MONTPELIER — Vermont College of Fine Arts will launch a graduate film program this year as the institution seeks to grow into a national education center for the arts.
“Our hope is it will be the first really significant (Master of Fine Arts) program that happens outside of Los Angeles and New York City,” the college’s president, Thomas Greene, said Tuesday.
The program would seek to develop a niche in the independent film industry for students wanting to become filmmakers and screenwriters. School officials say the graduate program is a first for Vermont.
The move comes as the college has been in talks with the Savoy Theater about buying the facility and hiring the owner, Terry Youk, as its manager, as well as possibly buying the rights to the Green Mountain Film Festival, Greene said.
If it took over the film festival, the college would likely add further staff and use some of its own resources to attract as many prominent filmmakers and films as possible, Greene said.
The college, a mere five years old, had been considering adding the program for about a year. For each new program, the college brings about $100,000 to downtown merchants in Montpelier each year, Greene said.
The school is launching the two-year program, leading to a Master of Fine Arts in film, with around 10 new faculty hires.
The college has already hired a chairwoman for the program, filmmaker Laura Colella, who comes to Vermont from the Rhode Island School of Design. The college also has three people committed to accepting faculty positions, Greene said.
Colella has been nominated for one of this year’s Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Awards, presented to the creators of films produced for less than $500,000 by Film Independent, a nonprofit organization dedicated to independent film and filmmakers. Greene said that accolade mirrors the approach to filmmaking that the program will pursue.
“The amazing thing is there’s been such a democratization of film because of the change in technology,” Greene said. “With a $3,000 camera and a $2,000 laptop, you can essentially make a Hollywood film.”
About 10 students are expected to enroll next fall, although the college may launch its inaugural class with more depending on the quality of work in their application materials. To apply to the program, students will need to submit a short film or screenplay.
After the program is up and running, the college plans to add 10 more students each semester until the program has some 100 in total.
The program will cost roughly $18,000 each year. The school offers a 5-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio.
Most students are expected to develop several short films throughout their studies, but it’s possible a student could work on a single movie during his or her two-year enrollment.
As in other programs offered at the college, which uses a low-residency format, students would begin and end their semesters with weeklong residencies in Montpelier. During the residencies students attend lectures and both faculty and student presentations, and they plan their own semester projects in consultation with a faculty adviser.
In between the resident periods, students pursue their projects independently from their hometowns while staying in close contact with their faculty advisers for regular assessments and critiques. They then return to Montpelier for another week in residence to present the results of their semester’s work and plan their next semester.
Residencies will be held in October and April on the VCFA campus.
“No matter where you live in the country or no matter whether you have a full-time job or not,” Greene said, “if you can get to Vermont for 10 days every six months, you can get an MFA in film from some of the top filmmakers in the country.”
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