UC Irvine’s digital film program is waiting in budget purgatory

Even before the pandemic, the budget cuts hit arts programs the hardest. Now, UC Irvine’s students with a minor in digital filmmaking are wondering whether the program, which was already hanging by a thin thread, will survive the university’s recent financial troubles.

Seven years ago SoCal-based artists Ulysses Jenkins, Bruce Yonemoto and Bryan Jackson founded the UCI’s digital filmmaking minor under the Claire Trevor School of the Arts. Jenkins has put together a small number of courses. When Yonemoto and Jackson were hired, the three faculty were able to expand the courses and revise a curriculum that became a minor.

Jackson said that over the years the program has become a pipeline for filmmaking for mostly black and indigenous people of color, women, and LGBTQ students who have worked in the film industry as producers, directors, cameramen, and crew members, or trained at Cal . Arts, UCLA, Columbia and New York University, to name a few, have continued.

“There are actually two color professors [in the program]which is unusual at the university, ”said Yonemoto. “One of the strengths of our program is that we want to support our color students and enable them to tell their stories that weren’t told.”

A highlight of the program was attending the Newport Beach Film Festival, where students showcase their work such as alumna Nancy Nguyen, who decided to make a documentary about the last gay bar in her hometown of Garden Grove called “Frat House”, the later traveled additional festivals.

“Frat House”, a film by Nancy Nguyen about the last gay bar in Garden Grove.

(Nancy Nguyen)

They also formed an interdepartmental partnership with the Blum Center for Poverty Relief – an opportunity for students to travel internationally to make films about communities outside of the United States.

In autumn 2019, the students received the message that the program would be cut significantly due to a lack of funding. They created a petition with over 430 signatures and 50 testimonies.

The university was able to secure emergency funding. Students who led the petition initiative saw it as a win at the time, but are now in the same situation as they were two years ago.

Recently, the administration of the humanities department of the faculty of the degree program advised to stop admitting new students to the minor for the new school year until there is clarity about the future. Jackson, a senior lecturer, has been advised that his employment will be terminated this December.

A video of

A video still from “Human” by Noelle McClinton.

(Noelle McClinton)

The pandemic has plunged UC schools into a financial crisis that has resulted in general budget cuts and hiring freezes.

Last year, The Times reported that the UCI was able to fill a budget gap of $ 67 million and meet its UC-imposed savings target of $ 12 million in 2020 without pandemic leave or layoffs. Interim Provost Hal Stern said campus had dug into reserves, cut its budget by 2% and drastically slowed hiring, including a long break in the middle of a plan to add 250 new faculties.

Earlier this month, Governor Gavin Newsom unveiled a budget proposal that would give universities an economic boost that would include restoring a $ 302.4 million budget cut imposed last year and increasing ongoing funding by $ 506 million. Dollars for core campus operations, student needs, and training of various health care professionals, as well as one-time funding for facility repair and a variety of research programs.

“With all the news from the governor, you hope there are good signs,” said Jackson. “What we learned from the last financial crisis in 2008, when I still had a full-time job, was that when the money comes back it doesn’t go to the same place. It is the next administrator’s position to decide where to go. “

A video of

A video still from “Still Seasons” by Emily Morrison.

(Emily Morrison)

Although students like Stefan Buhr have turned to the student administration and administration, they describe their dealings with the administration as dismissive and evasive with regard to the concerns of the students.

“I’m graduating, but I don’t want to see it just go away,” said Buhr, who is also co-president of the program club. “I want to make sure that the students who come after me have the resources to make them feel like they are dealing with a difficult industry with the right tools and knowledge.”

Buhr added that his last hope is for the university to recognize the potential of the program and work with students to secure a stable source of funding and support.

In an email statement, Kevin Appel, chairman of the arts department, said, “The Digifilm Art Minor was a valued asset in UC Irvine’s undergraduate curriculum. The scope of an academic program on this campus depends on a budget received from the state, the size of which varies greatly from year to year. We plan with a high degree of flexibility to ensure that the resources received from the state are used as effectively as possible and that student needs are balanced in all of our existing teaching areas. We are reviewing all options to secure funding to continue the program, but have not yet made a final decision on whether to extend it. “

A still image of

A still from “Passenger Seat” by Corey Nguyen.

(Corey Nguyen)

For Nguyen, the program changed the course of her career. She graduated from UCI with a degree in biology, but dedicates herself to filmmaking while working as a crew member on a feature film production. She describes how difficult it is for first generation students to get involved in a film school, and transition to a film program as difficult in most colleges.

“It was a very formative community for me as a queer person and filmmaker to know that there are other students who are very passionate about storytelling about their experiences as queer or coming from immigrant families and so on,” said Nguyen . “Knowing that there is a very safe space for people to work in is comforting and unique to other film schools that tend to stick to Hollywood set structures.”

Ideally, the founders of the program would like three to five years to develop into a major.

“Everything changes so quickly [in terms of technology and platforms] that you have to be flexible and open to change, ”said Yonemoto. “These schools are not, so we are very positive about our program. Students of color are hungry to tell their stories … We feel it is important to continue our programs and give students the opportunity to tell their stories in order to develop in the industry and literally change the face of the industry. ”

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