A student looking through a professional video camera on Tappan Square.
Program Overview

Cinema Studies

Explore the art of cinematic storytelling.

Photo credit: Rian Brown-Orso

Film School or Liberal Arts College? Why Not Both?

One of the first programs of its kind at a liberal arts college, the Cinema Studies Program introduces students to the craft, history and cultural meaning of film, television, and digital media. Students work with faculty mentors and with their peers to make nonfiction, animation, experimental and live-action fiction films of professional quality, many of which have screened at leading festivals. They also study the history and theory of cinema within a campus community that prizes public engagement with pressing questions of history and contemporary culture. Integrating the creative and critical study of media, the Cinema Studies Program offers our majors the technical training to make first-rate films and the intellectual formation to understand why they matter.

A Film Studio as Your Classroom

The Cinema Studies Program resides above the Apollo Theater in the Danny DeVito & Rhea Perlman Center for Media Education and Production. With fully equipped sound stages, green screens, animation rooms, editing suites and classrooms, the Apollo Film Labs is the creative and social hub for our majors. Housed in a state-of-the-art complex within a small liberal arts setting, the Cinema Studies Program has helped launch the careers of alumni now working for media organizations including HBO, CNN, PBS, Sony, Bad Robot and Topple. With the close support of faculty mentors, Oberlin’s film majors build the collaborative relationships that sustain their careers as writers, directors, producers, animators, teachers and journalists.

Cinema Studies students have screened their films in more than 40 international film festivals over the past 5 years

A Legacy of Filmmaking

Oberlin College alumni—bright, globally minded, innovative, and creatively talented—have a long history as leaders in all aspects of show business, arts, and entertainment. As part of the Arts and Creative Professions career community, the Obiewood Oberlin Entertainment Network helps launch students into these competitive fields.

Students lined up for a photo outside Sony Pictures Studios
Each year Oberlin-based StoryLens Pictures sponsors a cohort of documentary fellows to create short independent nonfiction films about pressing and locally relevant issues
Meet the young documentary filmmakers working for StoryLens

Where Creative Partnerships Start

Have a conservatory student score your film. Cast actors from theater or dance. Collaborate with students from studio art and creative writing. Pursuing the arts at Oberlin means achieving your best work by crossing disciplinary and technological frontiers.

Four students working together.

Featured Courses

CINE 282

Hollywood Narrative & Genre

This course explores the art, craft, business, and ideology of popular screen narratives from Hollywood’s classical period to the present. Topics to be discussed include narrative structure, storyworld, perspective, temporality, agency and emotion. Our discussions will connect significant films to both practical and philosophical texts, with an emphasis on the mechanics of story and the social ritual of genre. Finally, we will consider the challenge presented to traditional film narrative by the rise of on-demand streaming services and interactive entertainment.

Taught by
Joshua Sperling
CINE 313


This hands-on course introduces students to the history and practice of animation, an ever-present element in the visual language of news, education, science and media storytelling. As a starting point, we work closely with Oberlin’s Media Archeology Collection to study examples of early sequential art technology, optical toys and magic lanterns. Students then learn a variety of approaches to create their own animations, from  hand drawn/painted cell animation, claymation, and collage to the growing toolkit professionally used for digital image manipulation.

Taught by
Rian Brown-Orso
CINE 320

Documentary Filmmaking Workshop

This course explores both critical and creative perspectives on documentaries (in terms of structure, purpose, audience) and then gives students the opportunity to practice basic documentary production (camera, lighting, sound, non-linear editing) and to learn nonfiction storytelling. After completing various individual and small group exercises, students spend the balance of the semester working together to produce festival-quality short documentary films.

Taught by
Geoff Pingree
CINE 360

Strange Cinema

This course explores the effect of strangeness in movies. What are the ways in which this effect is created? To what uses do filmmakers put the experience of strangeness? What baseline of familiar do we use to judge strange movies? We will explore strangeness as both a poetics and an aesthetic, and its relation to effects such as the uncanny, the fantastic, the marvelous, and the wonderful.

Taught by
William Patrick Day ’71

Student Profiles

Tribeca Film Fellow

From a young age, Emily Cohn ’17 has been making films. At Oberlin, she honed her filmmaking skills by integrating her diverse experiences in creative writing, internships, and at the Prague Film School. Her first film, CRSHD, premiered at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival.

Emily Cohn.

Moving Beyond Colorblind Casting

 As an Oberlin College Research Fellow (OCRF), Miyah Byers ’20, a cinema studies major, investigated how directors are developing unique methodologies that move beyond colorblind casting and use race in theater productions as a point of inspiration.

Miyah Byers.

Creating Stories for a Global Community

Olive Nwosu ’13 discovered her creative passion in Cinema Studies and is now completing an MFA in Screenwriting at Columbia, where she’s a BAFTA Scholar, an Alex Sichel Fellow at Columbia University School of the Arts, and one of four African Promises directors in the Institut Français’ Africa-2020 Programme.

Olive Nwosu.

Upcoming Cinema Studies Events

What does Cinema Studies at Oberlin look like?

Joshua Sperling leading a winter term course.

Professor Joshua Sperling leads a Winter Term “Obiewood” intensive on story structure. The workshop featured several conversations over zoom with Hollywood screenwriters and producers.

Photo credit: John Seyfried
Students inside the outdoor exhibition.

A site-specific video installation by students in Professor Rian Brown-Orso’s Experiments in Moving Image and Sound class.

Photo credit: Dale Preston ’83
Geoff Pingree, Rian Brown-Orso, and Toni Morrison.

Professors Geoff Pingree and Rian Brown-Orso interview Toni Morrison in the main stage of the Apollo Film Labs for their feature-length documentary, The Foreigner’s Home.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Oberlin College
Professor Rian Brown-Orso working with Professor Geoff Pingree and two alumni.

Professors Geoff Pingree and Rian Brown-Orso and Oberlin College alumni Jake Hochendoner and Drew Dickler set up a shot for The Foreigner’s Home (2018).

Photo credit: Olive Nwosu
Students sitting in director's chairs while looking at the monitor.

Three senior cinema studies majors work as liaisons for an Amazon Studios television pilot shot in Oberlin’s Tappan Square.

Photo credit: Rian Brown-Orso
Panelists at the Obiewood panel.

An Obiewood panel and networking event held in the iconic Rita Hayworth Building at Sony Pictures in Los Angeles. Participants included Ed Helms ’96, Sarah-Violet Bliss ’06, Elizabeth Glotzer, Andrew Guest ’99, Wendy Japhet ’82 and Kieran Mulroney.

Photo credit: Ron Knerem

Next Steps

Get in touch; we would love to chat.

Crew from a TV show filming on Tappan Square.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Oberlin College