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Writing a Decentred and Entangled History of Cinema-Going

Écrire une histoire décentrée et croisée du spectacle cinématographique

Epistemological and Methodological Issues

Enjeux épistémologiques et méthodologiques

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Published on Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Abstract

At the crossroads of history, film studies and anthropology, the research project “Community Building at the Cinema: Towards a Decentred and Entangled History of Cinema-Going,” initiated in 2021, seeks to engage in transnational and comparative research on a global scale, with a particular focus on the communal identities of cinemagoers and cinema intermediaries in the 20th century. After several workshops (dedicated to cinema circulation around the Mediterranean Sea, the persistence of travelling cinema practices throughout the twentieth century and the social history of film distribution), and a three-year online seminar series (2021-2023), the international conference of November 28-30 2023 is the closing event of the project.

Announcement

It will be held in person, at the Musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac, Paris.

Argument

At the crossroads of history, film studies and anthropology, the research project “Community Building at the Cinema: Towards a Decentred and Entangled History of Cinema-Going,” initiated in 2021, seeks to engage in transnational and comparative research on a global scale, with a particular focus on the communal identities of cinemagoers and cinema intermediaries in the 20th century. After several workshops (dedicated to cinema circulation around the Mediterranean Sea, the persistence of travelling cinema practices throughout the twentieth century and the social history of film distribution), and a three-year online seminar series (2021-2023), the international conference of November 28-30 2023 is the closing event of the project. It will be held in person, at the Musée du quai Branly, Paris.

The conference aims at examining cinema’s shifting collectives within and beyond the confines of state borders. In the interplay between cinema-going and community, groups are being constantly reshaped and reinvented, and not only in response to films themselves; the spectators’ cultural, ethnic, national and religious identities as well as the trajectories of the communities that visit screening venues are also affected by the cinema experience. We pay particular attention to the bewildering diversity of social interactions that took place in specific sites by concentrating on non-hegemonic media industries.

In doing so, this conference intends to contribute to the effort made to shift the apprehension of cinema distribution, exhibition and reception away from Western Europe and the United States (Allen, 2008; Biltereyst, Maltby, Meers, 2019). Decades of postcolonial studies have shown that the world apprehended from imperial metropolitan centres is very different from the one experienced in what is too readily and vaguely called their “peripheries” or “margins.” Although we do not exclude Western Europe and North America of the field of study, we would rather focus on territories without a powerful film industry and/or territories which are too often considered in an asymmetrical relationship with the recognized western centres of late nineteenth century cultural modernity.

According to Richard Maltby’s seminal 2006 article “On the Prospect of Writing Cinema History from Below,” the only way cinema history could play a larger role in the humanities was for the field to “engage with the social history of which it is a part.” But this objective has not been achieved according to Judith Thissen (2019) who criticizes the “insularity of the local case study approach” – which can often obscure long-term trends and hinder the production of meaningful explanatory frameworks. To what extent does a decentred approach of cinema-going enable to re-envision the social history of cinema? In which terms should it renew our epistemological understanding of the field? How to make the different scales of analysis – local, regional, national, imperial – co-exist? We aim at no longer considering the history of the cinema in the “peripheries” in terms of margins, deviations, alternatives, but as the place from which to re-conceptualize historical cinema studies and go beyond a medium-focused history of cinema. 

1/ Decentering, entanglements and the issue of “peripheries”

How can a decentred approach shedding light in transnational connexions lead to a new understanding of the global cinematic space and time? This conference will question the prevalent categories of “centres”, “peripheries” and “margins.” Indeed, those concepts only failed to be sufficiently defined while they need to be considered as historical objects per se. It aims at rethinking polarities with proposals examining circulations in polycentric directions (South-North, East-West...). We are especially interested in works redrawing the fixed borders and frozen forms of cinematographic markets, regions of cinema-going and cultural basins, shifting scales, juggling between multiple temporalities. We also welcome scholarly works that reconsider the traditional division of national/regional areas in an open-ended way. We particularly encourage proposals on rural and itinerant cinema practices that challenge the traditional narratives of film circulation, including in regions traditionally considered as major “centres.” In this perspective, it seems important to interrogate the notion of “modernity,” too often used unproblematically on decentred fields of study. Papers that take into account the superposition of chronologies and rethink the relevance of canonical dates in the history of cinema are also particularly expected.

