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Jack C. Ellis

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Jack C. Ellis, a longtime professor of film studies at Northwestern University, died on July 16, 2009, at Presbyterian Home in Evanston. He was 87. Born in Joliet, IL, on July 9, 1922, Ellis graduated from Wabash College in 1943. Following service in the United States Army in North Africa and Italy from 1943 to 1946, he received an MA in English from the University of Chicago in 1948 and an Ed.D. from Columbia University Teachers College in 1955. At Columbia, Ellis studied the phenomenon of film as subject of study in higher education. His dissertation, "Approaches to Film as an Art Form: A Handbook for College Teachers," set the course for his research and pedagogical interests thereafter. Ellis came to Northwestern's Department of Radio and Television in 1956 to establish what was to become one of the nation's premiere film programs. He became a full professor there in 1966 and served as the Department's chair from 1980 to 1985. Under Ellis's leadership, the Northwestern Film Department developed a distinctive identity as a place where theory, history and practice were harmoniously linked and where a series of distinguished foreign scholars on visiting appointments enlivened the graduate program. While at Northwestern, Ellis produced a number of documentary films, most in collaboration with his students. In addition to his tenure at Northwestern, Ellis held visiting appointments at UCLA in 1959-60, New York University in 1965-66, and the University of Texas at Austin in 1972-73. He also served on the American Council on Education, the Illinois Arts Council's Advisory Film Panel, and the Governing Board of the American Federation of Film Societies. He directed two Summer Seminars on film history for the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1979 and 1980. Ellis's most significant professional service outside of Northwestern was to the Society for Cinema Studies, now the Society for Cinema and Media Studies, the foremost international scholarly organization devoted to the study of film, of which he was a founding member. Ellis served as president of SCS from 1970-1972, and as editor of its publication Cinema Journal, from 1976-1982. He was awarded an Honorary Membership in the Society in 1998. Ellis authored six books, all of which reflect his interests in film history, film pedagogy, and documentary film. The major titles include: John Grierson; Life, Contribution, Influence, a critical biography of a pioneering British documentary filmmaker; and two film study textbooks, The Documentary Idea: A Critical History of English-Language Documentary Film and Video, and A History of Film. Ellis also published an autobiography focused on his professional achievements and philosophy, Half a Century of Film Study: A Pilgrim's Progress. There he describes his career as a film scholar as "an adventure that looks pretty scary in retrospect. Thank heavens I didn't know better at the time." Ellis is survived by his wife of 22 years, Sue Scheffler Elllis; his sister Jean Bartz; and two children, David Hodges (Mary K.) Ellis and Cameron Cary (Jill) Ellis. He also leaves six grandchildren: Maxwell Cary, Alison Lynn, Topeka Catlin, Lander Cailey, Shannon Marie and Teigen Hodges. Memorials in his name may be sent to the Child Care Network Of Evanston, 1416 Lake Street, Evanston, IL 60201; or to the David Scheunemann Scholarship Fund, the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, 1362 East 59th Street, Chicago, IL 60637.

Published in a Chicago Tribune Media Group Publication on July 21, 2009
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