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Mark Jonathan Harris recalls the legacy of school’s giving mentors

‘Bernie’ Kantor was a guiding light for the institution, says Provost Garrett

by Ryan Gilmour

Professor Mark Jonathan Harris was installed as the first holder of the Bernard and Mona Kantor Endowed Chair in Production at the USC School of Cinematic Arts (SCA). Dean Elizabeth M. Daley, USC Provost Elizabeth Garrett, USC Trustee Verna B. Dauterive ME ’49, EdD ’66 and many others attended the ceremony on April 28.

Bernard Kantor, whom everyone called Bernie, served as chair of what was then the Department of Cinema from 1964 until his death in 1976. He and his wife are credited with mentoring a generation of USC graduate filmmakers who changed the perception of film schools. The chair established in their honor marks the 25th endowed position at SCA.

Without Bernie and Mona, the School of Cinematic Arts simply wouldn’t exist,” Daley said. “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.”

Garrett emphasized the importance of endowment in continuing the school’s growth and implementing the Kantors’ vision.

Garrett and Mark Harris

Elizabeth Garrett, Verna B. Dauterive and Mark Jonathan Harris (USC Photo/Carell Augustus)

“This generous gift allows the 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,” Garrett said. “Endowed chairs are vital to our university. They draw and retain transformative faculty, they provide durability — ensuring the vision behind the chair’s endowment goes on forever. Today we continue this academic tradition in honoring an outstanding filmmaker, writer and teacher, Mark Jonathan Harris.”

Kantor opened the gates of opportunity for women

Kantor is also known for his unwavering support of women as filmmakers. Stephanie Rothman, one of the first women to graduate from SCA, spoke about his support and mentorship at a time when women’s voices were actively suppressed in Hollywood.

“Bernie encouraged me to apply for a series of fellowships,” Rothman said. “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 Kantor 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. Dauterive, a longtime friend, 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,” Dauterive said. “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.”

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.

Drew Casper, holder of the Alma and Alfred Hitchcock Endowed Chair in American Film and one of Kantor’s students, credits the couple 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,” he said. “They brought me on board.”

The evening closed with remarks from Harris, who has taught at SCA for more than 30 years and 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,” Harris said. “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 was made possible by a gift from the Kantor Estate.

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