The University of Arizona has gained two new leaders in the College of Fine Arts.
Longtime film industry veteran Mia Farrell is the new director of the School of Theatre, Film & Television’s Hanson FilmTV Institute, while Duane Cyrus, whose resumé includes dancing with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Martha Graham Dance Company, now heads the School of Dance.
Both joined the UA in August.
“In a lot of spaces, I was the only Black person or the only Black woman,” Farrell said. “In other spaces, I was the only person of color at all.”
Farrell, who began her career in the film industry working a plethora of jobs with hundreds of personalities for more than 25 years, said she hopes to bring new ideas to the Hanson FilmTV Institute, which was established in 2004 through a bequest by film lovers Vivian and Jack Hanson. The institute supports students, faculty and filmmakers through its events and programs including bringing in noted filmmakers.
“I want Hanson [to be] and I want to be a resource to all students if there are things that resonate to them in their respective disciplines,” Farrell said.
Farrell, who is from Los Angeles, said she didn’t always know she wanted to be in the film industry. Her parents separated when she was young, but her mother’s second husband was a character actor, leading Farrell towards a life spent around Hollywood entertainment.
Her father, Robert Farrell, was an activist and freedom writer, and was heavily involved in the Civil Rights movement in south central L.A. He served as an L.A. City Councilman for 17 years.
“I had an upbringing that was quite immersed in creativity, but also in social justice,” Farrell said. “This was before a lot of people really identified as activists, so there were very few.”
As she got older, she became interested in art but knew she didn't want to be in front of the camera, and that she didn't want to be an actress.
“When I had to make a decision about what is my profession or what am I going to do, the thing that I could geek out on was everything and anything about film and television,” Farrell said. “I had been in that environment, and I knew weird facts that other people wouldn't pay attention to, so I went in that direction.”
Farrell began her college career at the Otis College of Art and Design in L.A., but left college and went directly into the film industry. She worked a plethora of jobs, big and small, she said, from production assistant to production receptionist, and assistant to the executive producer in both film and TV.
“There was no job that was too little,” Farrell said. “Everything was about getting knowledge, and I started from the bottom and worked my way all the way through.”
Farrell spent most of her career in publicity, including representing personalities and film companies and festivals.
“I was adding strings to my bow left and right, which then meant that I started to develop further skills,” Farrell said. “I started to make myself a more unique professional working in that space.”
She has worked PR for independent and foreign cinemas, documentaries and several notable internationally recognized blockbuster movies including the last two “Harry Potter” films ("Deathly Hallows" Part 1 and Part 2), the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, the “Hunger Games” and “Transformers” franchises.
“I've been very, very lucky in that I've worked with amazing filmmakers and amazing people,” Farrell said. “It was fascinating because they had top-tier budgets with very big talent.”
Personalities she has worked with include Jennifer Lawrence, Jennifer Lopez, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Will Smith and Chris Rock.
In addition to her time in the film industry, she worked for the London Film Festival’s Critics Mentorship Programme. The four-day program ends with each mentee being paired with one of the festival’s media partners, and each is given the opportunity to cover the 12-day festival for those partners.
“We have fantastic media partners, like Sight and Sound magazine and Empire,” Farrell said.
Farrell said being named to head the Hanson FilmTV Institute means a lot to her and she hopes to collaborate with other schools and departments at the UA.
“I am looking at how to collaborate with other professors and directors of schools at UA to see how all of these experiences might just be beneficial to their students,” she said. “When you have people who are documentarians or news journalists who are looking to tell particular stories through the lens of film, what you do at that intersection of film and being able to reach more people through the lens of film with regards to things that are discussed is really important.”
Cyrus comes to the College of Fine Arts’ School of Dance after teaching dance at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro for 17 years. He earned his bachelor’s degree of Fine Arts from Juilliard and his master’s from the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign.
“I think that it's a good thing that the School of Dance and the College of Fine Arts are hiring faculty of color, but I think that much more needs to happen and it needs to continue,” Cyrus said. “It needs to expand in all directions.”
Cyrus is only the second director of the UA School of Dance following longtime director Jory Hancock, who retired last year after 34 years.
“The strength of our students, their abilities to perform in terms of technical ability and performance skills, was one reason why I wanted to take this job,” Cyrus said. “They exemplify professionalism in their work.”
In addition to touring internationally with several big-name American dance companies, Cyrus specializes in jazz, ballet, African and modern dance.
The School of Dance released its 2022-23 event schedule in October, the first to be led by Cyrus.
“Visitors should expect new energy,” Cyrus said. “They’re gonna bring it.”
Upcoming UA School of Dance events:
Nov. 30 to Dec. 4
April 19-30, 2023
April 20-29, 2023
May 5-6, 2023
Season ticket packages can be purchased on the UA School of Dance website at dance.arizona.edu.
*El Inde Arizona is a news service of the University of Arizona School of Journalism.
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