Everything You Need to Know About SF State University’s School of Cinema

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Photo Source: SF State School of Cinema

Celine Parreñas Shimizu, the director of San Francisco State University’s School of Cinema (and a professor there, as well), speaks with Backstage about how the program nurtures the filmmakers of tomorrow.   

What does your role as director of SF State’s School of Cinema entail? 
My role as director is to provide vision for 1,100 students, 50 faculty, and six staff members, delivering a curriculum that’s devoted to both studies and production, as well as managing facilities and equipment, and representing cinema as research in the university. Cinema teaches the powerful language of the moving image, which does different work than the linguistic. I aim to empower those working in our media to do what it does best: express what cannot be said nor spoken but seen, heard, felt, and experienced.  

What makes SF State’s School of Cinema unique? What sets it apart from the others?  
Founded in 1967, the School of Cinema is known for its experimental approaches and its social justice mission. We prioritize teaching 16mm film, whether in cinematography or material cinema, as well as virtual reality and screenwriting for video games. We give access to the foundations of cinematic production and the newest technologies in terms of a commitment to understanding the historical continuity of aesthetic practices and encouraging a sense of play and discovery in various media. Most centrally, we consider both production and studies (history, theory, and criticism) to be necessary to the education of our students.

What can students in the program expect during their time there?  
Our classrooms are spaces where students change their lives by learning to harness the languages of cinema. Our knowledge cannot be contained in 12-point font, double spaced, five-paragraph structures. For all of us who do not think nor communicate only in this way, the School of Cinema is home. Students learn in a community invested in film language—both love for it and unhappiness with it. They will find a world-class faculty teaching auteur cinema, independent and industry film, regional and national cinemas, social justice fiction filmmaking, animation, producing, directing, cinematography, post-production, sound, and so much more.  Cultures of collaboration are vital to our community. Student groups work together on programs as well as films. Programming during the pandemic brings us together with a focus on race, resistance, and rebellion, and includes a series on women of color in Hollywood this spring.  


How does the School support alumni in their filmmaking after graduation?  
Before students graduate, we connect them with organizations like Cal State University Entertainment Alliance, conduct internship workshops and programs, and graduate school forums. Our monthly newsletter celebrates their post-graduate news and keeps them abreast of what the School of Cinema is doing, including our robust programming. We also invite distinguished and recent alumni to speak with our students about their experiences to demystify the industry, build community, and create ongoing networks.  

What does the School look for in prospective students? Who is the “ideal” School of Cinema candidate?
We look for students from all walks of life who wish to pursue an education focused not only on production but history, theory, and criticism. Our students are dazzlingly diverse and produce the stories that our industry needs.  

What is the application process like?  
You will need to complete an application to Cal State Apply as well as a separate application for either the M.A. or the M.F.A. program. Questions about the application process and materials can be directed to the School of Cinema graduate advisor at [email protected] or to the Division of Graduate Studies. Somestic applicants: [email protected] or International applicants: [email protected]  

“Our classrooms are spaces where students change their lives by learning to harness the languages of cinema.”


Does the School provide any financial assistance to students who need it?  
The School of Cinema announces the awards, scholarships, and fellowships to which students apply. Awards include the Marcus Culminating Funds for film projects. More information can be found at sfsu.academicworks.com

Anything else?  
The Archive Project, which I direct and is advised by faculty member Greta Snider, is increasingly a unique treasure in the School of Cinema—it collects over 50 years of films by students, which we program along with contemporary cinema. We bring truly innovative filmmakers and curators such as distinguished alumna Cauleen Smith, as well as curators from Black, Native American, and queer concerns. Our Resident Curator and alumnus Stephen Kane recently curated a mind-blowing program of Black and Native American cinema from our collection. This was such a moving event that showcased to students their filmmaker-ancestors from former students in conversation with films by major filmmakers like Spencer Williams, whose work is in our collection.  

We also recently hired two new faculty members, the Marcus Endowed Chairs in African American Cinema Artel Great, and Social Justice Fiction Filmmaking Mayuran Tiruchelvam, both of whom bring exciting new curricular and public-facing programming to our community.   

Finally, a $10 million endowment from George and Judy Marcus refreshes our facilities and equipment, including a new classroom, student lounge, animation lab, as well as funds major programming in the School of Cinema.  

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Casey Mink
Casey Mink is the senior staff writer at Backstage. When she's not writing about television, film, or theater, she is definitely somewhere watching it.
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