Professor of Film Studies Jeanine Basinger will be presented with an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the American Film Institute on June 7. The degree is presented each year to people who have made a contribution both in film studies and in the communities they serve.
“Clint Eastwood said to me, ‘The way you’ll know you’re getting old, Jeanine, is they’ll start giving you lots of awards,’” Basinger said.
Basinger previously served on the American Film Institute (AFI) Board of Trustees and helped determine recipients of the honorary degrees. She currently serves on the board that chooses AFI’s ten best films of each year.
“Even now that I’m not a trustee, my heart lies with them,” Basinger said.
Jean Furstenburg, director of the AFI, said they had chosen Basinger because of both her work with the AFI and her importance in film studies.
“She’s a remarkable human being,” Furstenburg said. “She’s a legend in her time. She’s put Wesleyan on the map in terms of having a distinguished film program.”
Despite being the recipient of a number of other honorary degrees, Basinger never received a film degree as a student.
“I’m an autodidact,” she said. “There are no film scholars my age who have a film degree. The first PhDs in Film Studies were awarded at the end of the 1970s. Our young faculty [such as Jacob Bricca] are among the early pioneers of the degree-taught film scholars.”
In addition to receiving honorary degrees from other universities and Wesleyan’s Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching, in November Basinger also received the Connecticut Governor’s Award in recognition of her contribution to the arts.
“It’s a great hunk of gold medal,” Basinger said of the award. “I’m wearing it at graduation.”
A number of graduates from the Wesleyan film program have gone on to study at AFI, including Rick Nicita, the co-chair of the Creative Artists Agency (CAA), and Bricca, currently a Professor of Film Studies at Wesleyan.
“Her real legacy is the graduates from Wesleyan who just permeate this community, and who follow in her tradition of character and respect for film history and appreciation for the responsibility of the storytellers in our culture,” Furstenburg said. “This is a woman whom we hold in great regard.”
Bricca, who was a student of Basinger’s, said that her national recognition also benefits the department as a whole.
“When I say that I teach film at Wesleyan, to have people’s response be one that is positive and respectful if not reverential, that’s great,” Bricca said. “It’s important to feel like you’re part of an endeavor that has some meaning.”
Basinger said that, despite the recognition that such honorary degrees bring, they don’t affect her attitude toward education.
“All that matters to me is the understanding and the knowledge,” she said. “I’m very proud of being self-taught and of being a pioneer.”
Basinger will receive her degree at a ceremony at the AFI campus in Los Angeles on June 7. The night before there will be a dinner honoring both honorary degree recipients and the Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, Sean Connery.
“I’m a big fan of his,” Basinger said of Connery.
Basinger must select someone to present her at the ceremony, and though she said a high-profile friend like Eastwood would probably be willing, she might also pick a Wesleyan alum.
“For me this is a huge dilemma, because I have a lot of possible choices in L.A.,” she said. “We have a lot of very successful alums who are big names.”