A Groundbreaking Pioneer of Media Education
Professor Emerita Liane Brandon did not prepare for a career as an educator and filmmaker, let alone as a media education pioneer. Nonetheless, thanks to serendipity, creative choices, and some risk-taking, Brandon became a celebrated documentary filmmaker and served on the UMass Amherst College of Education faculty for thirty years.
As a young woman in the 1960s, Brandon split her time between skiing in the winter and working as a stunt woman in the summer. Looking for work in the spring, she took a job as a substitute teacher in the Boston public schools. At the time, the schools hired teachers without certification just to get someone in the classroom and she found herself teaching elementary students in Roxbury with no qualifications.
“I was absolutely disturbed by what I saw in those classrooms,” Brandon recalls. “Basically the instructions to me were ‘we don’t really care what you do—just keep them quiet.’ And it was kind of shocking, just seeing the state of education.”
In spite of the challenges, Brandon loved teaching and, in need of more preparation, earned a master’s degree at Boston University in the evenings. In the meantime, she began teaching middle, and then high, school in Quincy, Massachusetts. Teaching in the high school, she knew that boys who didn’t do well in school were likely to be drafted and sent to Vietnam. Already active in the anti-war movement, she was very invested in keeping these kids interested and in school.
I said to them one day, out of complete frustration, ‘What do you kids want to learn?’ And one of the smart alecks piped up, ‘Why don’t we make a movie?’
Brandon knew it was a bluff—this was the era before video, when making movies that could be distributed required 16 mm cameras and film. But Brandon called him on the bluff, even though she knew nothing about making films. She borrowed a camera from the football team, who didn’t need it in the off season, and learned how to operate it.
I thought I could have more of an impact on changing attitudes, not only about education, but about gender, if I was teaching future teachers.
In her courses, Brandon focused on media education fundamentals and filmmaking, but also on helping teachers and students become more critical viewers of media. Her courses were very popular, in part because there were few other filmmaking and media classes at the university and in part because she was a sought after instructor. In fact, the 1984 edition of the university guide, College Book listed her as the “best professor on campus.”
In 1993, with the enthusiastic support of Dean Bailey Jackson and Associate Dean Jay Carey, Brandon launched her most influential project, UMass Educational Television.
All told, UMass Ed TV produced 12 original series totaling 50 half hour episodes and filmed more than 50 faculty members from 22 departments. It also enjoyed wide distribution: carried by Continental Cable, it was available in 40 towns across Western Massachusetts, Southern Vermont, and Connecticut, and Cinema Guild distributed Fine Print nationally.
UMass Ed TV also became home to many students. During its ten years of existence, they provided jobs for 75 undergraduate interns and 14 graduate teaching assistants.