2/ Historiographies and methodologies

How does such a redesigned spatial approach impact historiographical narratives and canons of cinema-going? The conference will discuss whether the “social turn” (Maltby, 2006) has really taken place in film studies. What are its contributions and limits? It aims at raising epistemological, historiographical and methodological issues regarding the study of intra- and inter-community cinematic interactions in the present academic shift to polycentric transnationalism. We are especially interested in exploring the macro-historical issues facing micro histories of intermediaries and groups that gathered in front of cinema screens. Approaches such as New Cinema History, cultural history of cinema, cultural anthropology etc., and their apprehension of fields of study outside Western Europe and Northern America, will also be questioned. Putting these historiographical approaches into perspective cannot, of course, be detached from a questioning of sources. We encourage papers reflecting on the lack of sources, on the issue of colonial as well as other imperial, national and local state archives, on the use of the periodical press material, etc. The difficulty of accessing sources on some fields of study can also lead to a renewal of methodologies, as exemplified by intermedial approaches or the new challenges of comparison (Biltereyst, Meers, 2016; Ercole, Van de Vijver, Treveri Gennari, 2021). We especially invite papers comparing case studies that at first sight seem resistant to comparison.

3/ Communities, audiences and agents

How did communal cinema practices bring about complex processes of cultural appropriation of the film products in territories lacking an important film industry? Without giving in to a romantic vision of resistant audiences, and with the will to go beyond commonplaces about active audiences (Ang, 1993), the conference wants to address the issues of hybridization of film products, cultural transfers, and visual conflict (Burns 2002; Gürata, 2004; Larkin, 2008; Thompson 2010; Leveratto, 2010; Caddoo, 2014; Kim, 2017). We ambition to question all kinds of cinema-occasioned cultural and social interactions, in the broadest understanding of the terms. We therefore welcome scholarly works on the many modes of cultural resistance and contestation at the cinema (non-attendance, boycott, demonstrations, assaults...). We also expect proposals on the various processes of homogenization and appropriation (minority film cultures, cinema-going in contexts of religious/ethnic conflict or in the context of migration, etc.), as well as on the several translation practices (linguistic and beyond) for the diverse communities in the audience. We wish to better understand the different roles of the many cinema agents, positioned at the key intersection between audiences, venues and films (distributors, exhibitors, projectionists, cinema staff, censors, religious authorities...). Hence, we aim to explore the multifaceted role of cinema intermediaries in film dissemination, viewing and reception. Finally, we welcome proposals dealing with issues of censorship, illegal film markets and smuggling.

Submission guidelines

Please submit a 300-word proposal with a short bio-bibliography (max. 150 words) by April 15, 2023

to the organisers: fairecommunaute@eur-artec.fr

The working language of the conference is English. However, the organisers will also accept presentations in French.

We aim to notify those who submit a proposal of the outcome by May 31, 2023. 

Organizing committee

  • Morgan Corriou (Université Paris 8)
  • Caroline Damiens (Université Paris Nanterre)
  • Mélisande Leventopoulos (Université Paris 8)

Coordination

  • Anna Gianotti-Laban (Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac)

Selection Committee

  • Arthur Asseraf (University of Cambridge)
  • Daniel Biltereyst (Universiteit Ghent)
  • Morgan Corriou (Université Paris 8)
  • Caroline Damiens (Université Paris Nanterre)
  • Laura Fair (Columbia University)
  • Dong Hoon Kim (University of Oregon)
  • Brian Larkin (Columbia University)
  • Mélisande Leventopoulos (Université Paris 8)
  • Jean-Marc Leveratto (Université de Lorraine)
  • Özge Özyılmaz (Ankara Bilim Üniversitesi)
  • Judith Thissen (Universiteit Utrecht)

Places

  • Salle de cinéma - Musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac, 37 Quai Jacques Chirac
    Paris, France (75007)

Event attendance modalities

Full on-site event


Date(s)

  • Saturday, April 15, 2023

Keywords

  • cinéma, spectacle

Information source

  • Corriou Morgan
    courriel : morgan [dot] corriou [at] univ-paris8 [dot] fr

License

CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Writing a Decentred and Entangled History of Cinema-Going », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, March 21, 2023, https://doi.org/10.58079/1ard

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