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ENGL 345 A: Studies in Film

Meeting Time: 
TTh 11:30am - 1:20pm
CMU 326
Joint Sections: 
CMS 397 A
Kimberlee Gillis-Bridges
Kimberlee Gillis-Bridges

Syllabus Description:


What constitutes “independent film” in an era where both filmmakers who distribute their work online and boutique divisions within Hollywood studios lay claim to the term? When the same films nominated for Independent Spirit Awards are nominated for Oscars? Our course addresses these and other questions by examining the narrative, stylistic, industrial and cultural aspects of contemporary U.S. independent film.  We will begin by examining the early work of John Cassavetes, the “father” of American independent film before turning to the burgeoning of independent cinema that began in the late 1980s.  Along the way, we will discuss independent genre filmmaking, New Queer Cinema, Mumblecore, and Black surrealism. In addition to viewing assigned films via the course Canvas site, students will attend selected screenings at the Seattle International Film Festival.  

Although our course meets primarily in person, we will shift to hybrid instruction during weeks eight and nine to accommodate film festival attendance.

Cinema and Media Studies 397/English 345 fulfill Arts & Humanities (A&H) general education requirements and count toward English or Cinema Studies major.


Course Goals and Methodology

Overall, students in the course learn to read film formally, theoretically, and contextually and develop as critical thinkers and writers. By the end of the course, students should be able to:

  1. Identify films’ narrative, visual, and sound techniques, using vocabulary specific to cinema studies.
  2. Analyze how independent films use artistic strategies to achieve a range of effects.
  3. Evaluate how independent films respond to and shape cultural, historical, and industrial contexts; circumstances of production; genres; and film movements.
  4. Develop complex arguments and support those arguments with well-analyzed evidence.
  5. Engage the work of film scholars, critically responding to their ideas in discussion and writing.

Course activities promote active learning. Expect a blend of short lectures, discussion, polls, and individual writing. My role is to provide the tools and resources; you will need to advance your own thinking and writing.  I will pose questions, design activities to help you think through these questions, and respond to your ideas.  Your role is to do the hard work—the critical reading, discussion, and writing.  You will analyze films, generate ideas with peers, and develop projects.


Class Participation

Class discussion constitutes one key method of developing your analytical skills. Thus, I expect regular, active participation in discussions of films and readings. You should prepare for each discussion—whether live or asynchronous—by annotating assigned readings and taking notes during screenings. You should also plan to ask questions, engage peers’ comments, respond to polls, summarize readings, analyze clips, paraphrase your film responses, or contribute to small-group exchanges. Like all skills, participating in class becomes easier with practice. I do not expect fully polished analyses; rather, your contributions spark further discussion and may become the basis for other assignments.

There are several ways you can participate in the course:

  • Speaking to the whole class or small groups of peers during live class sessions.
  • Asking questions of peers and the instructor, commenting, and taking notes via shared Google Docs during live class sessions.
  • Responding to polls during live class sessions.
  • Completing required written replies to peers’ SIFF blogs on Canvas.
  • Posing or answering questions on the Community Forum.
  • Giving feedback on peers’ project ideas-in-progress.
  • Discussing films, ideas-in-progress, or questions with Kimberlee during drop-in hours.

Students should also expect me to call on them, as I want everyone to earn full credit for class participation. Because students will have multiple, sometimes conflicting, interpretations of course films, we will establish norms for maintaining a respectful learning climate early in the quarter.  We’ll also work to develop rapport with icebreaker activities early in the quarter.

If you must miss class due to illness, I will provide alternative ways for you to contribute. I may ask you to keep a reading journal, comment on peers’ short assignments, engage in online discussion with others who are ill, or share textual annotations with peers. If I must miss class due to illness or if the university cancels in-person classes, I will email students as soon as possible and move planned activities online.

I assess participation weekly on a credit/partial credit/no credit basis, with students who contribute as described above with good-faith effort receiving full credit. Lack of engagement in class activities, inadequate preparation, and failure to adhere to classroom rules will substantially lower your participation grade for the course.

