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Renowned filmmaker named chair of the Department of Visual and Media Arts

Renowned filmmaker Jonathan Wacks has been named chair of the Department of Visual and Media Arts (VMA) at Emerson College, effective July 26. Wacks has extensive teaching and administrative experience at the college level; numerous film and television credits as a director, producer, and screenwriter; and has helped shape the independent film industry in Los Angeles.

“I am excited that Jonathan is joining our faculty as chair of the VMA department and I am looking forward to welcoming him as a colleague,” said Linda Moore, vice president for academic affairs. “His career embodies many of the important values that are part of the Emerson culture, including moving theory to practice,” she said.

“Jonathan’s accomplishments span so many aspects of this field that his insight, experience, and creative spark will be an invaluable resource to students and colleagues alike,” said President Jacqueline W. Liebergott. “We are delighted that he is joining the Emerson community,” she said.

Wacks has served as a college lecturer and professor, with positions at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and the College of Santa Fe, where he was chair of the Moving Image Arts Department. Currently, he is the head of the Film Department at the Vancouver Film School.

“I am honored and delighted to be joining an extraordinary group of academics and creative artists at a moment in Emerson’s history when it is rapidly emerging as a leading center for the study of communication and the arts in the United States,” Wacks said.

From 2000–2005, he co-developed the Girls Film School, a summer intensive program for a diverse group of female high school students from the western states. In 2003, he co-chaired an international conference honoring the 50th anniversary of the seminal, political film, Salt of the Earth, which highlighted issues related to women and the struggle for economic justice, labor history, and political filmmaking. Guests at the conference included Amy Goodman, Dolores Huerta, Howard Zinn, and Peter Coyote.

Wacks’s work has been screened at festivals, including Sundance, Berlin, Tokyo, Florence, London, Leeds, Montreal, and many others. In 1989, his film Powwow Highway won the Filmmakers Trophy at Sundance, the Best First Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards, and Best Picture and Best Director at the American Indian Film Festival.

As a director, his credits include Fox’s 21 Jump Street starring Johnny Depp; ABC dramas Sirens and Going to Extremes; Orion Pictures’ Mystery Date starring Ethan Hawke; Ed and His Dead Mother, starring Steve Buscemi and Ned Beatty; Warner Brothers’ Powwow Highway; and the anti-apartheid documentary Crossroads/South Africa, for which he won a student Academy Award. As a producer, he is best known for the cult hit Repo Man, with Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton.

Wacks holds a BA from Essex University and an MFA from UCLA’s School of Theater, Film, and Television and is a member of the Directors Guild of America.

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