MA in Film Studies

This section outlines the rules and practices that apply to candidates for the Master of Arts in Film Studies. In addition, Graduate College rules apply to all students enrolled in a Graduate College program, including those in Film Studies.

Under normal circumstances, students who do not already hold an MA in Film Studies or a closely allied discipline are first admitted into the Film Studies MA program, even if they are interested in pursuing a doctorate in Film Studies. This is a two-year program, but in exceptional cases may be completed in three semesters and a summer. No more than six hours of graduate credit for courses taken elsewhere will be accepted toward the Film Studies MA.

The Film Studies MA serves two basic purposes: 1) to give students substantial training in film analysis, history, and theory, and 2) to afford students an opportunity to learn about various film-related disciplines in order to make an informed career choice. Students who complete a UI Film Studies MA may go on to PhD work in Film Studies or another discipline, MFA work in Film & Video Production or another discipline, a Library Science degree, film distribution, film programming, archival work, arts management, and many other disciplines. MA students are encouraged to take advantage of the University's and the program's openness toward interdisciplinary work by taking courses in other departments, by attending lectures throughout the University, and by generally informing themselves about a wide range of disciplines and careers related to Film Studies.

Requirements for students entering the MA program in Film Studies with a BA in Film Studies or an MA in an unrelated field:

In order to permit breadth within MA programs, the Film Studies MA requirements are few:

Credit Hour Requirement: a total of 36 semester hours of graduate coursework

Required Courses:

  • CINE:5673 Advanced Film Theory

  • CINE:5675 Advanced Film History

Distribution Requirement: at least 2 credits in each of the following areas:

  • U.S. cinema

  • European cinema

  • World cinemas

  • Production, documentary, animation, or experimental film

Note: The Head of Film Studies may waive or adjust the Required Course and Distribution Requirements in specific circumstances.

Grade Point Average: A minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.25 for graduate work taken at the University of Iowa.

Language Study: Given the program’s emphasis upon the study of film in an international context, foreign language acquisition is considered to be highly advantageous. Up to six hours of study in languages and literatures other than English (in courses numbered 3000 or above, as per Grad College regulations) may be counted toward the FS MA degree.

MA Final Examination: The MA examination (two four-hour written exams in Film Theory and Film History taken in January of the second year), followed by a one-hour oral examination conducted by the MA Examination Committee in early February.

For the MA exam, students choose one area from each list:


  • Feminist Film Theory
  • Film, Technology, and New Media
  • Film Theory, origins to 1965
  • Film Theory, 1965 to 1990
  • Film Theory, 1990 to the present
  • Film Theory and Postcolonial Studies
  • Genre Theory
  • Marxist Film Theory
  • Narrative Theory
  • Psychoanalytic Film Theory
  • Queer Film Theory
  • Spectatorship and Reception
  • Third Cinema



  • Animation
  • Documentary Cinema
  • East Asian Cinemas (including Australia and New Zealand)
  • (film production in at least 2 countries, studied comparatively)
  • European Cinema, origins to 1930
  • (film production in at least 3 countries, studied comparatively)
  • European Cinema, 1930 to 1960
  • (film production in at least 3 countries, studied comparatively)
  • European Cinema, 1960 to the present
  • (film production in at least 3 countries, studied comparatively)
  • Experimental Cinema
  • South Asian Cinema
  • Latin American Cinema, origins to 1960
  • Latin American Cinema, 1950 to the present
  • North African and Middle Eastern Cinema
  • Sub-Saharan African Cinema
  • U.S. Cinema, origins to 1930
  • U.S. Cinema, 1925 to 1960
  • U.S. Cinema, 1960 to the present

The first exam is given on the Thursday before the start of the spring semester, and the second exam is given on the following day. Each exam takes four hours, with three hours for writing, and an hour designated for outlining, revision, and proofreading. All students take the exams using a University computer. Students are expected to be familiar with the full range of material implied by their chosen areas and approved reading/viewing lists. Exams typically include both required questions and a choice among offered questions. The best answers reveal specific knowledge, broad conceptualization, lucid organization, and clear prose.

Film Studies MA Timetable

Following are schematic timelines of typical two-year Film Studies MA programs (one for a terminal MA program, the other for an MA student applying to the PhD program in year 2).

Standard Two-Year MA Timeline

Year 1

  • Mid-August: All incoming graduate students are assigned a faculty advisor. Plan to meet with that advisor during the latter part of the week preceding the start of classes. The advisor can inform you of program rules and practices, discuss your first-semester course selection and long-term aspirations, and field your questions.

  • Thursday or Friday before the first day of classes: Combined Film Studies and Film & Video Production orientation meetings. (Students with a teaching assistantship should also expect to meet with their course supervisor on one of these days and to attend basic training sessions.)

  • October/November: Prior to early registration, make an appointment with your advisor to discuss course selection for the spring, along with tentative decisions regarding your examination areas.

  • January: Meet with your advisor to prepare for the spring review of graduate students.

  • March/April: Prior to early registration, make an appointment with your advisor to discuss course selection for the fall, coverage of MA requirements, and your choice of examination areas (along with appropriate faculty to consult regarding the development of your exam reading lists).

  • May: Submit a draft of your exam reading/viewing lists to faculty members knowledgeable in each area.

  • Summer: Consider taking Film Studies or language courses, and/or working on the exam list.

    Year 2

  • By September 30: Submit to the MA Examination Coordinator a list of the equivalent of 15-20 books (1 book = 3 or 4 articles), and 20-30 films for each of your chosen examination areas. These lists will be examined and commented on by the faculty, then returned to you in October.

  • October/November: Meet with your advisor (and/or other faculty) to discuss your choice of spring courses, and possible application to PhD or other academic programs (whose deadlines typically fall in December or early January). Note that if you apply for and are accepted into the UI Film Studies PhD program, you are subject to a special timeline in the spring of your second year (detailed at the end of this section).

  • By October 31: Submit to the MA Exam Coordinator the final version of your exam lists. Students who fail to submit acceptable exam lists within the prescribed time frame will not be allowed to take the exam.

  • Thursday and Friday immediately preceding the start of the spring semester: The Theory exam is administered on Thursday, the History exam on Friday.

  • January: Meet with your advisor to prepare for the spring review of graduate students.

  • Mid-February: One-hour oral examinations with MA examination committee.

  • By the announced Graduate College deadlines: Signify your intention to graduate (i.e., receive your MA degree) in May by filing the appropriate papers with the departmental office and with the Registrar.

  • May: Graduate!

    Special Timeline for UI MA Students Applying to the UI PhD Program in Film Studies

  • November of Year 2: Consult the departmental office about which elements of your MA original application may be used as part of your PhD application. If necessary, provide updated materials orrequest additional letters of recommendation prior to the due date.

  • December of Year 2: Submit PhD application.

  • Late February of Year 2: The PhD admission decision is reported. If you are not admitted, you continue on the normal MA timeline.

For information on TA and RA appointments, see Film Studies Teaching Assistant and Research Assistant Information.