Film Responses and SIFF Blogs

Students will use the class discussion board to share responses to films and readings. I will pose questions on course texts. In a 250- to 300-word response, you may address one of my questions or introduce another point. You may also engage your classmates’ ideas as you write. During our weeks at the Seattle International Film Festival, you will author 250- to 300-word blog entries on the SIFF films you attend. The online film responses and SIFF blog postings allow us to raise issues for further discussion, expand on previous conversations, and develop ideas for the clip annotation and projects.

Your postings and blog entries receive points on a credit/partial credit/no credit basis, with full credit granted to on-time postings that meet the length requirement and demonstrate serious engagement with the questions provided or film discussed.

Critical Annotation

Early in the quarter, you will create an online analysis of how elements of form, cinematography, or mise-en-scene function in a clip from Easy Rider, Faces, sex, lies and videotape, or Shadows.


Students will complete two projects: one connecting three key scenes from a course film and the other programming a one-day U.S. independent film festival. The projects require drafts that receive peer feedback. In addition, I will be available to discuss ideas-in-progress and drafts. You can also seek feedback from consultants at the Odegaard Writing and Research Center or the CLUE Writing Center.

Course Materials


We will screen the following titles, which are all available via our course Canvas site:

  • Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch, 1995, 121 min.)
  • Do the Right Thing, Spike Lee, 1989, 120 min.)
  • Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969, 95 min.)
  • Faces (John Cassavetes, 1968, 130 min.)
  • Humpday (Lynn Shelton, 2009, 94 min.)
  • My Own Private Idaho (Gus Van Sant, 1991, 104 min.)
  • Nanny (Nikyatu Jusu, 2022, 98 min.)
  • Past Lives (Celine Song, 2023, 106 min.)
  • The Puffy Chair (Jay and Mark Duplass, 2005, 85 min.)
  • Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994, 154 min.)
  • sex, lies, and videotape (Steven Soderbergh, 1989, 100 min.)
  • Shadows (John Cassavetes, 1959, 81 min.)
  • Sorry to Bother You (Boots Riley, 2018, 111 min.)
  • The Watermelon Woman (Cheryl Dunye, 1996, 90 min.)


  • Sharman, Russell. Moving Pictures: An Introduction to Cinema. University of Arkansas Pressbooks, 2020. Open access textbook available at
  • Online readings for Cinema and Media Studies 397/English 345. Available via course Canvas site.


Additional Expenses

  • Tickets for 2 SIFF films (approximately $30)


Connecting with Others

In addition to interacting with others in live class sessions asynchronous discussions, you have other opportunities to connect with peers and the instructor:


Community Forum

The Community Forum is an asynchronous space where you can ask general questions about the course, readings, or assignment prompts. Posting questions in the Community Forum helps others with the same question. It also allows students to share answers the instructor might not have.


Drop-in Hours

You need not have a specific question about the class, course texts, an assignment, or work-in-progress to attend my drop-in hours. I’m available every Tuesday and Thursday from 1:30-2:30 p.m. to talk about your interests, experiences at UW, or even the class. Feel free to visit me in person in Padelford A-305 or via Zoom ( If you cannot make my scheduled drop-in hours, please contact me to set up an alternative time.




I do not accept late film responses or SIFF blog entries. Late critical annotations and projects will receive a 10-point deduction per day late, including weekends and holidays. I will make exceptions to the lateness policy only in cases of illness or family emergency. You need not document your illness or emergency, but please contact me as soon as possible if you know you cannot meet a deadline.

Technology glitches do not constitute valid excuses for lateness. To avoid computer problems, you should save frequently while working, and you should back up work saved on a hard drive to Dropbox, iCloud, UW Google Drive, or your personal file space on Canvas. When submitting files or URLs to Canvas, you are responsible for copying/pasting the correct URL or selecting the correct file. If Canvas breaks down, contact UW-IT technical support ( and email your work directly to me ( 


Academic Integrity

Cinema and Media Studies 397/English 345 adheres to the University of Washington’s Student Conduct Code, which prohibits academic misconduct like distributing instructional materials outside class without permission, cheating and plagiarism: the unacknowledged use of others' words or ideas. The course also prohibits using generative AI like ChatGPT to complete assignments.

All files, films/film clips, lecture slides, assignment prompts, and other course handouts are for enrolled students only, as are materials produced by other students. When drawing upon sources in your reading responses, annotation, and projects, make clear to your audience that you are incorporating others’ work by placing quotation marks around exact words and noting the author’s name whenever you quote, summarize or paraphrase.

