Program Description

Contact

Program Producer, Sarah Lawrence Filmmaking Faculty

E-mail Jay

Student with clapboard on movie set

Cinema Sarah Lawrence is a full 15-credit “semester away” program open to Sarah Lawrence students and those from other accredited colleges and universities. The program runs every other spring semester.

The 2022 semester will kick off with a week at the Sundance Film Festival before moving to its filming location (to be determined) for 13 weeks of hands-on learning and preparation for the production of a feature-length film. Students work in a wide range of positions, from wardrobe supervisor and camera operator to script supervisor, set decorator, prop master, assistant editor, and second assistant director.

Some students arrive with no real technical background—and they sometimes choose to work in film jobs they didn’t know existed. We create a comfortable learning environment where students are encouraged to take risks and try new things, all with our support.

Our film slated for production in 2022 is Land and Liberty (working title), which will be based on a multicultural narrative set on the northern front of the American Revolution.

About "Land and Liberty" (Working Title), Our Planned Film for 2021

The film slated for production in Winter/Spring 2022 has a working title of Land and Liberty. It’s creation will be guided by the style of the American western and drawn from historical books including Christopher Wren’s Those Turbulent Sons of Freedom and Gretchen Gerzina’s Mr. and Mrs. Prince. Wren is a 30-year veteran New York Times writer who served as Times bureau chief in Moscow, Beijing, Johannesburg, Paris, Ottawa, and Beirut. Gretchen Gerzina is dean of the honors college at University of Massachusetts and the first African-American woman to chair an Ivy League English department (at Dartmouth).

Our film will track the early adventures of mid-18th century settlers to the area now known as Vermont, which, at the time, was contested territory between New York and New Hampshire. One character: rough-hewn rogue pioneer and land speculator Ethan Allen, who defied New York’s claim to land granted to poor homesteaders by corrupt New Hampshire Governor Benning Wentworth.

Allen led the resistance to New York sheriffs seeking to evict him and his fellow settlers. Without skipping a beat; he also launched the first offensive attack of the American Revolution, seizing the British fort at Ticonderoga. Buoyed by his unlikely success, Allen plotted a reckless assault to seize control of Montreal. He landed in a British prison ship for an act George Washington considered imprudent and insubordinate.

Recently freed slaves Lucy and Abijah Prince also made their way to Vermont during these early years, taking advantage of Governor Wentworth’s cheap land grants. Lucy Prince was the first published African-American poet and she showed remarkable grit and strategic formidability as she toiled, against the odds, to secure her family’s position in a sometimes hostile environment.

For Ethan Allen and other white settlers, land meant freedom and potential prosperity. The enterprising Princes also grabbed the opportunity to own land after decades of confinement and forced labor. Their story offers a rare glimpse into the African American experience on the northern frontier.

The Land and Liberty screenplay is in development by Sarah Lawrence College students in Jay Craven's screenwriting class. These far reaching dialogues will continue until and beyond our first day of production. Guest students who have applied to Cinema Sarah Lawrence 2022 are invited to join these early screenwriting discussions online, and to fully discuss, debate, and help make script revisions now and once they arrive for our film intensive semester. For more information, please e-mail project director Jay Craven.

Week 1: Sundance Film Festival

Cinema Sarah Lawrence begins with a weeklong visit to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Students stay at the modest but very conveniently located Chateau Apres Ski Dorm, just a minute walk from the Park City Library festival venue and two minutes from the Sundance shuttle that connects to each theater, where they will enjoy a daily routine of screenings and special events. Students keep diaries that discuss the films they’ve seen and the experiences they’ve had, and write a narrative account of their Sundance experience.

Student with camera


Weeks 2-8: Classes, workshops, and pre-production 

Students and key faculty/mentors travel from Sundance to the film location for seven weeks of immersive classes, film department workshops, screenings, discussions with visiting artists, casting, student filmmaking, cultural activities, and hands-on pre-production.

Classes include Screenwriting and Directing, where we deliberate and debate our script, casting options, and directorial strategies. Also Cinema Studies, where we screen and discuss films relevant to our own production, and Cultural Studies, where we contextualize and dig deep into the real-life history, culture, and social dynamics of our planned film narrative.

Film Department Workshops generally meet three times a week for three hours each. It is in these workshops that students learn what they will need to know and do for production and begin to move into the positions they’ll fill. Workshops are staged in 1) Camera, Lights and Sound, 2) Production Management, 3) Production Design, 4) Costume Design, 5) Post-production, and 6) Still Photography and Documentary Production.

Each student chooses one workshop. Students who wish to switch from their initial choice are permitted to do so within the first couple weeks of class. Similarly, students who wish to rotate into several positions during production are given due consideration and support, where possible.

Mentors and personnel

The essential professionals who populate weeks 2-8 include director, director of photography, producers, screenwriters, production designer, art director, costume designer, line producer, assistant director, and editor. A cultural studies teacher also joins the program, as do recent alumni, now working in the field, who will assist in the production department. Approximately two weeks before the start of production, additional professionals begin to arrive to help lead classes and make final preparations for production.

Student working on film set


Weeks 9-14: Film Production

Following our seven weeks of class time, all students will work with an expanded group of mentors/professionals to launch final pre-production and production of our planned film. The production runs on a schedule of six five-day weeks.

Students work each day in their departments under the supervision of their department heads. The emphasis continues to be on their development as part of a team undertaking an ambitious project. We’re making a real movie! 

Many students say they come away with a profound sense of accomplishment, having taken ownership of a substantial part of the larger narrative of production.

Some students will also present workshops to local community members where we shoot. They explain our process and show examples of costumes, sets, props, and camera strategies. By teaching, they also learn and develop leadership skills.

Credits

Students earn a total of 15 college credits for Cinema Sarah Lawrence, broken down as follows:

  • 6 credits for required classes (Cinema Studies, Cultural Studies, and Screenwriting and Directing)
  • 3 credits for one hands-on production workshop
  • 6 credits for six-week production period 

The credits earned are fully transferable back to guest students’ home institutions, with allocations based on each institution's policies and preferences.