Radio-television-film graduate student writes award-winning essay

Alexandra Dubinsky

With a passion for film and a talent for writing, radio-television-film graduate student Paul Monticone wrote an award-winning, 40-page essay after researching for two months. 

Monticone’s essay, “Useful Cinema, of Limited Use?: Assessing the Role of Motion Pictures in the Largest Public Relations Campaign of the 1920s,” received first place in the 2014 Society for Cinema and Media Studies Student Writing Award competition. SCMS, a scholarly organization committed to promoting film, television and related media studies, presented Monticone with his award March 21 at its conference in Seattle, Wash. Eleven other graduate students from the radio-television-film department were also invited to participate in the conference.

The essay examines the film industry and its broader function within advocacy campaigns, advertising and promotion. Monticone uses the National Electric Light Association’s public relations campaign in the 1920s as a specific case study to represent private ownership in the electric power industry. 

Within the case study, Monticone explores how film was used to argue against U.S. government regulation. 

“Nobody knew how film would work in this way,” Monticone said. “Some of the companies I looked at thought about making a regular movie and doing it in a way that the messages snuck in and nobody would really notice.”  A common example of this, according to Monticone, would be to incorporate scenes in which a local gas or electric company goes out of business, causing the town to erupt in chaos. By doing this, the scene then emphasizes the importance of utilities. 

Radio-television-film assistant professor Caroline Frick, who worked closely with Monticone in providing feedback, said he is a gifted writer and one of the most impressive students within the department.

“His work is a valuable contribution to the society,” Frick said. “Very few films that relate to this kind of research exist, so the fact that Paul was able to construct his paper out of such little data is truly impressive.” 

Monticone had originally drafted the essay for an assignment in Electrification, an undergraduate seminar that mirrors a graduate class. He said his advisors encouraged him to narrow his arguments to fit more precisely within the realm of film and media studies.

“The most important thing for producing good scholarship is to give it time,” Monticone said. “And not just so that it is sitting there, but to fill that time up with reading it, revising it and figuring out more ways in which the thing you’re thinking about contributes to things that other people are thinking about.”

One of Monticone’s advisers, Tom Schatz, professor and director of media studies, said this is a major accomplishment for Paul and the department.

“This research is an exciting and submerging field that’s changing the way we look at film and media studies,” Schatz said. “And it’s one that Paul is very invested in.”

Monticone started his film career as a cinema studies undergraduate student at the University of Toronto, and he then got a master’s degree in film and moving image at Concordia University in Montreal. Monticone hopes to ultimately become a professor.

“The most fun I have is putting together a course and teaching it.” Monticone said. “If you’re a filmmaker or reviewer, you’re trapped in the present moment. If you’re a scholar, you’re more free to go where your intellectual interests take you.”