By Jaquelin Bautista
The following piece appeared in the September 2019 edition of The Campus.
Quite often we find ourselves surrounded by production crews, production sets, and actors for films or shows that one can find on major viewing platforms, such as Netflix. However, it’s not every day that The City College of New York’s (CCNY) very own professors and students use our campus as their very own set.
Dave Davidson, one of CCNY’s professors and founding director of the MFA Program in Film, is an independent filmmaker who has directed over twenty award-winning documentaries, received an Emmy Award and the American Film Institute Independent Filmmaker Grant. This summer, Davidson screened his latest documentary “Cinema and Sanctuary,” which details the twenty-five-year history of The Institute of Film Techniques at City College.
In the hopes of having a training center to make films for the war effort, The Film Institute was founded in 1941 by CCNY alumni, Irving Jacoby, as the first documentary film school in the United States. After a few months, Jacoby moved to the U.S Office of War Information, thus turning over the directorship to Hans Richter. Born in Germany, Richer was forced out of Europe in 1940 by the Nazis. Richer had a massive influence on American Filmmakers, most importantly he opened the eyes of working-class students to the works of the documentary, experimental, and European films.
Professor Davidson spoke to The Campus about the production process of “Cinema and Sanctuary” as well as some insight on the film industry, “It’s important that ‘Cinema and Sanctuary’ adds this important and little-known thread in the history of film and film education to the larger conversation.
Everyone is used to hearing the same names repeated over and over again when talking about film schools. It’s gratifying to add that the first documentary film school was not formed in Hollywood or at an elite private school. It was formed right here at this great public college. Equally important, funding for public education is being cut to the bone in 2019, and that includes outreach. The world needs to know that City College has thriving graduate and undergraduate programs to train filmmakers from underserved communities to tell their stories at an accessible, affordable institution.”
Today, the Film Institute at CCNY has seen amazing directors pass through its doors including cinematographer Nestor Almendro and Woody Allen. Throughout the years CCNY has also cumulated seven Student Oscars and three Student Emmy awards. Additionally, CNNY has also had three Sundance Film selections and a Cannes Film Festival selection.
Student Ana Naumovska (Senior), notes the uniqueness of the Film Program at CCNY, “Unlike many film programs across the country, CCNYs program differs in almost every aspect. Starting with resources and equipment, and even in the students that get accepted. The students in the program don’t come from wealthy backgrounds, and the program is underfunded. Despite these limitations, we’re encouraged to focus more on the aspects of being effective visual storytellers, rather than focusing on the production value.” Naumovska even noted that Professor Davidson was the reason she switched from a fiction focus to a documentary focus.
In an interview with CUNY TV, Professor Davidson spoke about the Film Institute at CCNY and how, in its origins, became a “magnet for dropouts, from physicists to engineers.” In other words, through the efforts of Richer, students became aware of the power film can have on sharing and capturing a story or message. Suddenly, there was a new career option, one in which students could explore their creativity and storytelling. Student Kristian Orozco (Senior), started in “Cinema and Sanctuary.” It was his first time on a set and recalled that “it was a great and unique experience, I have even considered becoming an extra on other shows”.
It is clear that the Film Institute at
CCNY not only has deep roots in the history of the film industry but we
continue to see talent come out of such a unique program. Through the efforts
of people like Hans Richer and Professor David Davidson, students continue to
be impacted to pursue a career in film and spread the CCNY Film Institute legacy.