What does “Save RTVF” mean?

We take our name from the original Save RTVF campaign, the last large-scale, student-led RTVF mobilization effort in 2002.

It was an energetic time of petitions and protests. In the cramped basement of a Ridge Avenue apartment, over a hundred students showed up to the first organizing meeting. Performance Studies majors signaled their solidarity by staging a mock funeral outside of Frances Searle. The issue back then was the same as now: the administration wanted to restructure the RTVF department to shift the focus away from filmmaking, and students responded with a show of force.

While the name is alarmist by design, our intent is to pay tribute to the legacy of RTVF students advocating for themselves, protecting what’s important to them, and being proactive about the future they want to see.

Why now?

We were galvanized by the elimination of nearly all grants from student organizations like Inspire Media, Multicultural Filmmakers Collective, Niteskool, Studio 22, and Women Filmmakers Alliance, the cornerstones of the RTVF experience.

In addition, the department is exercising strict control over the equipment cage in order to regulate which productions get made. In effect, all productions on campus must now be cleared and authorized by the faculty, which we view as a serious and unprecedented curtailment of creative freedom for Northwestern writers and directors.

We also believe the department’s unilateral decision to ban student organizations from choosing which projects they want to produce represents a direct and unnecessary threat to an independent production culture that dates back more than thirty years.

What’s next?

We have published many heated opinions on this subject, and will continue publishing throughout the campaign.

We have also reached out to the faculty, and they seem encouragingly open to making changes.

We stand by the current students and RTVF community on campus as they lead the charge in devising an alternative.

We believe a mutually-agreeable, win-win solution can be forged among the students, alumni, and faculty, but only if the department recognizes and accepts that the current funding structure severely diminishes the quality of film education at Northwestern, and is plainly unacceptable to students and former students alike.

The Situation:

The Radio/Television/Film department at Northwestern University has banned student organizations from awarding grants and seized control over which projects get produced on campus.

Before: The Grant System

At Northwestern, there are five “grant-awarding” film organizations: Inspire Media, Multicultural Filmmakers Collective, Niteskool, Studio 22, and Women Filmmakers Alliance. Winning a grant from these groups means more than getting money: it’s a virtual guarantee that the film will get made, because the organizations are active, experienced producing partners with a vested interest in seeing the project all the way through to the premiere weekend in the spring and beyond.

Previously, this type of organization would apply for grant funding from the School of Communication, and then make open calls for submissions from student filmmakers who wanted to get produced. Grant applicants would undergo a “pitch process” (a rigorous competition for a grant, usually consisting of written materials, a screenplay, and in-person interviews), and the organizations’ board members would make good-faith efforts to select the highest quality projects pitched to them that quarter.

The End of the Grants:

Around 2014, the RTVF department took control of funding the student organizations from the School of Communication.

In winter quarter 2016, they cut nearly all of Studio 22’s grants, citing issues with “student-to-student funding” as the reason (i.e. the possibility for corruption, students giving grants to their friends). “There were a lot of students who thought that the process was unfair or dominated by cliques,” an RTVF professor told the Daily Northwestern in May. “Studio 22 doesn’t meet the needs of every student,” the department chair told us in November, “and the majority of our student filmmakers don’t work within Studio 22, nor should they be required to, since Studio 22 is a voluntary student organization.”

In fall quarter 2016, the department cut the grant budgets from the other four organizations as well. They also eliminated “grant powers,” i.e. the ability for an organization to award a grant, regardless of whether the funding came from the RTVF department. So even if an organization fundraises for grant money on its own (as Women Filmmakers Alliance did in fall 2015, raising $2,526 through Northwestern’s internal Kickstarter system), they are restricted from using it toward funding a production. If Women Filmmakers Alliance were to violate the department’s policy, and give the recipient of their grant the $2,526 they raised, they would lose all departmental funding and all access to the school’s filmmaking equipment.

After: The MAG System

Since 2015, the department has been phasing in a new funding structure called Media Arts Grants, or MAGs. In essence, a MAG is a grant that is awarded by the department instead of a student organization. The typical award is $1,500 or less. To win a MAG, students fill out a paper application with no in-person interview and no requirement to submit a screenplay. MAG awards are decided by a rotating, anonymous committee of faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students.

Not all MAGs are guaranteed access to the equipment cage (which is the basic prerequisite for making a serious film at Northwestern), yet all productions on campus must recieve MAGs in order to be produced. If a film doesn’t get a MAG, it doesn’t get made. The department still allows student groups to provide supplemental funding to individual film projects (this is called a “Plus-Up”), but only up to $500, and only after the project has received “authorization” by the department by winning a MAG.

Thus far, the MAG system has proven dramatically ineffective at producing student films. Under the old grant system, it was presumed that all grant films would be produced, shot, edited, and screened by the last week of spring quarter; it was practically unheard of and extremely rare for a production with student organization–backing to fail outright and not make it to the premiere weekend. Under the new system, the department awarded 22 MAGs during the 2015–16 school year, and only nine were screened at the end of the year.

Student protest:

These changes to the funding structure were immediately protested by the RTVF community. They were challenged by the student leadership of the groups who lost funding. They were opposed by URSA, the RTVF student council. They were met with desperate pleas for change and elaborate proposals for alternatives, none of which have moved the faculty to make any serious attempts at resolving the fundamental problems the system presents.

That is the reason for the Save RTVF campaign. It is an alumni mobilization effort driven by a group of 300+ members and former members of the RTVF community. It is about bringing as much attention to this issue as possible so that the department can no longer ignore the students who are making calls for reform, or leverage its structural power against them.

Our goal is very clear: We want serious, mutually agreed-upon reforms in the department’s funding structure by the start of the next fiscal year (September 1, 2017), and we want an open process for arriving at those reforms.

We will attempt to explain our many objections to the MAGs as clearly and thoroughly as we can in early winter quarter 2017. Till then, find out how you can help the cause:

How much time do you have?

0 Minutes:
Follow Us on Facebook

We’ll post periodic updates on the campaign. Join us when you’re ready.

2 Minutes:
Sign Our Petition

Co-sign the campaign’s official statement against the department’s actions.

20 Minutes:
Read Our 95-Point Manifesto

For a deep dive, read MAGMA 95, a long essay with everything you should know about this controversy.

45 Minutes:
Write a Letter

Tell department what you think. We’ll deliver it for you.

In It to Win It:
Join an Action Committee

Serve in a leadership position within the campaign.

Any questions? Feel free to contact us.

Last updated December 19, 2016. While we have endeavored to be as accurate as possible in our findings, we welcome any corrections to errors of fact, or any additional context that is missing from our analysis. Feel free to reach out to the campaign at any time via the contact page.