Master of Arts in Cinema

Our M.A. program prizes the rich diversity of cinematic expression — whether critical examination of “mainstream” media production or independent or foreign filmmaking, experimental works or new media interventions including video installation — the faculty strives to broaden our students’ experience. Much of this takes place in the context of coursework where faculty members bring their own diverse research, theoretical and cinematic interests to bear, but also in extracurricular encounters — visiting filmmakers or scholars, community events (e.g., film festivals), largely profiting from the virtue of our city, San Francisco.

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.

All incoming M.A. Cinema Students are automatically considered for a Marcus Fellowship, which consists of endowed funds offered to the most promising students. Our Admissions Committee reviews all incoming students’ submission materials, and notifies recipients of the fellowship before the semester begins. Disbursement of the award is made in the fall semester of their first year. For more details, please contact Mihaela "Misha" Mihailova, interim Coordinator of the M.A. program.

Learning Outcomes

The M.A. in Cinema’s learning objectives strives to enable students to:

  • Acquire a broad knowledge of cinema theory, history, and criticism.
  • Analyze the role of festivals, conferences, and other film and digital media exhibition venues and options.
  • Conduct independent critical research related to cinematic media that leads to a written thesis.
  • Produce critical analyses of films and cinematic media.
  • Gain teaching-related experience.

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.

All students must complete at least 30 units for the degree, of which six are electives and three constitute the thesis requirement. Students are encouraged to select electives in consultation with a faculty adviser. 

Three 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). Students must also take CINE 852 Directed Experience in Film Education, which is our pedagogy course. To complete the 30-unit requirement, students are encouraged to select at least 18 units of Cinema graduate M.A. courses (course numbers 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 advisor. 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 7XX Seminar Elective 3
CINE 852 Directed Experience in Film Education 3
CINE 7XX Seminar Elective 3
CINE 7XX Seminar Elective 3
CINE 7XX Seminar Elective 3


Second Year Required Courses
Course Title Units
CINE 7XX Seminar Elective 3
CINE 7XX or CINE 8XX Seminar Elective 3
CINE 898 Master's Thesis 3
CINE 8XX Seminar Elective 3


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.

Application Procedures

To apply to the M.A. in Cinema Studies, you must complete the Cal State Apply application for graduate admission.

The School of Cinema accepts new M.A. students for the Fall term only. The application opens on October 1. The priority deadline for the M.A. application is February 15, with a secondary deadline of March 31. Applications will be accepted on a space-available basis until May 30.

Cal State Apply

Please note: you must complete the entire application in order to be considered.

Create your account AND Complete your profile

TIP: Students who will study on an F1/J1 visa must select Non-Resident for U.S. Citizenship Status under your Extended Profile.

Please note: You will only see a list of programs that aligns with your academic degree objective.

Select the Programs to Which You Want to Apply

Narrow your program options using the provided filters.

  • Campus: Select “San Francisco State University”.
  • Location: Select “Main Campus”
  • Delivery Format: Select “Face-to-Face”
  • Face-to-Face: instruction takes place in a traditional classroom.
  • Start Term: Select “fall”

The Online Application is comprised of four sections

Review our TIPS for completing each of these sections.

TIPS for completing each of these sections.

Personal Information TIPS

  • Please provide us with some basic information.
  • Fields noted as Optional may be skipped.

Academic History TIPS

  • We recommend that you select “I Am Not Adding Any College Transcripts” in the transcript entry field. Instead, please upload copies of your unofficial transcript to the Program Materials section of this application.
  • Only use transcript entry to designate current enrollment in a course/semester.
  • We recommend that you select “I don't have a GPA to add” in the GPA entry field. The Division of Graduate Studies will calculate your GPA as part of our review.

Supporting Materials TIPS

  • For the M.A. in Cinema Studies application, you may opt out of all supporting materials. Select “I Am Not Adding Any Experiences” or “I Am Not Adding Any Achievements” in this section of the application.
  • In the Statement of Purpose section, indicate “Uploaded to Program Materials Section”

Program Materials TIPS

  • Prepare these documents for upload in advance of application submission
  • You may need to resize any scanned PDFs so that you do not exceed the MB limit for each document.

