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Core curriculum: Four series of lectures on film and television history

During each of the four core program semesters, we offer a two-week lecture block, each dedicated to a particular epoch of film and television history. These epochs are bounded by media revolutions and historical upheaval, and range from the prehistory of the medium itself to the end of the silent film era: 1850 – 1927; from the introduction of sound film to the end of the Second World War: 1927 – 1945; from the postwar era to the modernization of cinema: 1945 – 1960; and finally from the modern age into various forms of postmodernism: 1960 – 1980.
The chronological framework does not mean, of course, that the individual lectures simply run through the successive developments. Each session examines a concrete issue of special significance for that particular epoch, e.g.: How can one discuss film history, and how are people discussing it? What is a (film) author (auteur), and what role does the notion of authorship play during the specific period? Which major contemporary cultural movements does cinema channel, and how does it also influence them?

Core curriculum: Introduction to film and television studies

During this one-week introduction, we introduce you to the central topics and methods of our subjects. The course Television Studies covers such topics as the historical development of the medium, broadcast programming, basic approaches of television theory, broadcast formats, or the convergence of TV and the Internet. The course Film Studies examines such seemingly obvious terms as ”star“, ”genre“, ”auteur“ or ”epoch“.

Core curriculum: Text study course

In this four-day text study course, we make the most influential theories of our field speak to you. Based on the knowledge gained from historical texts, we want you to find answers to such questions as: What actually makes a film special? Why do we consider some to be ”especially cinematic”, and what does that mean? Is television destroying our culture? How should it be changed to prevent this? When we’re finished, you’re certain to be juggling such names as Béla Balász, Walter Benjamin, Siegfried Kracauer, André Bazin, Dziga Vertov, Sergej Eisenstein, Gilles Deleuze, Günther Anders, Marshall McLuhan, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Bert Brecht, Jean Baudrillard, Neil Postman, Vilém Flusser or Angela Keppler. The subject matter of the text study course is covered by the oral preliminary diploma exam.

Core curriculum: Film analysis

”Analyze” means to ”unloose, take apart”. In this seminar, you will spend a week learning how to look very closely: The introduction begins with the analysis of a single frame and ends with the examination of a complex narrative. In between, we’ll be looking at film protocols and shot profiles, scenes and sequences, plot lines and acts. We distinguish between fabula and syuzhet, between acteurs and actants, between narrative time and narrated time. In addition, two dramaturgical models for analyzing films will be placed in a historical context and discussed.

Core curriculum: Advanced course

At the end of your core program, you select one of three advanced courses in film or television studies. The advanced courses dig deeper into a specific media topic, at the level of the courses attended so far. Students choose from a such changing topics as a course on the filmic Robinsonade theme in film studies, or a course on ”documentary formatting” in television studies. The goal of the advanced courses is your first independent academic paper at this school, your so-called ”minor seminar paper”. It is the qualifying prerequisite for your oral preliminary diploma exam. 

Main studies: Final courses

Equipped with the experiences of your ”minor seminar paper”, we turn you loose, three semesters later, on a slightly greater academic project, your so-called ”major research paper”. The final courses in film or television studies give you the opportunity to perform an in-depth media-studies inquiry into a topic of your choice. Each winter semester we will also offer you three final courses, which define the area and the major theories for that inquiry. Final course topics are, for example: “The uncanny” in film studies, the construction of “normality” in the media, or the culture-historical dual arrangement “Vorbildern und Nachbildern” (“Models and Modelers”).

Main studies: Exam courses

Each of the three exam courses takes an in-depth look at a separate line of media-studies inquiry: In the course ”Spiel / Film” (“Game / Film”), for example, you will discuss film from the game theory perspective; the course ”Memory” deals with the interconnection of psychological views on memory with filmic forms of recall, such as flashback; and the role of memory in complex dramatic film structures. The complementary courses are covered by your 40-minute final oral exam in Department I.

Main studies: Complementary courses

Most of our courses have a strong cultural bias: They are centered predominantly on the cinemas of the US, Western Europe and Germany. This ”tilt” shall be corrected in the complementary courses. We dedicate an entire day to film auteurs we never mention otherwise, of whom you may have never heard. In this context, we often invite lecturers from other universities, with totally different research priorities, to talk to you in a totally different manner and about totally different things. Moreover, the complementary courses are explicitly open to topic suggestions from students. We look forward to your proposals!

Main studies: Advanced television analysis

This elective course addresses those intrepid students whose intellectual appetites have been whetted by the program of our department. The application of media-study methods and theories to topics of historical cultural interest is the focus of this seminar. These might include: ”Placing the Work of Rainer Werner Fassbinder”, or ”The Reception and Reproduction of the Third Reich in Television and Film Today”.

Main studies: Reading courses

Another elective offered within your main studies is: our evening reading courses. Here, we examine the work of a specific media theoretician who was either skimmed over during the text study course or skipped altogether. Chapters from Gilles Deleuze’s theory of cinema, from Roland Barthe’s cultural semiology, or the writings of Sergej Eisenstein, for example, offer us a welcome opportunity to enhance our knowledge, while indulging our passion for open questions.

Main studies: Doctoral research seminar

In our seminar for doctoral research, alumni as well as HFF assistants bring their fellow researchers up to date on their current projects. All students considering a dissertation at HFF are invited to attend, free of any commitment, to become acquainted with the process in which they would be involved.

Main studies: ”Have you seen this?”

Where should budding filmmakers spend their evenings? At a cinema. Only: What should they watch? An answer is offered at each of our ”Have you seen this?” screenings. On consecutive evenings, HFF students introduce their fellow students to films of their choice – not necessarily personal favorites or even movie classics. Simply films or television series that they consider to be most recommended watching. Why? That’s up to them to explain, in their brief pre-screening statement to the audience.