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Professor Profiles: Andy Rice

Assistant professor of film studies and media and communication Andy Rice has many passions, but filmmaking has always been close to his heart.

Rice grew up in a small town outside Crumley, Colorado, in a log house in the mountains, but moved to Florida later on with his family. Rice attended college at Harvard University, and he stayed in Massachusetts as a teaching assistant for another four years after graduating. He said Harvard helped him decide what he wanted to do for a career.

“I thought when I got to college I was going to be a physics major,” Rice said. “I got a bad grade in physics and realized ‘I don’t like this.’ … I spent the rest of my time as an undergrad there in a program called visual and environmental studies, which is actually their art program.”

Rice started out doing photography before transitioning into making films in 1998. At the time, Harvard was one of the last programs in the country that used a roll of film for filmmaking.

“There was something magical about that too,” Rice said. “It was a year-long class where we made a variety of short exercises, like make a portrait of a space, make a portrait of a person. Then the second half of the class, the whole 10-person class plus the professor, was [meant] to figure out a film to make and do it collectively.”

When making his film for the class, Rice said he found it very interesting and knew he wanted to do more with film. Since then, he has created many documentaries.

“It was a fish and a barrel for somebody with a camera,” Rice said. “There is all this action happening all the time with things to film, storylines to follow, so it was an amazing experience. I wanted to keep doing that.”

Rice moved to San Diego to get his doctorate at University of California San Diego, then spent three years in Los Angeles for his postdoctoral at University of California, Los Angeles and taught documentary production for social change classes. He got a job at Miami University after and focuses on teaching students and the general public about film through collaborative projects. 

Kerry Hegarty, associate professor and area coordinator of film studies, was on the committee back when Rice interviewed for a position at Miami in 2016. She works alongside him in the film studies department and said his experience made him stand out.

“I think he brings a unique perspective to the department with his focuses on documentary filmmaking and social activism,” Hegarty said. “We were very excited about him when we interviewed him. We loved his approach to documentary filmmaking, and we loved how his creative practice and his scholarly practice were intertwined, the way he involved students in both of his practices. We thought he filled a much needed place in our curriculum.”

Rice has accomplished a lot in his career, but he said he is most proud of the “Spirits of Rebellion” film, which follows the lives of a small group of critically acclaimed black filmmakers and media artists known as the Los Angeles Rebellion.  

“The ‘Spirits of Rebellion’ Film [is something] I’m very proud of, and it did pretty well in the world as a distributor,” Rice said. “It’s screened in classes across the country and won an African Community Academy Award. I’m proud of the role I played in it, but certainly it’s not exactly my story to tell either, it’s a good feeling to have involvement with a project like that.”

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More recently, Rice wrote a book, “At the Moment,” which examines how the transition from film to digital media has impacted documentaries. He said it should be published in the next year or two by Apress.

One of the courses Rice enjoys teaching is Star Wars: Force, Culture & SciFi.

“The franchise itself cuts across the last 50 years of American history in really interesting ways,” Rice said. “The Star Wars Films are fun, so I do like showing those, and I get kids that are really interested in the material, which I love. Star Wars draws upon so many different influences and speaks to so many different eras of history and has a really interesting relationship to science fiction as a genre, which I think is an important genre now.” 

Toby Green, a senior film studies major, took the Star Wars course with Rice and said it was one of the most entertaining classes at Miami.

“We did a lot of analysis on not just the films, but the social context of them,” Green said. “There was a lot of analyzing the context of how the films were made, like what was happening in society when they were made, what influenced Star Wars and as well as some social commentary things too.”

Green said Rice really cares about his students.

“He’s a great professor and is very understanding,” Green said. “He’s super fun to interact with and he works well with the students … He’s more than willing to work with students so that they will succeed. He’s definitely one of my favorite professors I’ve had at Miami.”

In terms of college, Rice said it isn’t just about finding a career, but also having experiences that shape you as a person.

“I think there’s a way that coming to college becomes a place for people to seek out a career,” Rice said. “It’s the number one thing students are fixated on, but if all you get out of going to college is a job that is a sad statement. There should be some bigger purpose, some sense of civic, some sense of a cause that’s bigger than you that you can find in a rich kind of commitment through your years in a place like this.”

For Rice, that means bringing a community focus into the classroom.

“There’s no better way than to have a final experience in a class where you really see an accountability to the public,” Rice said. “It’s something where the judgement comes from outside of the class entirely, it comes from an arena where suddenly your ideas are open to debate.”