The study of film at Harvard functions within the multi-disciplinary examination of audio-visual experience. From Hugo Münsterberg’s pathbreaking forays into the psychological reception of moving images and Rudolf Arnheim’s seminal investigations of “visual thinking” to Paul Sachs’s incorporation of film into the academic and curatorial focus of the fine arts at Harvard and Stanley Cavell’s philosophical approaches to the medium, Harvard has sustained a distinguished tradition of engaging cinema and the cultural, visual, spatial, and philosophical questions that it raises. With their emphases on experimentation in the contemporary arts and creative collaboration among practitioners and critics, the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies and the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts provide a singular and unparalleled site for advanced research in Film and Visual Studies. The program aims to foster critical understanding of the interactions between the making of and thinking about film and video, between studio art, performance, and visual culture, and between different arts and pursuits whose objects are audio-visual entities. The Carpenter Center also supports a lively research culture, including the Film and Visual Studies Colloquium and a Film and Visual Studies Workshop for advanced doctoral students, as well as lecture series and exhibitions featuring distinguished artists, filmmakers, and scholars.
Interdisciplinary in its impetus, the program draws on and consolidates course offerings in departments throughout the Faculty of Arts and Sciences which consider film and the spatial arts in all their various countenances and investigate the place of visual arts within a variety of contexts. Graduate students may also take advantage of the significant resources of the Harvard Film Archive, which houses a vast collection of 16mm and 35mm film prints as well as rare video materials, vintage film posters, photographs, and promotional materials. The Harvard Film Archive furthers the artistic and academic appreciation of moving image media within the Harvard and the New England community, offering a setting where students and faculty can interact with filmmakers and artists. The archive also houses a Film Conservation Center that allows the archive's conservator and staff to accession new films as well as to preserve its significant collections of independent, international, and silent films.
Students and faculty in Film and Visual Studies are also eligible to apply to the Film Study Center for fellowships awarded annually in support of original film, video, and photographic projects. Established in 1957, the Film Study Center provides production equipment, post-production facilities, technical support, and funding for nonfiction works that interpret the world through images and sounds. Among the many important films to have been produced at the Film Study Center are John Marshall’s The Hunters (1956), Robert Gardner’s Forest of Bliss (1985), Irene Lusztig’s Reconstruction (2001), Robb Moss’s The Same River Twice (2002), and, most recently, Ross McElwee’s Bright Leaves (2003), Peter Galison and Robb Moss’s Secrecy (2008), Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor’s Sweetgrass (2009), J. P. Sniadecki and Véréna Paravel’s Foreign Parts (2011), Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel’s Leviathan (2013), and Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez’s Manakamana (2014).
The following is a set of general guidelines for the admissions process. It should be noted that while several areas are emphasized here, the admissions committee will carefully examine the overall profile of each applicant, taking these and other aspects of the candidate’s application into consideration.
The Writing Sample
The writing sample is one of the most important materials in the application. Candidates should submit only one 15–20 page paper, in 12-point type, double-spaced throughout, with normal margins. The writing sample must be an example of critical writing (rather than creative writing) on a subject directly related to film, performance and/or visual studies. You should not send longer papers with instructions to read an excerpt or excerpts; edit the sample so that you submit only up to 20 pages.
While the overall GPA is important, it is more important to have an average of no lower than A- in courses related to film and visual studies or related fields. In addition, if you have not majored in film studies or a related field, it is important to have sufficient background to enter the graduate program—a matter perhaps best determined by speaking with your undergraduate advisor.
Letters of Recommendation
It is important to have three strong letters of recommendation from professors who are familiar with your academic work. If you have been out of school for several years, reestablish contact with former professors. Additional letters from employers may also be included.
High scores (170) in the verbal portion of the test are positive additions to the application but are by no means the most important aspect of your candidacy. (The quantitative and analytical scores carry less weight than the verbal scores.) You should make timely plans to take these examinations in order to ensure arrival of scores by the December early application deadline. Scores received after January may arrive too late to be considered.
Statement of Purpose
The statement of purpose should give the admissions committee a clear sense of your individual interests and strengths. You don’t need to indicate at the time of application precisely what your field of specialization will be, but it is helpful to know something about your aspirations, and how Film and Visual Studies at Harvard might help in attaining these goals.
Strong language background helps to strengthen the application, and students who lack it should be aware that they will need to repair these gaps during their first two years of graduate study.