User:LGreg/sandbox/Approaches to Knowledge (LG seminar 2020/21)/Seminar 18/History/History of Film Studies

Defining film studies


Needless to say, film has evolved consequently. From its birth with the Lumière Brothers in 1895, where for the first time, people gathered in a room to watch a visual story on a big screen, to 2020 where a few clicks can allow you to view some of the greatest productions from the comfort of your couch. Indeed, film has become a big part of the contemporary man’s life. Evidently, its rise has led to the development of a discipline. Today, film studies are considered to be the theoretical approach to film: analysing it thoroughly, through its script, staging, camera movements, décor, acting; which leads to the understanding of the narrative, artistic, cultural, economic and political[1] aspects of a production.

Its development as a discipline


There are multiple time frames in which one can say film began to be considered as an academic discipline.

  • The first school to create a course dedicated to film studies, called "Photoplay Composition[2]" is the School of the Arts at Columbia University in 1915.
  • We can argue that the creation of an insitute dedicated solely to a discipline legitimizes it more. This was the case, for the first time in 1919, at the Moscow Film School. Very little information is available on the topic. However, we do know that Lenin authorized its founding, that all students were required to learn Russian and that, in order to direct a film, one must have attended the institute.[3] It is clear that, as film is a powerful and effective tool in conveying ideas, this school was a way to generate propaganda for the USSR through films. This theory can be further confirmed as one of the other first institutes was the “Deutsche Filmakademie Babelsberg” in 1938, under the Third Reich. So film was widely taught under totalitarian regimes, which highlights how influential art can be, especially to the minds of oppressed populations.
  • However, some people might argue that film studies began when the world considered it academically, which is in the 1950s/60s. "But it wasn’t until the 1950s that the idea of a new scholarly discipline, with its own body of knowledge and academic presence, began to take wider hold."[4]Indeed, film drifted away from Hollywood in 1950 towards the “cinema d’auteur”, in which the director is in control of everything. This emphasized ‘style’, in other words a viewer could determine who had directed a film based off of recurring themes, aesthetic, movement, tone. This shift made people realise that the creation of a film was as intricate as the creation of any other art. This further popularized film as a discipline rather than solely as a form of entertainment.
  1. Richard Dyer/Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000. "Introduction": Film Studies: Critical Approaches. Available from: [Accessed 17th October 2020].
  2. Film and Media Studies [Internet]. Columbia - School of the Arts. 2020 [cited 17 October 2020]. Available from:
  3. Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography [Internet]. 2020 [cited 17 October 2020]. Available from:
  4. Kuhn A. What is film studies? [Internet]. The British Academy. 2019 [cited 17 October 2020]. Available from: