Talk at the Wexner Center in Columbus, Ohio

April 28, 2009 at 12:34 am

As a lover of modern architecture, the dosage of exposure to wonderfully landscaped and designed modern spaces was a feature that defined my recent visit to Columbus, Ohio, as a really enjoyable trip. Led by a stereotypically dismissive pre-set attitude to the Midwest, I had not set my expectations very high, so I was in for a nice surprise. The hotel on the edge of campus, Blackwell Inn, was completely emancipated from the American kitsch that you would normally see at any other hotel in mid-America. The geometry of the pathways and landscaped grass rectangles that I was seeing through my room window was incredibly stylish, and so were the shapes of the new dark brick buildings that framed it. Most of all, I was truly thrilled to realise that the talk which I had come to give, was to take place in the main auditorium of the Wexner Centre for the Arts (pictured), an award-winning modern design achievement by architect and philosopher Peter Eisenman, the man who created the unevenly-leveled blocks of the Holocaust memorial in Berlin. It was a great experience in architectural discovery, as I did not know what to expect, so I was truly pleasantly surprised. It reminded me to an experience more than a decade ago when a visit for a talk to Minneapolis took me to the modern art museum there, on the Mississippi river, and provided my first encounter with the architectural style of Frank Gehry. This was at a time when Gehry was not as widely known as he is today, even before the unveiling of his museum in Bilbao (and many other structures that he did later on). It was some sort of design revelation for me. Same with the Wexner.

I had spent the previous day at the Easton open air mall, engaged in the ultimate American experience — shopping. At the large Barnes and Noble store here, I came across a nicely priced and richly illustrated book entitled Masterpieces of Modern Architecture (Wonders of the World). It would have made for a good gift for my son, who is quite interested in these matters (and who has been to many of the places pictured in the book). Still, I was wondering if I could carry such a bulky and heavy item across continents. While pondering over this, I kept browsing through the pictures in the book, mostly showing buildings in Asia, the Arab world, and Europe. America did not seem to feature very prominently. Yet, as I flipped through the pages toward the end, the book opened somehow ‘spontaneously’ on a spread that revealed a panoramic picture of — guess what — the Wexner Center! Looking at the table of contents, I realized that this photograph of the Wexner was one of a total of only five examples that the authors of the book had considered worthy of inclusion here from across North America. Quite a prominent sign! And I was looking at this photograph while standing here, on the ground in Columbus. Of course, it was a clear sight what I should do. I bought the volume; it is now in my home in Scotland, prominently placed alongside the other nicely illustrated albums in George’s collection.

This second photograph shows the interior of the museum, where the reception after the talk took place. To the left is the entrance to the large room which is used for talks and screenings (that night they also screened Andrzej Wajda’s deeply personal Katyn). My talk was entitled ‘History for Losers: Cultural Historiography and Popular Culture in the ‘New’ Europe’. It was given as an opening keynote for the Slavic conference that the Centre for Slavic and East European Studies here organised. Unfortunately, I could not stay on for the conference that was to follow, as I was headed back already the next sunny morning, after a nice walk around the campus. The flight to Newark was great, as the cloudless sky allowed for incredibly clear views over the Great Lakes and then, descending into New Jersey, toward the Manhattan skyline as well as the Statue of Liberty (which one cannot see as easily, normally). In spite the suppressed irritation I was harboring on entry to the US, after having had to fill out scores of forms that no one seemed to have checked as they were asking me all over again for the same details, in addition to taking my fingerprints, I was leaving in a good mood. And yes, to be honest, passing the US immigration took less than ten minutes now (in comparison, two-three years ago it was more like an hour).

Dina Iordanova
28 April 2009

International Film Festivals Workshop, Part II: The Event

April 24, 2009 at 12:28 am

So here we are, having finally convened for what proved to be a really interesting day of discussions on matters of film festivals. This is the ‘scene’ of the event, at the Lawrence Levy studio on the top floor of the Byre theatre in St. Andrews. Seated in the picture are, from left to right: Lucy Mazdon, David Slocum, Janet Harbord, Skadi Loist, Marijke de Valck, Richard Porton, Dina Iordanova, Nick Roddick, Ruby Cheung, Michael Gubbins, Irene Bignardi, Lindiwe Dovey and Nuria Triana-Toribio. Stuart Cunningham, who had initially sat on this side of the table, had moved to the audience side as he found the lights too bright (same for me, I wore Nick Roddick’s sunglasses while moderating the first session). The man whose back faces the camera, is John Orr who had come for the day from Edinburgh. Another twenty or so people attended, such as David Archibald, Emily Munroe, Matthew Lloyd, Melanie Phillips, Apple Zhang, Dorota Ostrowska, Victoria Thomas, as well as our colleagues Leshu Torchin, Will Brown, Saer Ba, and the PhD students Yun-hua Chen, Serazer Pekerman (who took all these potos), Yun Mi Hwang and Spela Zajec. Thomas Gerstenmeyer ensured that it all run smoothly. The image on the background, which also carried information on the event’s sponsors, featured a scene from the open air screenings at Piazza Grande during the Locarno Film Festival (one of the most logistically challenges for the festival organisers, as Irene Bignardi, former director of the festival, shared — as it rains almost every night).*

As I have been quite busy with other things, it has taken me quite a long time to come round to do this second post on the Workshop. We have now moved on. The Film Festivals Yearbook I: The Festival Circuit will be out in May 2009, bringing many of the ideas discussed here into the public space and containing a detailed report by William Brown that focuses on the workshop specifically. There are also reports on the workshop forthcoming in Film International, Senses of Cinema, Scope and probably Screen, so it will be covered extensively for those who are interested to read more of the ideas that were discussed during the day (the photo here shows, left to right, Marijke de Valck, Richard Porton and myself, during the workshop). So I have decided not to write a report on the event, especially as I was so involved in it that it would take me quite a long time to cover all aspects. Having read some of the forthcoming reports, however, I thought there is one aspect that needs mentioning here. Namely, the issue that was brought up by Lucy Mazdon and David Slocum on the matter of defining what IS the film festival, or probably coming up with some taxonomy of film festivals, as this would naturally be a good starting point for building the field.

