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University of North Carolina School of the Arts Names Deborah LaVine as Dean of School of Filmmaking (EXCLUSIVE)

Deborah LaVine
Wayne Reich

Independent filmmaker and educator Deborah LaVine has been tapped to run the film program at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA). Lavine, who will serve as dean of the school of filmmaking effective July 1, joins UNCSA from California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) where she was program director of the graduate-level film directing program.

LaVine is also a working filmmaker and is currently partnering with “CODA” lead Troy Kotsur to develop a project they will co-direct. She has directed award-short films including “Unintended” and “Lost Music,” as well as the feature film “Wild Prairie Rose.” She has also directed for theater, including Deaf West’s Los Angeles production of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” which was staged in English and American Sign Language

Though a continent away from Hollywood, UNCSA, which counts Danny McBride, David Gordon Green, Jeff Nichols, and Rebecca Green among its alums, has become a powerhouse, routinely ranking among the top-rated film programs in the country. Its rise has, in many ways, mirrored that of the South, which has become a major production hub in recent decades.

In an interview, LaVine said she was eager to push the program to become more inclusive, noting that she was pleased that the school of filmmaking had a majority female incoming class for the past two years.

“There are so many stories right now that emerging artists have to tell, and I would really like to help those stories, those urgent, personal stories emerge,” she said.

LaVine also noted that she is taking the helm at a time of transition for the entertainment space. Streaming services are on the rise, YouTube has transformed the distribution landscape, theatrical releases face fierce headwinds, and the cable television business is being upended. The next generation of movie makers and content creators will have to navigate a very different kind of Hollywood.

“This industry now is such a wide landscape that you have to be a hyphen-artist and able to use different art forms,” she noted. “It’s very exciting time, but it’s also extremely competitive. People have to be nimble and have a broader idea of what kind of career they want to have, whether it’s making games or working in short form videos or in live performances.”

At CalArts, LaVine developed an international exchange program between the film directing program and RISEBA University of Business Arts and Technology in Riga, Latvia; the German Film and Television Academy Berlin (DFFB); and the Film and Television School of the Academy of Performing Arts (FAMU) in Prague, Czech Republic. She also developed the Guest Artist Workshop, hosting the likes of Chloe Zhao, Darren Aronofsky, Alfonso Cuaron, Ewan McGregor, Terence Nance, Nanfu Wang, James Mangold, and Ramin Bahrani.

“As a respected working director, producer and award-winning filmmaker, Deborah has a passion and enthusiasm for the craft,” Chancellor Brian Cole said in a statement. “She has an out-of-the-box collaborative style that will provide UNCSA students with the skills to navigate the changing entertainment landscape and better position them for successful careers in the film, television and streaming content industries.”

“I could not be more thrilled to welcome Deborah to an all-star team of leaders at UNCSA who will take our conservatory into the next era of cinematic storytelling,” said executive vice chancellor and provost Patrick J. Sims. “Her background in telling diverse stories as well as her ability to be a powerful role model for the entire student body in the School of Filmmaking will be invaluable. Deborah’s collaborative and enthusiastic approach, and willingness to dream big, will serve as the perfect complement to the amazing work of our talented faculty.”

LaVine is the second woman to lead the UNCSA School of Filmmaking. As dean, she will serve on the board of directors of RiverRun International Film Festival and the advisory board of the Media + Emerging Technology Lab (METL). She succeeds Susan Ruskin who served as dean from 2013-2019. LaVine said she will continue to make films and other content.

“I intend to be engaged as dean 24/7, but I can’t stop directing,” she said. “It’s like breathing for me.”