For the first time in its 162-year-history, Augustana College in Rock Island will offer a film major, starting in fall 2023.

In a newly combined Department of Theatre and Film, student filmmakers can both expand and deepen their focus in their field, “diversifying their skills, experiences and portfolios in ways a film-only program cannot provide,” according to the Rock Island-based private school.

After an international search, Augie has hired a new associate professor and director of the program, Stacy Barton. She’s taught in higher education since 2004, having held positions at the University of Colorado Denver, the University of West Georgia and most recently Metropolitan State University of Denver.

Stacy Barton speaks at a press conference at Augustana’s Brunner Theatre on Dec. 7, 2022 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

The college worked with Peter Hawley, director of the Illinois Film Office and a professional filmmaker, on starting the new major and creating the strongest program possible.

Barton earned her bachelor’s in film from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, and master’s in film from Syracuse University. She’s also a working filmmaker and script writer.

Barton joined the Augustana staff in August, taught a film history course, wrote curriculum for the new film major and minor, and will teach a three-week documentary filmmaking course in January.

“I’m so thrilled to have her as a colleague and collaborator,” Jennifer Popple, assistant professor of theatre arts and department chair, said in a Wednesday press conference at Brunner Theatre Center.

Theatre department chair Jennifer Popple speaks about the new film major (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“This is an exciting day,” Barton said Wednesday. The new state-of the-art film production facilities will be on the first floor of Sorenson Hall (at 38th Street and 7th Avenue, which is undergoing exterior renovation.

It will include a new shooting studio, professional lighting and grip equipment, iMac computers, high-quality, high-definition video cameras, audio equipment and LED lighting. It will also offer equipment for student checkout.

The program will include narrative fiction and documentary formats, Barton said, to help students build a strong portfolio of work.

Barton, who is a filmmaker, earned her degrees in film from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Syracuse University (photo by Jonathan Turner).

In the spring, she’ll teach film production fundamentals and a course on business and producing.

“I am very excited to lead our very talented Augustana students, who possess worldwide viewpoints, and expressing themselves in film and media.”

“We’re really excited about this new program. The future is looking super bright, so – lights, camera, action!”

Fresh Films since 2016

Fresh Films — which gives high-school students nationwide hands-on experience in the business — relocated from Chicago to the Augie campus in 2016.

Owners Estlin and Kelli Feigley were instrumental in starting a film certificate program and a minor in entertainment media.

Fresh Films has been based at Augustana since 2016 and has employed 85 students as paid interns.

The minor has grown substantially over the years, attracting many international students, Popple said. Fresh Films has employed 85 Augie students as paid interns on film and TV projects since 2016.

Augie grads have landed full-time employment in film and TV in California and Chicago, Popple said.

“I think it’s an exciting opportunity for Augustana,” Estlin Feigley (himself an Augie alum) said Wednesday. “To get into a growing industry, to get that going.”

The new major will help Augie recruit new students, in addition to giving internship opportunities, Kelli said. “Now I get an academic program and I can really go deep, and I can have internships.”

The Feigleys have helped teach screenwriting, music video production and a film industry class, in partnership with theatre arts (as well as directing, lighting, and graphic design.

They have taught, and Augie theatre professor Jeff Coussens with other theater faculty have taught film-related courses.

Illinois Film Office help

Coussens Wednesday read a statement from state Film Office chief Peter Hawley, who couldn’t attend Wednesday’s announcement.

Peter Hawley, director of the Illinois Film Office, said over $700 million in film and TV production has been done in the state in 2022.

“These are exciting times, not just for Augustana College, but for the film industry in Illinois,” he said, noting the catalog of famous films shot in the Land of Lincoln, including “The Blues Brothers,” “Groundhog Day,” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

In 2018, the state did about $475 million in film and TV production business, which grew to $700 million this year, Hawley said. By the end of 2024, he expects film production in the state to be a $1-billion industry.

Illinois needs more sound stages and filming locations, he said. “A new film program is an ideal way to grow our own indigenous film community – not only here in the Quad Cities but across the state,” Hawley said.

“I have an affinity for the Quad Cities – my dad lives here, I got my first paying TV job here, and the Illinois Film Office has awarded grants to Fresh Films, housed right here at Augustana,” he said. “The Film Office is a big supporter of this program. I look forward to working closely with you and we look forward to great things to come from your students.”

Quarter-million-dollar investment

In the newly named Theatre and Film Department, students will be theatre or film majors. There were 12 Augie students who worked on the new Fresh Films “I Am Able” documentary, which was shown at the Putnam Giant Screen Theater.

Fresh Films premiered the new “I Am Able” documentary (about the Penguin Project of the Quad Cities) on Nov. 2, 2022 at the Putnam Giant Screen Theater (photo by Jonathan Turner).

The college is budgeting $250,000 for the new film studio and equipment, with renovations starting in the spring.

“One of the reasons this is such a high-demand major is that so many people can create content now so easily,” Popple said, noting Augie may start a QC film festival for student and other local filmmakers. “Those film festivals are great recruitment tools; they’re also a great connection to the community in a number of different ways.”

The new film program will be based in Sorensen Hall, which is undergoing renovations and a $250,000 investment for equipment and construction (photo by Jonathan Turner).

About 100 students have declared entertainment media minors (18 credits), with about 27 currently, Popple said, which includes an internship.

“When Stacy came and interviewed, she noted the number of international students and domestic students of color is much higher in the film program,” than in others, including theater, she noted. “A lot of them are saying, they want to go back home and they want to start a film industry in their country, which is a really cool thing.

“It’s just a really neat synergy that happens there,” Popple said. “These students come in and they’re like, ‘I want to do this with my life.’ It’s a really exciting thing for us.”

Wendy Hilton-Morrow, Augustana College dean and vice president for academic affairs recalled that Estlin Feigley told her in 2015: “A camera is like a pen. It’s just a tool. If you don’t have anything to say, there is no power that comes with it and we need students to have the ability to tell powerful stories and meaningful stories with a camera.”

Augustana dean and vice president of academic affairs Wendy Hilton-Morrow spoke at Wednesday’s event (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“When he said that, I get why we should have film here at Augustana,” she said. “It’s a perfect match for our mission and our students.”

A film and new media major is perfect for a liberal arts college like Augustana.

“We educate our students both very broadly and very deeply,” Hilton-Morrow said, noting when they study varied courses, they learn how “to tell powerful stories.”

“Whether those are documentary form, or if they are fictional stories designed to move people and bring about important social messages,” she said. Such a new major will help students become leaders in their communities.

For more information on the new film program, visit the college website.