Group rallying to save Seattle Central film program

Seattle Central Community College’s film program is about to be shut down and members of the faculty — and the city’s film community — are making a last-ditch effort to save it. Below is a statement sent out by Sandy Cioffi about a Monday night forum to discuss the cuts and “creatively brainstorm alternatives to the proposed closure.”

Elimination of the program was first announced in June following a belt-tightening analysis by the school that looked at how best to eliminate some $2 million and close SCCC’s budget gap. At the time, the school said the film program was a candidate for elimination because of high costs, low completion and relatively low job placement:

Film & Video Communications: Issues requiring additional information: Higher cost to generate FTE that similar-sized programs; sufficient faculty workload; low rates of student completion within program period; less than 40% for job placement.

We’ve asked SCCC for an update on the situation and will add an update to this post if we hear back from them.

Cioffi’s release on the cuts and the forum is below. The filmmaker and teacher calls SCCC Film and Video “one of the College’s successful programs” and cites a waitlist for the program of between 10 to 30 students. The statement says the group has proposed a two-year plan that would keep the program operating while an alternative solution can be worked out.

Attempts to save a program or facility from the cruel axe of budget cuts have not been successful — and aren’t going to get any easier at the school. The recent GOP-led budget proposal in Olympia calls for another $30 million in cuts to higher education in the state including another slice from the community college system. We reported on a group of parents attempting to rally support to “save” the school’s daycare facility last fall. That facility was closed, as planned, despite the effort.

Here is the full statement from Cioffi:


SEATTLE, WASHINGTON – on Monday, March 5, Warren Etheredge will moderate a panel to discuss the proposed closure of the venerable Seattle Central Community College film and video program. The panel will include actor TOM SKERRITT, Executive Director of Washington Filmworks, Amy Lillard, and filmmaker and faculty of the program, Sandy Cioffi. 

Marty Oppenheimer, owner of Oppenheimer Camera Products and chair of Seattle Central’s Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), has invited the college administration to participate. 

In spite of the fact that Film and Video is one of the College’s successful programs, with an annual wait list of 10-30 students and a history of twenty-six years; the college has proposed to close the program at the end of the Spring, 2012 term. It is the only fully accredited local media production program in which students earn an AAS Degree with most, if not all, credits transferable to local four-year colleges. 

Dr. Paul Killpatrick, president of Seattle Central, has cited the expense of the program as the reason for the impending closure. However there are several other programs at the College that are more expensive and many with a cost per FTE that equals Film and Video. Industry owners and local film organizations resoundingly support this program as the gem of production education in the Seattle area. 

Sandy Cioffi and Sal Tonacchio, tenured professors in the film/video department, presented a 2year interim plan that would keep the program open at no additional cost to the college while providing time and opportunity for the creation a long-term comprehensive restructure. To date, Dr. Killpatrick has rejected the plan. 

This event will provide a forum for the public to engage with the panelists in an effort to understand the College decision, the impact to the larger film community and creatively brainstorm alternatives to the proposed closure. 

WHAT: Public Forum 

WHEN: MARCH 5, 2012 6 PM 

WHERE: Broadway Performance Hall 

WHO: Warren Etheredge, Tom Skerritt, Amy Lillard, Sandy Cioffi, Seattle Central film/video current students and graduates. 

For more information about the program closure and plans to save it, visit the Facebook page at:

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13 thoughts on “Group rallying to save Seattle Central film program

  1. As one of the handful of former students of the SCCC Film program who is employed in the industry, I feel sorry for the school and for the students that is has come to this. Film making is relevant and important to the creative and hard working community served by SCCC. It is an expensive field to study and if you are motivated, you can learn a hell of a lot there with what in reality is a very, very low budget. So what if there is a low placement rate? It’s a very competitive market and many of the students don’t have the talent or the work ethic. That’s reality and it’s OK.

    If you are trying to figure out why the film program is on the block, look no further than the faculty. Anyone who has completed the program will tell you, they’re only giving it the axe to get rid of Sandy Cioffi. Talented? Yes. Driven? Certainly. An effective teacher and motivator? Not so much. A raging, power-hungry narcissist with a massive ego who has zero interest in anything except using the school’s resources to advance her own political agenda, career and side projects? Bingo!

  2. As one of the (extremely large) handful of former students of the SCCC Film program who is employed in the industry, I feel sorry for the school and for the students that it has come to this. This program does not merely teach it’s students how to make movies, it teaches its students how to make movies extremely well. It teaches it’s students how to believe in their ideas, how to develop their ideas, and how to get their ideas produced without cutting corners and without compromising. That is an incredible value to instill into a student in this day and age.

    If you are trying to figure out how the program instills said values in its students and gives each student the necessary skills to succeed in the field, look no further than the faculty. Anyone who has completed the program will tell you, the primary reason it is such a gem in this community and has the reputation it does is because of Sal Tonacchio and Sandy Cioffi. They do not let their students settle for less in the quality of their work. They push them to do the best job they possibly can (and then some). And this is a community college program! They believe in what they teach and they bend over backwards to make sure each student completes the projects they want to create.

