This prior weekend, I attended for the first time the NECS conference (Network for European Cinema and Media Scholars). It was an enjoyable and productive time, and I would certainly recommend the conference for any film scholar, European or not. (Next year’s NECS will be in Lodz, Poland.) There was in fact a good contingent or US- and Canada-based scholars.
I find it valuable to hear how scholars in other national contexts approach their object of study. And one mission of professional organizations like SCMS should be to continually develop bridges to those working outside their national boundaries. Based on my limited sampling of papers, the difference, with some exceptions, is less a separate set of theories and approaches than different emphases.
What SCMS could learn from NECS
- Beginning, Middle, and Ends. It’s partly a matter of size, but SCMS has given up on the idea that there’s any structure to the conference experience and instead has embraced the expectation that attendees will come for a couple of days out of the five. I think a lot gets lost in this change.
- National cinema study still matters. I saw a number of good NECS papers dealing with both historical and contemporary film and film cultures in specific European national contexts. SCMS has gotten much better lately at including panels on non-US cinema. But I think the orientation of the US film scholar is to problematize and question national identity as a construct, to the point of favoring transnationalism over national cinema as a research agenda. Which, arguably, is a luxury one can have if one's national cinema is a global hegemon.
- Embrace the grassroots. SCMS has been experimenting with SIGs, which along with caucuses are taking on a bigger role. But in NECS I understand that the workgroups have a niche in the programming, and there's a real sense of vitality with them.
What NECS could learn from SMCS
- Expand global view. If the value for me was NECS's European focus, it struck me that papers on African, Latin American, and even Asian cinema were fewer than in other conferences I've been to.
- Discourage panels of presenters all from one institution or from an ongoing research project. SCMS can be clique-y but its policy does encourage new configurations of scholars across institutions.
- Better publisher’s area. I don’t know if this was a fluke, but the publisher’s area felt marginalized here. However, there is a real value to having attendees milling about the publisher exhibit, browsing new books, and talking to editors.
In her keynote, Janet Wasko praised how many papers took the theme Creative Industries to heart. I had the opposite impression, since a lot of times the "creative" felt tacked on or perfunctory. Which is fine, really. I just think bigger conferences should consider limiting thematic unity to the keynotes and not prioritize papers with the theme in the title. Themes work better when they emerge from specific critical agendas rather than serve as general rubrics.