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Study Film from a Transnational Curriculum at NYUAD

A groundbreaking transnational curriculum, a multidisciplinary approach and a richly international student body makes New York University Abu Dhabi’s Film and New Media program an especially attractive option for students interested in studying or making films.
Dale Hudson is a faculty fellow for the Film and New Media major at NYUAD. 

Dale Hudson couldn’t be better suited to be faculty fellow for the Film and New Media major at the NYUAD. Having lived and studied in various parts of the world, he has an intuitive sense of ‘belonging’ from many places at once, giving him a natural advantage as faculty on a program with a transnational curriculum.

He has also experienced, firsthand, the benefits of reaping from multiple disciplines in having moved as an undergrad, from International Relations and Art to Cinema and New Media as a graduate student.

Rajyasri Rao spoke to Hudson and asked him to elaborate on New York University Abu Dhabi’s film program’s unique strengths, its commitment to having students from everywhere and the advantages of its location in Abu Dhabi. 

In a guest post on NYUAD’s facebook page, you say NYUAD’s Film and New Media major is especially ‘committed to connecting filmmaking with cinema studies.’ How unusual is this in terms of film studies programs across the world? And in what ways does NYUAD make this possible?

I think the main difference of NYUAD from other schools and programs is that our curriculum is especially transnational and our students come from everywhere, which makes for very different kinds of discussions. 

“I think the main difference of NYUAD from other schools and programs is that our curriculum is especially transnational and our students come from everywhere, which makes for very different kinds of discussions.”

The Film and New Media major allows students to combine filmmaking (production and craft) and studies (history, theory, and criticism) classes with classes in any other area of the curriculum which creates a different kind of approach to film — one that is more interdisciplinary. 

Because NYUAD’s students learn filmmaking within liberal arts and sciences, they are both intellectuals and artists who think across disciplines and cultures. 

We encourage students to combine craft and production with studies.  My own training is in cinema studies, rather than in production or craft, but I have some knowledge of cameras and nonlinear editing, so I often include assignments that ask students to apply concepts from cinema studies to their production of short films.

We have also developed strong ties between Film and New Media with other areas of the curriculum, such as Computer Science, Engineering, Interactive Media and Technology, and other areas in the Arts and Humanities.  In some cases, faculty teams teach courses across academic disciplines within our Core Curriculum, which is an area that requires students to think about large questions that cannot be confined to a single discipline. 

Can you tell us a little about what you teach?

I teach a course in the Arts, Technologies, and Inventions area of the Core called “Maps,” which asks students to consider ways that maps interpret space over time through both scientific and artistic means. They read arguments and analyze work across the disciplines of Art, Film, Geography, History, Literature, New Media, and Political Science so that they understand ways that maps construct social realities by interpreting data rather than representing facts. 

The course combines theory and practice in several collaborative projects in which the students apply concepts from the academic part of the course to their field research and artistic expression in ‘mapping’ Abu Dhabi.

“They learn about social conventions that prohibit certain acts to be represented in certain ways, such as “no kissing” in South Asian cinemas until the 1990s.”

Filmmaking programs tend to focus on production and craft without systematic examination of history, criticism and theory; cinema studies programs tend to do the inverse.  We want our program to integrate the two, so that students are aware of the historical meaning of particular cinematic devices in different cultural contexts. 

Students learn to consider conventions that inform the images that appear on the screen including the political economies of film distribution and exhibition which, in the form of protective tariffs, makes it nearly impossible for certain films to receive theatrical release in particular places. 

They learn about social conventions that prohibit certain acts to be represented in certain ways, such as “no kissing” in South Asian cinemas until the 1990s.  Censorship also determines why films are made in certain ways, particularly in places like Iran since 1979 and the United States before 1960.

In what ways does the Institute having students from all over the world impact the way you teach film?

Our program emphasises transnational and global connections as a point of departure for the study of filmmaking and cinema studies, rather than as a supplement to an established body of knowledge. 

“Our location in Abu Dhabi gives us proximity to three major film festivals—so our students have opportunities to meet filmmakers from around the world.”

In the United States, film production typically focuses only on North American/European practices, whether documentary, experimental, or narrative.  Cinema Studies is usually a little more globally comprehensive, but it still tends to emphasize North American, European, and East Asian film as though they were global standards. 

Since our students come from more than 90 countries, we have the opportunity to broaden this conventional understanding of filmmaking and cinema studies.  Our students are expected to understand film history, theory, and criticism, along with film production and craft, within global and comparative frameworks. 

They will understand the differences between major film industries such as Bollywood, Hollywood, Kollywood, and Nollywood, for example, as well as know about experimental film, indigenous media, different modes of documentary, and so forth.  Students at NYUAD also have the opportunity to study with colleagues from NYUNY including Ella Shohat and Robert Stam, whose path-breaking book Unthinking Eurocentrism changed the direction of the field of cinema studies in this regard.

To what extent does the location of NYUAD in Abu Dhabi help distinguish the film program?

Our location in Abu Dhabi gives us proximity to three major film festivals—Abu Dhabi Film Festival (ADFF), Doha Tribeca Film Festival and Dubai International Film Festival—so our students have opportunities to meet filmmakers from around the world. 

“Our students have the opportunity to study at other NYU sites around the world and to go on regional trips for classes.This past spring, I had advisees studying in New York and Buenos Aires, and I went with a class to Mumbai in the fall.”

Last year’s ADFF was a great one for NYU: my colleague Leonard Retel Helmrich won the Documentary Feature Competition with his film,Position Among the Stars and a graduate student at the Tisch School at NYUNY, Lamia Alami, won Best Film from the Arab World in the International Short Film Competition for her film Farewell Exile

The NYUAD Institute collaborates with the ADFF on a film series each semester and during the summer. We’re preparing to screen films from Egypt, India, Iran, and Morocco this summer.  Our library is building a research collection of short and feature films from the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, and East Africa that have screened at ADFF.  This resource is invaluable since many of these films are unavailable on commercial DVD or streaming sites.

To what extent is travelling to other parts of the world an integral part of NYUAD’s film major?

Our students have the opportunity to study at other NYU sites around the world and to go on regional trips for classes. This past spring, I had advisees studying in New York and Buenos Aires, and I went with a class to Mumbai in the fall.

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