimately also benefits members of the non-professorial academic staff: 18 PhD candidates are currently researching at the Department of Film Studies, some of which will go on to fill positions at universities abroad.

Popular in the cultural sector

And yet, the Department of Film Studies has more to offer than just excellent teaching and research. Film studies graduates also leave university with decent job prospects. The widespread belief that there is no money in studying film studies has been proven wrong many times over in the past 30 years.

This achievement also has to do with the department’s openness mentioned above. “Film studies graduates go on to find jobs throughout the entire cultural sector,” says Dr. Matthias Brütsch, who heads up the Department of Film Studies. “Many are able to land positions in film distribution, cinema programming, film festivals, archives or documentation offices, in museums or television.” While there are no precise statistics on the job prospects, the many examples of successful alumni show that a degree in film studies can go a long way indeed.

Brigitte Blöchlinger, Editor UZH News

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