Article By: Piper Hale
Published: Nov 21, 2011
Ryan Fernandez, from Ewing, New Jersey, is working on an M.A. from SCAD Savannah.
Ryan Fernandez studied political science as an undergraduate and spent two years after graduation trying out different jobs. He spent most of this time producing and fundraising for a public radio station, a position that kindled his growing interest in media. After considering his options, he decided to pursue a master's degree studying film.
As he began searching for schools, he was surprised by his limited options for an academic film studies program, rather than a degree in practical filmmaking. "There aren't a lot of schools that offer cinema studies for graduate students," he explains. He mentioned his plans to his girlfriend, an arts administration student at SCAD, and she told him about SCAD's cinema studies program
. After a visit and an interview with the departmental chair, Ryan decided that this was the right program for him.
He started the program that fall, and was pleasantly surprised to find that he was still applying his political science background in his new field. Because a large part of his research involves using films to provide context for historical events and cultural movements, his training in the social sciences has helped him deconstruct political and social subtext across film eras. "Film reviews shouldn't just say something like 'This is cool,'" says Ryan, "but why it is. SCAD has given me the building blocks to understand what film really means, why it's significant, why it's socially important and culturally important. I am able to put film works in context."
Others in the program, he says, also use their fields from their undergraduate studies as the jumping-off points for their research. As a result, a student from a sociology background may have a very different take on a film than one who studied religion or history. "It's really interesting," says Ryan. "Everybody takes a different approach because everyone comes from different backgrounds. It makes for a great dynamic in the classroom, because everyone's got that different perspective."
The in-depth analysis Ryan and his classmates engage in daily is a source of enthusiasm for them; rather than being put off by the intensity of graduate level work, Ryan considers it a bonus, especially since it ensures that he will be surrounded by peers all as dedicated as he is. "A professor recently canceled class because their kid was sick," says Ryan. "Undergraduates would be like, 'Yes! Fantastic! Day off! Time to go back to sleep.' But we all said, 'Oh, no! We were looking forward to that!'"
Ryan and his fellow graduate students even meet up regularly outside of class with the CineClub, which Ryan co-founded, to discuss cinematic themes in more depth. They attend panels hosted by the department where guest lecturers like Jonathan Rosenbaum, a well-known American film critic, discuss their work and answer students' questions. Ryan says these scholars' insights have helped him on numerous projects. Recently, when Ryan was researching a film movement for a paper, he realized that the definitive essay on the topic was written by a film scholar he had spoken to in depth at one of these panels.
In addition to these visiting lecturers, Ryan also counts on his peers in SCAD's School of Film, Digital Media and Performing Arts
as a source of information about cinema. "You can watch all the documentaries you want," says Ryan, "but just talking to somebody who's doing it and doing it right now is a lot different than, say, watching a Stanley Kubrick documentary from 40 years ago. You can figure out what techniques are used, how they relate to film, why it's a trend or fad now to use this type of lens and so on. It's fascinating."
Ryan is focusing on his thesis for now, an exploration of how the digitization of film will impact archiving. After he graduates, he plans to continue on to a Ph.D. program and pursue freelance film criticism work.