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"Bill" (William) Tate
"Bill" (William) Tate

From Stage to Screen

Viewing the world through cinema's lens

William Tate of the School of Theatre & Film knows drama—he directed his first PSU stage production, Brian Friel’s Philadelphia, Here I Come!, in 1968. Since then, he has directed over 30 plays, including Shakespeare’s The Tempest in the fall of 2009 and Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa in the spring of 2008. Tate has also played many roles himself, including Deputy Governor Danforth in The Crucible, for which he won a Drammy Award in 2002.

But in the past few years, Tate has turned his attention, and that of Portland State students, to film. Originally a way to study dramatic literature—focusing on film versions of stage productions—Tate’s and a few other professor’s classes have evolved into a full-fledged film studies major that was launched in 2007 and now has more than 200 students.

“My goal is to make the students more critical viewers of film,” Tate says, “to give them a better understanding of how the elements are put together.”

In his two-term American Cinema and Culture course he shows films chronologically. Student start with older films like Charlie Chaplin’s silent 1925 comedy Gold Rush, and move on to Sahara, starring Humphrey Bogart as a World War II tank commander. The course ends with more recent films, including independent cinema and films by female and minority directors, such as Allison Anders’ Things Behind the Sun and Chris Eyre’s Skins.

“I try to show where film came from and how it’s evolved,” Tate says. “How it mirrors society but at the same time can be a stimulator of change. I want the students to look with new eyes, to see things that were there all along, but not necessarily perceived.”

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