By Julia Laczin
Kristen Hoerl is an assistant professor of communication studies at Butler University. Her film criticism class is more than viewing films.
“I was always interested in popular culture and thinking about the relationship between popular culture and social change,” Hoerl said.
She said that Civil Rights films in the 1980s and 1990s helped shape and interpret what the Civil Rights movement was about. Films that created narratives that give us a snapshot of reality are what interested her, Hoerl said.
“I was interested in how films, television and other forms of media depicted social problems, encouraged us to think about social problems or to distract us from social problems,” Hoerl said. “Then I started looking at how media depicted social movement.”
In Hoerl’s film criticism course, she said the first half of the semester is focused on a formal analysis and the second half is focused on a social criticism.
Hoerl said she wants her students to first focus on the central theme or the interpretive claims when critiquing and viewing a film.
“When people go into film they tend to go into the analysis of film, like the course I teach, which is all about learning how audiences relate to films and studying it from that perspective,” she said.
Leah Kroeger, a senior German and political science major, is taking Hoerl’s film criticism course.
Kroeger said she first heard of the course when Hoerl spoke to her politics of protest class in the fall.
“I feel like she really knows what she’s talking about and I feel like she really loves what she’s talking about,” Kroeger said.
Students may think the course is going to be easy, Kroeger said, but it is actually “thought-provoking,” which she really liked.
“I didn’t think it was going to be as academically intensive as it is, but I like it,” Kroeger said. “I’ve learned a lot more than I thought I was going to in this course.”
Trevor Roach, a junior Media Arts major, is also in the film criticism course.
“She really wants the class to be bonding with each other in a weird way, in the sense of we all are comfortably open about talking about our opinions of the movie,” he said.
Roach, like Kroeger, has also been able to incorporate what he learned in the course with his other courses, such as directing the narrative, which gave him more confidence in his work.
Roach and a team of other media arts majors are currently working on a short film for their course project produced and created entirely on their own, called “The Transfers.”
“It’s really a better understanding of film that I can hopefully incorporate into my film knowledge for myself, so I can put it towards my later projects,” Roach said.
Students who go into the class with a basic knowledge of the subject area broaden their sense and interest in film.
“I think it’s a good way to have people branch out and realize that not all movies are chick flicks,” Roach said. “There can be good movies that stir people’s emotions.”
Roach said his advice for future juniors and seniors interested in the course is to pay attention and really just try to respect filmmaking.
Hoerl is a person who is able to bring a critical lens to any form of communication or media, Kristin Swenson, an assisant professor of communications studies said, and that lens helps students see how “things are put together to be persuasive.”
Film criticism is more than rating a film on a scale of one to five, or basing a critique on actors and images, Hoerl said.
“The beauty of film criticism is that this is about the art of interpretation that is to look at different elements and see how they function together,” she said.