The Department of Art, Film, and Visual Studies (AFVS) at Harvard offers a graduate program in Film and Visual Studies leading to a PhD.
The Department also offers a secondary field in Film and Visual Studies for students already admitted to PhD programs in other departments in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
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 Art, Film, and Visual Studies (AFVS) 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 other 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 (HFA), 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 HFA 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. In early 2003, the HFA opened a new Conservation Center that allows the HFA 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 Harvard Film Study Center for fellowships which are 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), Ross McElwee's Bright Leaves (2003), Peter Galison and Robb Moss’s Secrecy (2008), Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor's Sweetgrass (2009), Véréna Paravel and J.P. Sniadecki’s Foreign Parts (2011), Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor’s Leviathan (2013) and De Humani Corporis Fabrica (2022), Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez’s Manakamana (2014), Mati Diop’s Atlantiques (2019), Ernst Karel and Veronika
Kusumaryati’s Expedition Content (2020), and Joana Pimenta and Adirley Queirós’ Dry Ground Burning (2022).
Images: Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine (2005), directed by Peter Tscherkassky, from a print in the collection of the Harvard Film Archive.