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UC Davis Film Experts for the Academy Awards

February 11, 2010

UC Davis has the following experts who can talk about film, the film industry and upcoming Academy Awards.

What makes great films

Dean Simonton, UC Davis professor of psychology, co-authored a 2009 study that concluded sex and nudity contribute little to the success or popularity of films. "Avatar," one of this year’s Best Picture nominees and the top box office film of all time, may represent the best example yet of that finding. In a pending new book, Simonton also addresses the fundamental question "what makes a film great?" The book, “Great Flicks: Scientific Studies of Cinematic Creativity and Aesthetics,” discusses the Oscars, the intricacies of film-making — directing, screenplays, the acting, editing and music — and how films should be judged. Contact: Dean Simonton, Psychology, (530) 752-1677, dksimonton@ucdavis.edu.

Academy Awards history

UC Davis American studies professor Eric Smoodin can compare modern-day productions to those in the past, talking about changes in glamour, fashion, star power and nomination choices. He also can talk about the likely demographics of fans for the nominees in the acting categories. A scholar of American film history, Smoodin studies how audiences respond to films and their stars, using fan mail, diaries and other sources. His book, "Regarding Frank Capra: Audience, Celebrity and American Film Studies 1930s-1960s," was published in 2004. Smoodin also wrote "Animating Culture: Hollywood Cartoons From the Sound Era" in 1993. Contact: Eric Smoodin, American Studies, (530) 752-8182, esmoodin@ucdavis.edu.

On directors and directing

Sarah Pia Anderson, UC Davis professor of theatre and dance, is a director of theater, film and television. Considered one of the top women directors of English-language drama, she has directed at the Royal Shakespeare Company and Royal National Theatre and on Broadway. Her television credits include "Prime Suspect," starring Helen Mirren, and, more recently, episodes of "Grey’s Anatomy," "Huff," "Ugly Betty" and "Big Love." Contact: Sarah Pia Anderson, (530) 752-0888, spanderson@ucdavis.edu.

Chick flicks, vampires and sociocultural implications of films

Pamela Demory, a lecturer in the UC Davis University Writing Program, can talk about the social and cultural implications of Hollywood film as well as adaptations from novels. Demory teaches popular film in her "Writing in Film Studies" courses, and film adaptations in her "Film as Narrative" courses. She recently completed "Jane Austen and the Chick Flick in the 21st Century" (appearing in early 2010 in a collection of essays), and is currently working on a study of film adaptations of Stephanie Meyer's "Twilight" novels and Sean Penn's adaptation of Jon Krakaur's "Into the Wild." Contact: Pamela Demory, University Writing Program, (530) 752-9535, phdemory@ucdavis.edu.

Contemporary and African American film and TV trends

Christine Acham, UC Davis associate professor of African American and African studies, can talk about contemporary film and TV trends, documentaries, the history of African Americans in film and the television industry, and black popular culture. Her book, "Revolution Televised: Prime Time and the Struggle for Black Power," was published in 2004. She is writing another book on black political films of the 1970s and making a documentary called “Infiltrating Hollywood: The Rise and Fall of the Spook Who Sat by the Door.” Contact: Christine Acham, African American and African Studies, (626) 318-0737 cell, acham@ucdavis.edu.

American popular culture

Laura Grindstaff, associate professor of sociology at UC Davis, studies a wide range of American popular culture, from reality television to sports, with a special emphasis on issues of gender, class, race and sexuality. Her courses include "Introduction to Popular Culture," "Documentary Film" and "Gender and Society." She wrote "The Money Shot: Trash, Class, and the Making of TV Talk Shows," published in 2002. Contact: Laura Grindstaff, Sociology, (530) 752-0782, lagrindstaff@ucdavis.edu.

Rare films and film history

Scott Simmon, professor of English, curates rare films found outside Hollywood studios. He has delivered to historic-cinema buffs some 150 previously unavailable films via three DVD sets, most recently "Treasures III: Social Issues in American Film, 1900-1934." The 12-hour set brings together early films about controversial topics forbidden later by Hollywood — on abortion, atheism, homelessness, women’s rights, race relations and more. A former curator of film retrospectives at the Library of Congress, Simmon's book "The Invention of the Western Film,” received the Theatre Library Association Award for 2003, given each year to “the best English-language book about recorded performance.” He also wrote "The Films of D.W. Griffith" and has co-authored other books on film history and preservation. Contact: Scott Simmon, sasimmon@ucdavis.edu.

Composing film scores

Composing music for movies is an art in itself, says UC Davis music professor Pablo Ortiz, who has created musical scores for Argentine director Sergio Renan. Ortiz can talk about the challenges composers have in creating music for the big screen and stage, and how this differs from composing other types of music. Ortiz also teaches a course, "Star Wars and Wagner," that delves into broader themes such as the mythical story of heroes and how great filmmakers of the '70s destroyed and recreated the studio system. Ortiz has composed internationally award-winning music for 27 years. Contact: Pablo Ortiz (fluent in Spanish), Music, (530) 752-7509, pvortiz@ucdavis.edu.

Sexuality, race and gender

David Van Leer, professor of English at UC Davis, can talk about about popular films and television, with a special emphasis on issues of sexuality, race and gender in commercial Hollywood films since World War II. He has published widely at both academic presses and for The New Republic on such directors as George Cukor, Howard Hawks, Jacques Rivette, Marlon Riggs and Cheryl Dunye. His most recent book is "The Queening of America: Gay Culture in Straight Society." Contact: David Van Leer, English, (530) 754-8253, dmvanleer@ucdavis.edu.

How film crews work

Beth Bechky, an associate professor of organizational behavior in UC Davis' Graduate School of Management, studies the coordination and processes of film crews and is interested in how interaction among members of different technical occupations impacts organizations. She has published papers on "Coordination and Role Enactment in Film Production," about tactics film crew members use to advance their careers and about how film crews, like SWAT teams, respond to unexpected events in their work. Contact: Beth Bechky, Graduate School of Management, babechky@ucdavis.edu.

About UC Davis

For more than 100 years, UC Davis has engaged in teaching, research and public service that matter to California and transform the world. Located close to the state capital, UC Davis has 32,000 students, an annual research budget that exceeds $600 million, a comprehensive health system and 13 specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and more than 100 undergraduate majors in four colleges — Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, Engineering, and Letters and Science. It also houses six professional schools — Education, Law, Management, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing.

Media contact(s):

  • News Service, (530) 752-1930

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