Wednesday, June 25, 2014

NECS conference thoughts

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.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

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.