    Are Sal and Sandy talented? Yes. Driven? Certainly. Effective teachers and motivators? Bingo!

    There has been a lot of talk about how sad it is that this program is getting cut because of what it provides to the film industry in Seattle and beyond. There has not been enough talk about what makes it so valuable: Sal Tonacchio and Sandy Cioffi.

    And I say these things not in anonymity. My name is Nick Nelson. I graduated in 2011. Will I be at the open forum tonight? Bingo! (And by Bingo! I mean ‘yes’)

  3. Whoa, “A Former Student”. Sounds like someone didn’t like the grade they received and has a bitter personal agenda against Ms. Cioffi. Shame on you for using this moment to spew your personal gripes. Are you aware that Ms. Cioffi has spent the last several months working tirelessly to try to save this program? And this after 11 years of working on behalf of students to increase the quality of their education, create partnerships within the community for the benefit of students and elevate the exposure of the program in general. Enough is enough. You’re out of line and your comment should be removed.

  4. Oh, anonymity is such a great thing when you have a grudge against someone, isn’t it? “A former student” maybe isn’t so good at what he or she does, and wants to blame it on someone else, is my guess. It would seem to me that if you are a student in a Film and Media program, you would want instructors who have lives – both creative and public – outside of the insular world of academia. If Ms. Cioffi or other instructors have had the audacity to – oh my god, maybe make a film?! – while teaching others to do, I would think that lends credibility to the program and inspiration and skill to the instruction. This program seems like a gem in the ever more tarnished crown of Seattle’s higher education system, and that the college has been lucky to have instructors who are willing to put up with the nastiness of snarky and entitled students, even though they are most certainly not even paid a living wage to do so.

  5. Id buy a ticket too, to see this anonymous “former student” from above try to speak this kind of nonsense as if it were truth in front of peers and educators. My name is Greg Westhoff and I am a former student from the SCCC Film and Video program who is both employed and runs a media company in the film industry here in Seattle. The funny thing about anonymity is the lack of credibility that comes along with it. Anyone can throw a sucker punch to serve an agenda or cut someone down, but it takes real gumption and integrity to really say how you feel. So I’m not going to waist anymore time giving attention to that kind of behavior and instead I’m going to tell you how I feel about the SCCC Film and Video program.
    This is a fully comprehensive and sophisticated program that has made me into a better person, and a filmmaker too. From the simulated feature film set atmosphere that had us working 15-18 hour days, to Sal’s formidable but necessary Film History lectures. This program has it all, English classes to get students writing at a scholarly level, to media literacy classes that examines media and film history from an anthropologist point of view. This program includes Media Law classes that today keep me out of trouble and acting/public speaking classes that help me present my ideas and stories to employers and clients. All this, and I haven’t even mentioned the hard skills classes, like editing, motion graphics, videography, lighting, set building, producing, sound recording. When I come on a set today in the working world, people ask me what it is that I do? I tell them, “a bit of everything” and I really mean it, I do a bit of everything, and well.
    All of the hard skills that are taught in the SCCC Film and Video program are all good and employable skills, but for me, the full rounded, complete education that I received from this program was priceless, an experience that I am now better for. Thank you Sandy Cioffi and Sal Tonacchio for caring so much, I love you both.

    Greg Westhoff (former student)

  6. If we had more teachers like Sandy Cioffi, more leaders like Sandy Cioffi and more human beings like Sandy Cioffi, the world would be a better place. I think most of her former students would agree with this statement. I can’t help but feel that the comments from an anonymous blogger calling themselves “A Former Student” and criticizing the popular and well respected SCCC instructor is a diversionary fire, intended to take our eyes off the issues surrounding the film & video program’s endangered existence.

  7. Didn’t we graduate UP to Fast Times at Ridgemont High? This posting makes me so upset, so disappointed and so angry tonight, I can barely put my thoughts together enough to write a coherent, proper response. Instead, I will write and speak from my heart.

    There were several (most of the class) graduates from last year who did not participate or shoot the protests, did not speak out publicly against Kilpatrick at the Graduation (or even show up at Graduation for that matter) Or offer to help support a legacy documentary piece showcasing what might be the last year of the program. Let’s get real. Support the students, support the program but let Cioffi battle her own shit.

    I am not batting for the winning team, I never cared to be popular in class or go along with other folks who only disrespected my work behind my back and talked shit when I did what I knew was right for my career.

    No program is perfect, SCCC’s Film and Video program is not perfect but it’s damn good and I stood/stand by my education and worked my ass off for it. I earned my own way, not by piggy-backing – I never believed my career stood on the backs of other graduates – I made a small group of lifelong artistic friends that I am grateful for. I respect Sal and Sandy and created my own relationships with them based on not kissing their asses or always agreeing with them.

