The Little Chicagoland MFA That Could
Governors State University, located just south of Chicago, has had a small—it is capped at 15 film students—but dynamic MFA in Independent Film & Digital Imaging (IFDI) since its development in 2007.
Governors State’s MFA-IFDI program calls itself the "Little MFA That Could," and is centered on a philosophy of small crew authorship and social conscience rather than large crews, commercialism, and studio production.
A recent equipment support windfall has helped GSU to secure an ARRI Alexa Mini LF to complement its in-house media lab.
Also new this year, the MFA-IFDI program—a 60-credit hour, terminal degree—has begun consideration of Advanced Standing for students who possess a bachelor’s degree and strong experience in the film industry. Students joining from the industry will have their prior work assessed in a way that may facilitate putting a significant dent in the number of credits needed for completion.
Daniel Nearing, notable Chicago filmmaker, was both the original creator of the MFA-IFDI and remains its program director.
Nearing, who was named the inaugural Filmmaker in Residence for the City of Chicago (2016), and Chicagoan of the Year for film (2017) by the Chicago Tribune, says, “Our MFA program is excited to offer ARRI Alexa training beginning in Spring 2022. This camera is used in the making of a staggering proportion of films screened at Cannes and TIFF, not to mention multiple Oscar winners, and will help to provide our students with the advanced skills needed to enter and succeed in the current film landscape.”
The MFA-IFDI has graduated accomplished filmmakers such as Seth McClellan (King in Chicago) and Mercedes Kane (Today We Touched the Face of God). Its students have been involved in the making of films like Chicago Heights, named to Roger Ebert's last list of Best Art Films, and Hogtown, whch the Chicago Sun Times called the most original film made about Chicago in Chicago.
Several of GSU’s students with academic ambitions have gone on to tenure track positions at regional and national colleges, including McClellan and Aaron-Daniel Annas, who is now running the film path at SUNY Buffalo.
The IFDI program is seeking students who desire a nurturing, creative space, including those who want above-the-line experience after perhaps working for years in supporting crew positions in the film and television industry.
For recent IFDI students who have come from Harvard, DePaul, and Columbia College, the low sticker price for an MFA at Governors State, a public Illinois university, has been a shock—it is perhaps the most affordable MFA in Illinois at $353 per credit hour.
The MFA program is now accepting applications for Spring and Fall 2022.