Questions about the application process and materials can be directed to:

Program Materials TIPS

Use the Documents tab to upload the following:

  1. CV/Resume
    A one to two-page resume or Curriculum Vitae summarizing the applicant's education, awards or recognition, work experience, languages, and special skills.
  2. Personal Statement
    Background and Research Interests Statement (four double-spaced pages maximum). Applicants should describe how their past academic work or other experience has prepared them for graduate work and discuss how they plan to develop these (or other) research interests as a graduate student in the M.A. in Cinema Studies program.
  3. Unofficial Transcripts
    The Division of Graduate Studies requires you to upload unofficial copies of transcripts from every college or university attended, including study abroad coursework and community college coursework even if transfer credit appears on your degree transcript. Upload all transcripts to the documents section of this application. The Division of Graduate Studies may request official transcripts from you at any time during the application process in order to complete our review. Photographs of documents are not accepted.
  4. Writing Sample
    An example of academic writing (6–12 pages) that illustrates the applicant’s ability to make and support a thesis as well as familiarity with the scholarly form and expository style. Papers from the film and media disciplines are preferred, but other academic work is acceptable.
  5. Additional Unofficial Transcripts

Use the Evaluations tab to:

  1. Manage submission of letters of recommendation
  2. Letter writer email addresses should be from professional or academic organizations (ex.,, or, not personal email addresses.

Use the Questions tab to:

  1. Answer the questions about your Academic Background, Foreign Language proficiency, and Teaching Interests.

The GRE is NOT required.

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

Cal State Apply Student Support: (857) 304-2087

When your application is completed, you will be asked to pay the $70 application fee.

Application Review

Please note: Your application for graduate study to SF State is reviewed at two levels:

Part 1: Division of Graduate Studies

The Division of Graduate Studies reviews your application for general university admission requirements and requires you to upload copies of transcripts from every college or university attended, including study abroad coursework, community college coursework even if transfer credit appears on your degree transcript. Upload clear, legible copies of all transcripts to the Documents section of the Cal State Apply Application. Photos of documents will not be accepted. Make sure you resolve any financial obligations at previously attended institutions so they will release your transcripts.

Division of Graduate Studies
San Francisco State University
1600 Holloway Ave., ADM 250
San Francisco, CA 94132
Phone: (415) 338-2234

Part 2: School of Cinema

The Master of Arts in Cinema program reviews your application for program-specific eligibility. Applicants must have a GPA of 3.0 or better in the last two years of undergraduate study. Applicants with degrees in areas other than film or media who show exceptional potential will be considered for admission to the program if they have completed at least three courses in cinema or media history and theory. Please upload admission materials requested by the School of Cinema in the Program Materials section of this application.

M.A. Admissions Committee
School of Cinema San Francisco State University
1600 Holloway Ave., FA 245
San Francisco, CA 94132
Phone: (415) 338-1629

What is the minimum TOEFL score required for admission to the Cinema graduate programs?

TOEFL scores are required by the University. Please see the Graduate Studies FAQs for International Students for more information.

How much are registration/tuition fees per semester?

Fees are subject to change without advance notice by action of the trustees of the California State University and the campus. Contact the San Francisco State University Bursar’s Office for registration fees.

Can I switch between the M.A. and M.F.A. programs?

No. The only way to switch degree programs is through the formal application process. This has to be done in compliance with all the rules and deadlines denoted on the application.

If I am admitted to the program, but cannot attend during the semester in which I am admitted, may I defer my studies to a later date?

Generally, newly admitted students may not defer their studies. Under special circumstances, the Graduate Committee may allow admissions deferment.

Do the Cinema graduate programs admit students for the Spring semester?

No. New students are admitted for the fall semester.

When should I apply to the Cinema graduate programs?

Applications will be accepted from October 1, 2020, through January 15, 2021. The deadline for submission of application materials to the School of Cinema and the SF State Division of Graduate Studies is posted on the Graduate Admissions website. This includes resident, non-resident, and international students.

How competitive is admission to the M.F.A. program?

Admission to the program has become increasingly competitive, and in each of the past two years, an average of 150 applications was submitted. Approximately 15 students are admitted each year.

How do I apply to the M.A. or M.F.A. program?

Complete Cal State Apply. Submit directly to the Division of Graduate Studies.