Submitting work authored by another person or AI, failure to credit sources, and sharing materials outside class may result in a failing grade for the assignment, a failing grade for the course, or other disciplinary action. If I see evidence of academic misconduct, I will make a report to the Community Standards & Student Conduct office.


Technology in the Classroom

Our wired classroom allows us to access polls, film clips, and other online materials. Therefore, I ask that you bring a laptop to class if possible. However, since laptops and wireless Internet access present the temptation of email, messaging, and the web, students must follow basic ground rules:

  • Students should switch off and stow their cell phones before class begins.
  • Students may use laptops to take notes, access materials during small-group exercises and research questions posed in class discussion; however, they should not check email, electronically chat, update their social networking status or surf the web during class unless asked to do so.


Assessment and Grading

Grades in Cinema and Media Studies 397/English 345 will be computed by points, with 300 points equaling a 3.0, 200 points a 2.0, and so on. If your total falls between grades, I will round up if you score one to five points below the higher grade and round down if you score one to four points above the lower grade. For example, 274 points equals a 2.7 and 275 points a 2.8. Students who score less than 65 points total will receive a 0 for the course, as the UW grading system does not scale grades lower than .7. I also assign a 4.0 to students who score between 385 and 400 points.

Responses and SIFF blog entries receive full credit for meeting minimum length requirements and thoughtfully engaging with prompts Students who consistently engage with course materials and peers as outlined in “Class Participation” will receive full participation points. All other assignments are evaluated based on how effectively work submitted meet stated criteria. Assessment comes in the form of grades and instructor feedback, either free-form or within a rubric.

If you do not understand course readings, films, instructional materials, or assignment prompts, ask questions in class, drop-in hours, or the Community Forum. 

Total Points for the Course

Each component of the course is worth the following number of points. Please note that Canvas does not integrate well with my point schema. Canvas automatically converts points into percentages, a conversion that can make your grade seem lower than it actually is. For example, 10/20 points represents the C range under my system and the F range (50%) under a percentage system. For this reason, I include point range information on each assignment. In short, keep track of your total points and ignore Canvas's percentage conversion.


Grade Components and Points

Grade Component

Possible Points

Class Participation

80 points

Critical Film Annotation

60 points

Film Responses (10)

100 points

Projects (2)

160 points


400 points


Accessibility and Accommodations


Disability accommodations grant students with ongoing or temporary disabilities access to educational opportunities. Disability Resource for Students (DRS) works to ensure access for students with disabilities by designing and implementing accommodations.  If you experience educational barriers based on disability, please visit Disability Resources for Students online for more information about requesting accommodations. The DRS office in Mary Gates 011 is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Staff can work with you in person, by phone, TTY, video chat, or email (

If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to me at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course.

Your experience in this class is important to me, and you may have accessibility needs not covered under DRS’s umbrella—for example spotty web access, an unreliable computer, etc. Please talk with me as soon as possible so we can brainstorm solutions. 


Religious Accommodations

In accordance with state law, UW provides reasonable accommodations for student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy ( Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (


Technology Requirements

The following technology is essential to accessing materials and submitting assignments:

  • Reliable Internet access.
  • Web browser and computer specifications adequate for using Canvas, Panopto, Zoom, and VideoANT.
  • Webcam and microphone or phone camera and microphone.
  • Word processing software. Note that although you may use any software, you must submit written assignments in PDF or Microsoft Word format (.doc or .docx). If you use any other program, use the Help function for instructions on converting your files to PDF or Word format. Students may get Microsoft Office 365 and Windows 10 for free via UWare.
  • Headphones or speakers (internal or external) to hear audio content.
  • PDF viewer (Adobe PDF Reader or Apple Preview).
  • Basic image editing tool that allows image cropping (Paint, Preview,, Photoshop Express).
  • UW Net ID and Email. The class email list uses your UW email. If you want UW email to go to another account, you must configure forwarding preferences with UW Net ID account management tools.
Catalog Description: 
Types, techniques, and issues explored by filmmakers. Emphasis on narrative, image, and point of view.
GE Requirements: 
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Last updated: 
January 25, 2024 - 3:54am