Ahead of the spring 2021 semester, the college and film department have made the decision to temporarily suspend the production of thesis films until March. It also seems that over the course of the fall semester, college administration were not aware the film department was conducting “crew” projects, although the film department maintains they had full approval from the college.
In an email to students on Jan. 20, department chair Annette Danto announced that thesis productions, which are the final project for the production majors, and are required for graduation, would be suspended until further notice. Since that email, the department has informed students that they hope to return to productions in March.
“It’s essentially to defer, to postpone until better health and safety guidelines could be developed,” Professor Danto told the Vanguard. “It’s been an ongoing, evolving process.”
According to Media Relations Manager Rich Pietras, the Brooklyn College Reentry Review Board—made up of a research faculty member, staff from the undergraduate film department, the Dean of the School of Natural and Behavioral Sciences, the Chief Environmental Health and Safety Officer, the Chief Legal Counsel, the President, and the Provost—made the decision to delay film shooting in December for safety reasons. The Reentry Review Board did not approve “crew” thesis filming after Sept. 30.
When the Board learned that crews were filming in January, it immediately asked the department to suspend filming until new guidelines were established to safeguard students’ health. The Board developed these guidelines quickly with the department, and they will be distributed to students as soon as possible.
Even though the RRB says it did not approve of “crew” filming after Sept. 30, several student thesis productions were conducted in the time between Sept. 30 and the end of the Fall semester. The RRB says they were not aware that these productions had occurred.
“It had all been approved by the RRB,” Danto told the Vanguard, maintaining the department had full permission to go on with shoots. “We wouldn’t have done anything without the college knowing.”
Documents obtained by the Vanguard show that students were allowed access to campus to borrow equipment from the film program, and members of the administration were in on those emails.
“We weren’t sneaking around behind the scenes,” Danto said. The department chair says there may have been a “misunderstanding,” between the department and the college. The issue may possibly be with the term “crew” films, and whether or not this meant productions were approved, but could not have a crew, a tall order for what a general thesis film intails.
“It’s possible they didn’t know what a thesis shoot was,” Danto said, “They didn’t understand it would involve people working together.”
In any event, the college went ahead to suspend productions in January and February for safety reasons.
“We now have more stringent health and safety guidelines because of the new COVID cases in January and also these several new variants that have gotten the administration, everyone in New York State, and the country very worried about,” Danto said.
Going forward, students will have to complete a 2-hour safety training course, as well as provide faculty with in-depth production details, including information on ventilation, location square footage for social distancing, and crew numbers.
“It was really the medical public health, and the cases, and the numbers that prompted the college to put the brakes on and say ‘hey wait a minute’,” Danto said.
For many students, who are required to complete the thesis film for graduation, and in some cases were all prepared to start rolling, the suspension puts a hold on their plans.
“I was supposed to be on set today,” film student Chris Jost told the Vanguard, “I was at the ready.” Jost, who had already shot a small portion of his film, was preparing to shoot the rest when the suspension went into effect. “I immediately had to tell my actors and crew that we were suspended,” he said, “The worst part is the crew and actors, it’s not just my plans, it’s 15 other people.”
Ansel Combs, another film student in Jost’s class, is in a similar boat. He was two weeks away from beginning production on his film when the suspension began, and previously, he had his production moved due to cancellations at the end of December.
“I felt increasingly disappointed,” he said. Combs is now weighing his options, which may be not shooting a film at all, or figuring out a way to do it on his own without the equipment from the school. Danto told the Vanguard that the department is figuring out possible alternatives to a full-fledged production, including allowing students to possibly help other students and receive credit so they can stay on track.
“The first priority is health and safety, the second priority is to keep people on track for graduation,” she said.
However, some students are feeling left behind by the situation, and feel that the decision to suspend productions are less about safety and more about the college saving face.
“They are obviously just doing it for themselves,” said Tenneh Sandimanie, another student who was scheduled to film this month. “If it was for safety we wouldn’t have to be doing all the paperwork,” said Sandimanie, referring to the added pre-production forms that ask about ventilation and location square footage.
“Some of the rules BC is putting in place I don’t understand,” said Combs. “They aren’t being as communicative as they should be.”
Sandimanie disagrees with the decision to suspend the productions, and worries it will push her and others back. “I’m not getting what I paid for, I paid for being able to shoot,” she said. “I have to graduate in May, I need to graduate on time, and I don’t want to rush and edit my film.”
Not all students feel the same. Jost, though upset with the suspension of his project, is sympathetic to the situation the administration and faculty are facing. “They are in the worst place a school can be,” he told the Vanguard, “They are definitely doing the best they can, I am happy with what I got from the school.”
Issues with the college’s decision also came from members of the film department faculty, including Professor Robert Tutak, who teaches sections of thesis production and post-production.
“Suspending student productions all of a sudden and indefinitely without providing an immediate solution: a plan, new safety guidelines, new schedule, and a constructive way to move forward, was detrimental to the students,” he said in an emailed statement to the Vanguard. “Students put a lot of effort, time, and money into their productions. They were ready to shoot, conscious of the safety challenges, and in compliance with the safety protocols developed by the film industry. All of it was ignored. Our mission to serve the students was lost in the process.”
The college and department hope to be able to get back to production and hopefully normalcy sooner rather than later as we continue to deal with a deadly pandemic that has killed over 443,000 Americans.
“Everything that has been done has been done because of the public health crisis and nothing else,” said Professor Danto, “People are dying, a lot of people have died.”
The Vanguard requested further clarification from the college on the possible misunderstanding between them and the film department, but no one from the RRB was available for comment before publication.