CFP: Film Festivals and The “Creative Turn” in Documentary (SCMS 2015)

Film Festivals and The “Creative Turn” in Documentary

Proposed Panel for SCMS 2015 (Montreal)
Organizers: Chris Cagle (Temple Univ.) and Meta Mazaj (Univ. of Pennsylvania)

One of the biggest critical challenges in documentary studies is how to make sense of a rapidly evolving documentary culture. Hybrid and poetic forms are now mainstays of film festivals; they and genres like animated docs, essay films, and found footage films increasingly challenge our notion of what documentary can be. Filmmaker and critic Robert Greene has complained, “Two worlds have emerged: on one side we have an explosion of films, filmmakers and micro-movements that are pushing nonfiction cinematic form, creating immersive, expressive, genre-bending films that bristle with ideas and energy. On the other side, we have a film critic culture, well-versed in fictional narrative art cinema, completely missing the boat.” His complaints have been echoed by Anthony Kaufman's question: “ When will Cannes embrace docs like the world's other major film festivals?”

This panel attempts to historicize the “creative” and “author’s” documentaries by examining their relation to film festivals. Documentary scholars have done important work on the subject -  Stella Bruzzi’s study of New Documentary, for instance, or the theoretical work grappling with films like The Act of Killing or Leviathan. At the same time, film festival studies as a subfield has given a compelling account of the film festival circuit as a distinct cinematic institution that has a formative effect on the films that circulate within it. These two areas of inquiry deserve to be brought into closer dialogue with one another. How do the institutional forms of the film festival generate or constrain new aesthetic voices in documentary? How is the creative documentary either central or marginal to festival aesthetic definition? Does documentary have a privileged role for national, subnational, or regional collectivities in the global cinema market?

In answering these questions, documentary studies and film festival studies approach with two different sensibilities. Documentary scholars and critics have generally taken the creative turn as a good object and treated nonfiction experimentation as a rebellion against established or traditional documentary culture. Film festival studies, on the other hand, tends to see festivals as institutions implicated in film policy and in the cultural politics of their respective national contexts. Rather than adjudicate between these two approaches, we are seeking papers that can think productively through the methodological encounter.

Possible areas for proposed essays:

- Case studies of particular festivals
- Essays examining problems of national or regional cinema
- Aesthetic and theoretical interrogations of the “creative” or experimental documentary in the festival setting
- Contextual readings of particular films or filmmakers
- Reception study of contemporary documentary
- "Creative documentary" and its other: public television, political-activist, or social documentary; political, human-rights, and identity-based festivals
- Festival discourses of documentary authorship

Please send an abstract of no more than 300 words, along with your institutional affiliation and email address to by Sunday, July 6, 2014.


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