Big plans coming out of the ASU film school: The university announced Monday that it will operate The Sidney Poitier New American Film School with programs in Mesa, Tempe, and Los Angeles starting in fall 2022. The school is part of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.
Poitier is renowned for being the first Black man to receive the Academy Award for best actor, and his career has important ties to Arizona. He earned that award for his performance in a 1963 film called Lilies of the Field, which was set and filmed in Arizona.
The school grew out of a film program first launched at ASU in 2006; it currently enrolls nearly 700 students. It will be headed by a new director, and Steven J. Tepper, dean of ASU's Herberger Institute, expects to announce that name in about a month.
It’s an important time for film, according to Tepper, who hails the medium as a way to make what we believe possible, and move forward individually and as a society. “Film connects to people's hearts and imaginations,” Tepper says. “It may be the most powerful medium in this moment.”
The university is building a new 118,000-gross-square-foot facility in Mesa, where the film school will be based. The film program is currently based on the Tempe campus, and ASU expects to open its Los Angeles center during summer 2021.
Its L.A. film programming will be housed inside the historic Herald Examiner building designed by architect Julia Morgan for media mogul William Randolph Hearst, where illusionist Harry Houdini performed a straitjacket escape in 1923.
The Mesa campus will be located near Mesa Arts Center, which has been a hub for visual and performing arts for more than a decade. The campus will include a three-story building with several sound stages, including a three-story stage for immersive entertainment experiences.
The south side of the building will sit adjacent to an open park space, where ASU plans to hold film screenings for the community. (Outdoor film screenings are already happening on a much smaller scale in Roosevelt Row through indie film venue FilmBar.)
According to Tepper, ASU will have weekly screenings in three spaces — including the outdoor park with “one of the largest screens in the state” and “two amazing theaters” located inside its new facility. The school is also planning to be a community resource in areas such as gaming and expanded reality.
Tepper expects film student enrollment to double during the next three to five years, and notes that film is currently the fastest-growing program at ASU.
Informed by Poitier’s legacy, the school will focus on increasing diversity in the field of filmmaking, both on screen and behind the scenes. It’s already making important strides, according to Tepper, who says about 40 percent of its film students are non-white and over one-fifth are first-generation college students.
Now, he’s thinking about ways the school can work to foster Poitier’s twin passions for arts and education, and the responsibility that comes with the legendary actor’s legacy.
“There’s a beautiful pressure that sits on our shoulders to live up to his name.”
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