Master of Arts

The M.A. in Cinema Studies at SF State offers students the opportunity to pursue graduate research in cinema and media scholarship. We believe that “cinema” refers to all moving image media, from early films to emerging digital media forms. The M.A. program emphasizes not only the study of cinema history, theory and criticism, but of all “cinematic” media and the theories related to them. The curriculum allows students considerable freedom to choose among a wide variety of course offerings, building toward producing a thesis that emphasizes focused research on a specific topic related to their interests.

Application Procedures

To apply to the M.A. in Cinema Studies, you must complete a two-step application process:

  1. an application form for the California State University system and
  2. a separate application for the School of Cinema.

Please note: you must complete both steps of the application in order to be considered.

STEP 1: Complete the Cal State Apply for application paperwork.

STEP 2: Complete the School of Cinema application. Materials needed for your application include: a CV, a statement about your background and research interests, a scholarly writing sample, unofficial transcripts and the names of at least two recommenders.

Questions about the application process and materials can be directed to the School of Cinema graduate advisor at and/or to the Division of Graduate Studies: Domestic applicants: or International applicants:

Program Specializations

Ph.D. Programs

Graduates of the program have gone on to earn doctoral degrees at prestigious schools such as UCLA, UC Berkeley, Harvard, Glasgow University, Concordia University, UT Austin, Indiana University, University of Iowa and UC Santa Barbara, among others. Some hold tenure-track positions at universities around the world.

Media Arts Management

Graduates have secured successful careers as managers of local and regional media arts organizations, curators at art museums and film festivals and as media archivists and librarians.

Entertainment Industry

Graduates have found work in the entertainment and digital media industries, holding positions as journalists and reviewers, studio archivists, audience analysts, producers and creative executives, among others.

The M.A. in Cinema Studies enables students to:

  • Demonstrate a broad knowledge of cinematic theory, history and criticism.
  • Conduct close analyses of cinematic texts, including film, television and digital media.
  • Craft written arguments and analysis utilizing appropriate source materials.
  • Conduct independent research that leads to a thesis project.
  • Demonstrate teaching skills appropriate to undergraduate cinema studies coursework.

Required Courses

All students must complete at least 30 units for the degree, of which six are electives and three constitute the thesis requirement. All 30 units must be for graduate-level courses (i.e., undergraduate courses cannot fulfill the 30-unit requirement). Students are encouraged to select electives in consultation with a faculty adviser.

Two courses are required: Introduction to Graduate Studies (CINE 700), which must be taken in the fall of the student’s first year, and Master’s Thesis (CINE 898), which must be taken in the student’s second year (typically the final semester). To complete the 30-unit requirement, students are encouraged to select at least 18 units of Cinema graduate M.A. courses (course nembers 720 - 749 and 820 - 829). The six units of electives may be Cinema graduate courses or graduate courses outside the Cinema discipline. In all cases, students are encouraged to discuss their options with a faculty adviser. To view a list of all Cinema M.A. courses, visit the SF State Bulletin. Note: Not all M.A. course options are offered every semester.

A typical trajectory might look as follows (although this is by no means prescriptive):

First Year
Course Title Units
CINE 700 Introduction to Graduate Studies 3
CINE 720 Critical Paradigms and the Cinematic 3
CINE 852 Directed Experience in Film Education* 3
CINE 721 Cinematic Documentary 3
CINE 722 Independent Cinema 3
CINE 747 Post-colonial Cinema 3

*CINE 852 can be applied to the six units of elective credit on the advice and consent of the graduate coordinator and/or chair. Only students planning to work as paid course assistants or as Graduate Teaching Associates should take CINE 852. Completion of CINE 852 is a prerequisite for appointment to any paid position. If students do not wish to take CINE 852 in the fall of their first year, they may take another course.

Second Year Required Courses
Course Title Units
CINE 749 Critical Practices 3
CINE 840 Professional Development & Training* 3
CINE 898 Master's Thesis 3
CINE 823 Curation and Cinema 3

*CINE 840 can be applied to the six units of elective credit on the advice and consent of the Graduate Coordinator and/or Chair. CINE 840 is designed to prepare students for a host of professional activities, including conference presentation, preparation of the CV, doctoral applications, and the management of the annual Cinema M.A. conference.

M.A. Electives
Course Title Units
CINE 720 Critical Paradigms and the Cinematic 3
CINE 721 Cinematic Documentary 3
CINE 722 Independent Cinema 3
CINE 723 Cinematic Forms and Aesthetics 3
CINE 727 Cinematic Styles 3
CINE 728 Cinema Histories 3
CINE 740 Seminar in Film Theory 3
CINE 741 Cinema and the City 3
CINE 743 Sexuality in the Cinema 3
CINE 747 Post-Colonial Cinema 3
CINE 748 Cinema and Cultural Studies 3
CINE 749 Critical Practices 3
CINE 820 Seminar in Critical Theory 3
CINE 821 Seminar in Documentary Cinema 3
CINE 823 Curation and Cinema  3

*Not all courses will be offered each semester; please check the School of Cinema schedule information for the relevant semester for availability. You can find course descriptions and details about these courses in the University Bulletin.

Thesis Project

After completing course work in film and media theory and history and criticism, students produce a thesis based on the standard length of an article (25 - 35 pages) in a cinema journal. The thesis process is initiated in the second year in consultation with an adviser. Students intending to use their thesis as a writing sample in an application to doctoral programs can elect to initiate the process at the end of their second semester in the program. To initiate the process, students must assemble a committee (typically a chair and either one or two other members of the faculty). In fall or spring of the second year, the student enrolls in CINE 898: Master’s Thesis to complete and file the thesis. The student’s thesis committee reviews the thesis before it is approved. Current and recent thesis projects include:

  • “Exploring the Art and Mind of Matsumoto Toshio,” Miyo Inoue (Professor Aaron Kerner, thesis supervisor)
  • “The Hills of Disorder: Reflections on Cinema and History,” Rodrigo Sombra Sales Campos (Professor R.L. Rutsky, thesis supervisor)
  • “Pipes, Bytes and Bodies: The Production of Space Along the Infrastructural Migration Route in Rithy Panh’s The Land of Wandering Souls and Ursula Biemann’s Black Sea Files,” Chi-Hui Yang (Professor Bill Nichols, thesis supervisor)
  • "This is not a Remembrance of Singularity: Memo-abstractions, Ephemera and Cinema," Alexander Farrow (Professor Jenny Lau, thesis supervisor)

Advancement to Candidacy

Students must also meet all general University requirements for advancement to candidacy, receive a “B” or better in all required courses for the M.A. degree, and successfully pass their thesis committee review. It is incumbent upon the student to fill out and file all the paperwork required by the Division of Graduate Studies. The Advancement to Candidacy Form is filled out in the first semester of the final year of the program.