May 1, 2014

Bernard and Mona Kantor Remembered

Cinema School Pioneer and Wife’s Legacy Honored at SCA

On April 28th at the USC School of Cinematic Arts (SCA), Professor Mark Jonathan Harris was installed as the first holder of the Bernard and Mona Kantor Endowed Chair in Production. The event was attended by SCA Dean Elizabeth M. Daley, USC Provost Elizabeth Garrett, Chairman of the Board of Councilors Frank Price, USC Trustee Verna Dauterive, Harris and many of the Kantor’s former students.

Dr. Bernard Kantor, who everyone called Bernie, was Chair of what was then the Department of Cinema from 1964 until his death in 1976. He and his wife Mona Kantor are credited with mentoring the generation of USC graduate filmmakers that changed the perception of film school in Hollywood. The Chair in their honor marks the 25th endowed position held at the School of Cinematic Arts, a record for a school for the moving image.

Without Bernie and Mona, the School of Cinematic Arts simply wouldn’t exist,” said Dean Elizabeth M. Daley. Daley told the audience that Kantor pushed USC to have Cinema be its own School. “There’s so many stories about the way in which Bernie really took care of this place. Bernie was the student’s friend and he was a true guiding light for the institution.”

Provost Garrett emphasised the importance of endowment in continuing the progress of the School and the vision of the Kantors. “This generous gift allows our great School of Cinematic Arts to support a great faculty member who will elevate the art form and who will show the same dedication to mentorship that Bernie and Mona showed,” said Garrett. “Endowed chairs are vital to our University. They draw and retain transformative faculty, they provide durability, ensuring the vision behind the Chair’s endowment go on forever. Today we continue this academic tradition in honoring an outstanding filmmaker, writer and teacher, Mark Jonathan Harris.”

In addition to being revolutionary in his vision for the School of CInematic Arts, Bernie Kantor is known for his unwavering support of women as filmmakers. USC alum Stephanie Rothman was one of the first women to graduate from the School of Cinematic Arts and she spoke about his support and mentorship at a time when women’s voices were actively suppressed within Hollywood.

USC Provost Elizabeth Garrett, USC Trustee Verna Dauterive and
Mark Jonathan Harris

“Bernie encouraged me to apply for a series of fellowships,” Rothman told the audience. “It would have never occurred to me to do this. Many of the people I interviewed with thought it was a waste to give it to a woman because a woman could never direct.”

Rothman said he continued to encourage her after graduation. “Knowing that I had no connections, he sent me to interviews when he could.‘We’ll keep trying,’ he said. I’ve never forgotten his empathetic ‘we.’ He was not a slave to the prevailing thought of the time about who could and who could not be a filmmaker. He was a unique type of gatekeeper. He opened the gates of opportunity.”

Mona Kantor was a teacher and principal in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Her longtime friend, USC Trustee Verna Dauterive, spoke about Mrs. Kantor’s commitment to the students of USC and her work as a guiding force in the LAUSD. “Mona was the epitome of a professional educator and a remarkable human being. It was my privilege to know her on both a personal and professional basis,” said Dauterive. “It’s good to advance the vision of the University Mona so deeply loved. The benefit of this endowed chair in production and all of the avenues of human progress will reach far beyond the campus boundaries.”

In addition to her academic accomplishments, Mona Kantor was known for starting the tradition of bringing top-level talent from the entertainment industry to the USC campus.

Bernard and Mona Kantor’s individual attention left a lasting impression on many of the students they mentored. One of their early students was current Alma and Alfred Hitchcock Endowed Chair in American Film Dr. Drew Casper. Casper credits the Kantors with changing his life and directing him toward a career in academia. “Quite certainly I wouldn’t be a teacher in this School and I wouldn’t have had the immense joy of being a teacher in this School for these countless years were it not for Bernie and Mona Kantor. They brought me on board,” said Casper.

The evening was closed by the first recipient of the Mona and Bernard Endowed Chair, Mark Jonathan Harris. Harris, who has been teaching at SCA for more than thirty years, has won three academy awards for his work as a documentarian.

“I’m very honored to be the first recipient of the Mona and Bernard Kantor Endowed Chair in Production,” said Harris. “I challenge my students to strive for the same goals that I do—to communicate the truth that we discover as forcefully as we can. I think these are the same goals the Kantors had for their students. That’s why so many that they taught and mentored changed filmmaking throughout the world. In that spirit, I'm honored to receive this chair.”

The Bernard and Mona Kantor Endowed Chair in Production is made possible by a gift from the Kantor Estate.