The Digital Filmmaking minor at UCI once offered students the opportunity to experiment with film equipment in order to make art; the program created a space for students to express themselves in ways they never thought imaginable. Dominique Cojuangco, a fourth year English major, who minored in Digital Filmmaking here at UCI, is one such student. She joined the minor early in her college career and eventually went on to become very involved in the minor’s constituent club, DigiFilm Society. Cojuangco always knew she wanted to be involved with film in some way, but it wasn’t until she became familiar with the program that she realized she wanted to become a filmmaker.
The Digifilm program was created by professors who studied at UCLA and USC. They designed the program around aspects of what big name film departments — like UCLA’s Department of Film, Television and Digital Media and USC’s Cinematic Arts Program — were missing: hands-on film making experience. As Cojuangco describes it, the departments were missing the opportunity to function in “a microcosm of the film industry.”
The minor consisted of a series of eight to ten classes that taught students the process of pre-production, production and post-production. There were also project classes where students had the opportunity to make complete short films.
“Every part of the film industry is covered by the resources we’re given,” Cojuangco said in an interview with the New University.
Unfortunately, the Digital Filmmaking program will not be continuing next year at UCI. The art department has voted to cut the funding for the program and has fired Jackson. Only the club will remain. Current students knew this ending was near and the sadness tainted their time in the program. Cojuangco talks about her experience learning during this period of looming uncertainty.
“We always knew the program in itself was ending,” Cojuangco said. “We’ve extended the length of his [Jackson’s] job and his work here, but we knew the second he was put at risk of being fired that the program in itself was ending.”
It’s hard to say why exactly the department has made this decision. Instead of continuing what has already been established, two new faculty members are being hired in other aspects of the film sections of the arts department to advance production classes there. However, the decision feels like a sharp pivot away from the program that already exists, leaving many students feeling that they are being cut off and left behind. Whatever the reasoning, Cojuangco assured the New University that the heart of the program will not die. So many people care about what the program still has to offer.
The program began back in 1993 when the UCI arts department hired Ulysses Jenkins, an experimental video artist who has been making films since the late-70s. He only recently retired, but was featured at the Hammer museum in May 2022. His work uses film to take back the narrative of marginalized groups. Without his work, the program would not be what it is today. Cojuangco talks about how he continues to inspire her and other students.
“I’m looking a lot at Jenkins and his work is really impacting me,” Cojuango said. “He was not just a professor. He made a whole program for marginalized students.”
Jenkins later hired Bryan Jackson, one of the biggest driving forces behind the minor. He worked to build the Digital Filmmaking program from the ground up in order to give the classrooms everything they were lacking. Even though he was only hired as a professor, Jackson collected furniture, chairs and desks, standard classroom emergency procedures, and even installed cork boards to hang up student work. Cojuangco noted that everything inside the building was not provided by the university. The primary classroom space and club meeting areas took place around a table enlarged with flat plywood sitting precariously on top of two smaller tables.
Cojuangco began the interview with a tour around the DigiFilm spaces. She told the New University that the only thing the UCI arts department really gave the program was physical space. Everything else was either collected, donated or personally bought by faculty members or students. The DigiFilm department received only enough funding to provide for faculty and learning spaces, hardly enough for a program involved in filmmaking, considering the cost of cameras, sets and classroom materials.
The students built the sets themselves with the assistance of an equipment manager and professors. One set room that is used by most students in their films is a dorm room that consists of two beds and two desks. Everything in this room is set up with precision to make a space that appears to have all the chaos of a college dorm. Pens lay scattered across the desk and a pair of tennis shoes is stored by one of the beds. The walls are made of paper mache bricks to give the appearance of a school.
Now, the faculty that worked hard to turn these spaces into classrooms and create a learning environment for students are watching their time at UCI evaporate. Cojuangco spoke about Jackson after the loss of his job, saying “You could tell it wore on him that he committed so much.”
Although the program is losing its official funding, the heart of the program will remain. Cojuangco assures the professors who built this program made something stronger than courses with units and grades.
“As long as the equipment manager is here, as long as there’s somebody here who cares about Digifilm it won’t be sold for parts,” Cojuangco said. “Even though everything feels so cohesive and in sync, just because one part is gone doesn’t mean that DigiFilm is going away completely. It will go when the last person forgets about it at UCI, and it’s hard to forget about this because it’s leaving a huge impact on the university and the arts department,” she said.
Students value the DigiFilm program for its supportive and friendly community, as well as the relationships they form. Cojuangco explained that she met many of her closest friends in college through DigiFilm. The art they make together is a direct product of their friendship. In other words, the community pours itself into art. The two directly affect each other.
“The community will feel trivial to a lot of students because this is college. It shouldn’t be that serious. But the truth is without the culture this would just be any other program at the university,” she said, “The culture is not only supporting these students emotionally and mentally, but it is teaching you how to be a better human being in the industry. Since this is a simulation of what it’s like to be a professional filmmaker, you need to learn how to be with other people, and not everyone knows how to do that.”
This program gave filmmaking access to students who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to be a part of a community with networking opportunities in the film industry. Jenkins built the program with a focus on marginalized students. There is a big fear that the new developing program will not have this quality.
“A lot of the students are marginalized,” Cojuangco said. “That’s not a buzzword to us, this is our identity. This is doing an immense service to these communities and people like us. We would not have access to resources like this in this capacity without this program.”
Students from a variety of backgrounds coexist in an academic film setting equally — which is rare for a film school because most programs that actually involve filmmaking are expensive. It is a lot easier for students of all backgrounds to get involved in a program like this at a public university.
“The resources here give equitable access to the work that needs to be done. I think that a lot of people don’t understand that you’re supposed to learn how to share these resources and how to give and take from each other,” Cojuangco said.
Every faculty member involved in the minor are also filmmakers and therefore connected to the industry in some way, giving students the unique access to networks in the film industry. Having a pathway to follow after graduation is just as important as taking the classes in the first place. Many alumni also stay closely connected to the program after they leave, so there is an opportunity to work with them. Cojuangco notes that this was a monumental inspiration for her.
“There are people that have been where I have been in LA and are making films and I’m meeting them here at UCI,” Cojuangco said. “Having access to teachers who can become your mentors in the film industry, who have worked in the industry and have these connections… who actually want to be there for you, that’s already doing so much to support these students.”
The student leaders of DigiFilm society posted a statement on their official Instagram account on the art department’s decision.
“The arts administration have wrung their hands by disguising this cultural tragedy with a promise to hire two new lecturers next year but not for DigiFilm. They say they plan to expand their video art department, yet abandon the program they left their students and faculty to build themselves (we literally built the facilities up). But this process of dissolution is not new to us. The firing of Bryan Jackson that students have resisted against was the mark of the finality of their decision, long before they voted to officially end funding the program in its entirety,” the post reads.
Many students have protested this decision, but they were ultimately disregarded. The program will end before many students get the opportunity to finish the work they have already put into their minor.
The minor prepares students for the film industry in a way uncomparable to many other college programs. There are many people who support this program and will feel heartbroken to see it go. Cojuangco is only one voice among a sea of voices standing against the art department’s decision to cut what little funding has been dedicated to DigiFilm.
She conducted the interview with an earnestness and vigor that shows she is fighting for this program and everything it stands for. “I know that I am a filmmaker regardless, I am an artist. That’s what DigiFilm gives you.”
Emma McCandless is an Entertainment Intern for the fall 2022 quarter. She can be reached at email@example.com.