Robert W. Donnelly of Mount Laurel
Tina Catania, of Bellmawr age 67

Rutgers University–Camden film studies graduates accepted into prestigious film schools

TO THE POINT:CAMDEN – As Starla Blatcher sees it, film can capture the magic that is happening in real life, whether it stems from romance, ambition, death, or something that is completely intangible.

“I love when I’m watching a movie and I feel my heart flutter,” says the graduating theater major with afilmmaking concentration, with minors in writing and digital studies at Rutgers University–Camden. “That’s how I want to make others feel in the stories that I tell.”

For Audrey Johnson, film is one of the greatest visual learning tools, and to preserve and share it is to view history one frame at a time.

“If I can just preserve one film that would make a difference to someone, or influences them artistically or developmentally in some way, I would have done my job; that’s really the goal,” says Johnson, a graduating history major and film studies minor at Rutgers University–Camden.

The “reel world” now awaits the graduating seniors as they continue their academic pursuits at two of the top film programs in the country. Johnson will attend the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation at the George Eastman Museum/University of Rochester for a master’s degree in film preservation. Blatcher will pursue a master of fine arts in screenwriting at Chapman University.

“Audrey and Starla’s successes mark our most impressive year for our film program,” says Robert Emmons, assistant teaching professor of theater and head of the filmmaking concentration. “It’s exciting to see our students take their diverse undergraduate training into more specified areas of graduate study; in this case, film preservation and screenwriting. Both Audrey and Starla were trained in filmmaking and film studies but they also used those skills in their study of public history and writing, respectively. As with many of our film students, they were active creatively across our campus.”

A lifelong Berlin resident, Johnson recalls that her fascination with film began at the age of five, watching classic movies with her mother on their living room television. The first film she vividly remembers was Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. The colors, cinematography, and acting mesmerized her so completely, she recalls, that the film didn’t even occur to her as being “old” – even if it was almost 50 years old by that time.

“To me, the film was unfolding live in my living room – Tippi Hedren in her signature green suit would converse with Rod Taylor at our coffee table as LEGO birds would fly around the room, perching on our couch,” she says.

The Birds, along with many other films, would spark Johnson’s passion to pursue film preservation so that others had the same experience she once had. At Rutgers–Camden, she says, she was able to work in both history and film, which contain elements that will help in that pursuit.

She benefited from several hands-on learning and research opportunities, including several semesters of independent research in both public history and film studies. With Emmons’ guidance, she completed an independent study researching and analyzing how former President John F. Kennedy was depicted in the Direct Cinema subgenre of documentary filmmaking. She also completed an in-depth anthology project on the importance of film preservation.

Johnson worked with Lisa Zeidner, a professor of English, to write and submit a paper – still under consideration – on the cinematography in Moonstruck to a peer-reviewed undergraduate journal. She also served as a teaching assistant for Zeidner’s “Art of Film” course. In that role, she was able to moderate class discussions, design presentation matters, and find secondary sources on cinematography, sounds, acting, and other film topics.

“These experiences that I gained from Rutgers University–Camden reinforced my desire to continue in the field of film, especially in preservation,” says Johnson.

She says she is “honored” to now continue her studies at the Selznick School and the George Eastman Museum – “the epicenter of the film preservation field,” she says – noting that the museum has preserved some of the most important films of the 20th century, including Gone With the Wind, Alfred Hitchcock films, early “talkie” films, and even some Walt Disney shorts.

Meanwhile, Blatcher recalls that she has always enjoyed being creative and pursued art, including a love of storytelling, since she was a young child. However, her interest in film didn’t occur to her until her first year of high school, when she needed an elective and a cinema class was the only one open.

“After that class, I started watching a lot more movies and I fell in love with the craft,” says the Bala Cynwyd, Pa., resident.

At Rutgers–Camden, Blatcher says that she was “beyond lucky” to become close friends with a great group of film students, with whom she even visited Alaska. She also considers herself fortunate to have served a film internship in Philadelphia, allowing her to live on campus and commute easily to her internship.

Among her most memorable experiences, Blatcher helped a friend create a club called Writers League during her first year. Although the club eventually folded, it sparked her inspiration for writing. She also wrote a play called The Dinner, which was directed and performed by other theater students, for the Student-Directed One Act Play Festival in 2019.

“Watching others see my work in real life was vulnerable and heartfelt,” she recalls. “The characters in the play are based on some of my family members, so seeing my mom cry in the audience is probably one of the most meaningful experiences I had in the theater program. It was the first script anyone else read, so it felt so surreal to see it played out.”

Looking back, Blatcher says that she is thankful for her educational experience at Rutgers University–Camden, as her classes taught her to take every opportunity to learn something new. She believes that accepting new jobs and internships, and educating herself on what she loves, enabled her to thrive.

“This isn’t the type of program where you can sit back and wait for things to happen; you have to go out of your way and make it happen,” says the former Haddon Township resident.

Blatcher says that most of the scripts she has written are coming-of-age stories, but she also has a fascination with science fiction and “the unknowns in this world.” She now looks forward to learning more about her craft at Chapman University, with the goal of being able to tell “colorful, inspiring, and meaningful stories.”

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