    To preach to the choir now feels like a delayed reaction, it feels false to me – I stand for what I believe in: Occupy, my family, my work and my life. I have a passion for film and I am pursuing my dreams, I won’t cave into to peer pressure or false expectations – and I refuse to be a pawn in anyone’s political/personal bullshit/agenda.

    I will continue to donate to the students work and dream of a space for the program outside of the college and dream up an ally large enough to support the Film and Video battle, OUTSIDE of the small industry in Seattle. (Occupy!). I wish the second years all the support they need and I want the first years to graduate BUT, I am also not a phony. I wish Sal and Sandy the best but I speak my own words while doing it.

    Nick – even Yolanda is entitled to her opinion, and so are you!

    Yours – Christyx – Occupyer, Granny, Social Documentary filmmaker, SCCC 2011 Film and Video Graduate and what else? Whatever I want to be.

  8. “Sad, but understandable” is not something to be addressed at a particular person. If that comment were truly aimed at the heartbreak of the issue, maybe the so-called “focus” of the response should have something to do with the issue at hand: THE FILM AND VIDEO PROGRAM IS IN JEOPARDY. The events of someone’s personal past history with Sandy has nothing to do with your “concern” of the program and should be ignored altogether. THE FILM AND VIDEO PROGRAM IS IN JEOPARDY. The program is not a person, it is a collection of people trying to tell creative stories effectively and professionally. It has done so for a long time and I would like to see it continue. THAT is the issue at hand. I suggest that for every personal opinion comment, there should be a separate comment examining true focus of the community’s concerns: THE FILM AND VIDEO PROGRAM IS IN JEOPARDY.

  9. If people choose to believe that one personal negative true or untrue comment/statement about an instructor (who lives quite publicly) has the power to topple the hard work, blood sweat, tears and power of a group of individuals collectively working towards saving a program, then they are:

    1. Crazy, in my book.

    2. Missing the point. What does that say about the program overall if one self proclaimed disgruntled “outsider” disagrees with everyone? Nothing.

    Hell, I am disagreeing with a lot of shit that has been said AND done around here?!! What does that make me? Less truthful? I don’t think so.

    And Nick, since you found it necessary to try to reach out to me on FB, I find it more appropriate to answer you here: I disagree, as a person who acts mostly out of courage and integrity in such completely twisted and pussy times, I think a person has a right to not sign their name on anything they want to on line or off line. It doesn’t make them any less of a person for choosing to NOT be the “Fat kid getting pelted with oranges”. Defend whoever you want too, that is a secondary issue for me – Reclaiming the right to make films under such censored times while facing an up hill battle with our Federal government who is trying to strip everything away from it’s people (including nationwide school funding) seems to be more important right now. Just saying. I have already spoken to Sandy about this –
    Love, CX!

  10. I feel that I need to defend Sandy. She was a great teacher and I think it is very sad that comment that reflect nothing about the program but just a resentful and personal opinion for someone who should go straight to her if she/he had a problem at the time. Sad, sad!

    I finished the program successfully, I got several freelance jobs here and oversea and now (after taking a year off traveling) I found a full time job in Seattle as a video editor making good money.

    I will argue that many times the problems comes from students with ego problems, that think that be a filmmaker require just to be creative but they dont know how to work in group or hear criticism, trying always to blame others for their own inabilities. If I could change something in the Film and Video program would be a more hard filter to join the program, to leave the slackers out.

  11. As a graduate of the program, I would like to add my support of Sandy. Over my two years there, me and my fellow classmates saw a lot of students with ego problems who took it out on the teachers. Sandy is a great teacher, and trust me, afer a few scheduled teachers cancelled on us, we did have some less than stellar instructors, but Sandy was not one of them. She wholeheartedly supported us and gave us great advice, insight and help. Although we did have some less that great teachers, we still learned what we needed to, to get along in the industry, because Sal and Sandy picked up a lot of the slack themselves. This is about an important program that is on the verge of being cut, and the students who may lose their time and money invested. This is not a forum for personal grudges from the immature. The real issue is that in an office somewhere, people are deciding to gut an important program because they have never seen the products or professionals that it created. This is unnaceptable.

  12. As an outsider on this issue, and not emotionally involved with the planned closure, I think the rationale given by Dr. Killpatrick needs to be respected. Do you think he is lying about 1) the high cost of the program; 2) the low rate of completion; and 3) the low placement rate (less than 40%)? Somehow, I doubt he is…he’s the President of SCCC and would need to have his facts straight to announce the end of a program. And the reality is that significant cuts need to be made to the SCCC budget….the money just isn’t there from the State.

    However, I wonder what is meant by the low placement rate? Over what time period is this tracked? If a graduate of the program fails to get a job immediately, that is one thing, but if he/she is not working in this field 3-5 years later, that is more significant. Also, it would be helpful to know the completion rate for the program…exactly how low is it?