Here are some thoughts on the taxonomy of festivals, mostly triggered by matters related to the incessant proliferation of film festivals nowadays. I thought this could be linked with my view of the festival circuit as consisting of a number of parallel smaller circuits that function independently from each other (they also can be taken as the basis of a possible taxonomy of festivals). We wondered what would it be if festivals were to suddenly stop taking place. What would such collapse mean?

If some key festivals were to fail entirely or in part, such collapse may indeed have dismal consequences for the industry itself, including people and businesses, but it would not really affect much the other festivals, because their modus operandi is not part of a structured network. Similarly, the current proliferation of festivals does not seem to crowd the festival calendar in any troublesome way. It is more about escalation in festivals of parallel type, mostly taking place outside the group of large competitive festivals, not within it. The events that constitute these parallel circuits form pronounced networks between themselves. Thus, while highly ‘porous and perforated’ (Elsaesser), we are also looking at a structure where some parts can easily exist without the others. There is a clear division between the different circuits, and they follow parallel and overlapping cycles over the globe and around the year.

These parallel circuits are so many that it is difficult to even begin listing them. For example, the global circuit of festivals of the Soviet sphere during the Cold War (Moscow, Karlovy Vary, Tashkent, Havana, etc.) existed for decades without much interface or interference with the system of festivals in the West. A list of various parallel circuits could include networks of type (short film, ethnographic film, animation, documentary), genre (comedy, mountain films), target audience (children, seniors), or social concern film festivals (human rights, women’s, gay and lesbian). Then there are festivals of local survey (Brazilian film in Paris), regional survey (East Asian, Eastern European, Mediterranean), diasporic festivals (Bosnian film in Chicago, the network of Jewish Film Festivals around the world), or even events following their own idiosyncratic agenda, like my favourite one in the tiny sardine-factory town of Douarnenez in Brittany, France, which has persisted over more than three decades with its interest in minority cultures from around the world. There are festivals with significant commercial activity (Cannes, Berlinale, Sundance), festivals of festivals (Toronto, London), commercial showcase festivals (Deauville’s American Film Festival), thematic festivals (slow food, fashion), tourism-enhancing festivals (Bahamas, St. Barth, Marrakech), festivals promoting cinephilia (Pordenone, Telluride), festivals promoting film professionalism (cinematography in Bitolja, Macedonia; screenwriting in Cheltenham, England). Wherever there are networks, they are formed around specific agendas that revolve around fostering and showcasing (and not distributing) a certain type of cinematic product.

© Dina Iordanova
25 April 2009

* Another interesting note regarding the open air screenings at Locarno was that they usually attract not the well-to-do high class tourists who frequent the Ticino area of the festival (near Lago Magiorre in Switzerland) but the poorest backpackers. Thus, the claim that film festivals give a boost to local tourism as they bring significant revenues from visitors was put to the test: Bignardi was far from sure that the potential revenues from backpackers would offset the cost of setting up the free screenings on the Piazza.

The Field of Film Festival Studies and thoughts on ‘the field’ of Media Industries in general

April 8, 2009 at 12:29 am

In the aftermath of the Film Festivals workshop which we held here in St. Andrews on 4 April 2009, my colleague Leshu Torchin sent me a link to an interesting interview which Henry Jenkins had posted on his blog just days earlier. It is called Studying Media Industries: An Interview with Jennifer Holt and Alisa Perren, a posting in two parts, which can be accessed by clicking through to Part I and Part II. This is also the place to note that Jennifer Holt and Alisa Perren are the editors of the new edited collection on Media Industries (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009) shown below.

Even though I believe that the field of Film Festival Studies that we were trying to outline during the workshop is different than Media Industries as it is marked by a range of specific features, I could not help finding the discussion of items in this interview particularly pertinent, maybe because it relates to methodological issues on matters of defining the field. Many of the same and related questions were in the centre of our attention last week as well: What is the role of historical investigation? How can one bring different approaches in dialogue with each other? What is the current state of research in this emerging field? How do the dramatic technological developments affect production, distribution, administration, policy and audiences? Can we study festival production meaningfully without constantly referencing the work on festival audiences? How about integrating the work done on these matters in the field of management studies? How can increase the visibility of important work already being done by our contributors?

And last but absolutely not least: How to highlight the fact that significant work being done outside of the academy by journalists and activists is of particular importance and influence, especially, as Jennifer Holt puts it: ‘some of the most insightful and informative analysis of media industries can be found in the popular press, the blogosphere and trade publishing, where journalists and critics have generated a tremendous amount of momentum’. Didn’t this become most obvious by the great interventions that people like Nick Roddick and Michael Gubbins made in the course of the Festivals Workshop last week?

In short, I found all issues that were brought up in the context of this interview of direct relevance to our concerns in relation to the field of Film Festival studies. Read the interview! I am planning to read the book next.

© Dina Iordanova
8 April 2009

International Film Festivals Workshop, Part I: The Press Release

April 5, 2009 at 10:58 pm

…PRESS RELEASE… PRESS RELEASE… PRESS RELEASE…

AROUND THE WORLD IN 2,000 FILM FESTIVALS
Film festivals under the microscope at the University of St Andrews

The global boom in the film industry has resulted in almost 2,000 film festivals taking place all around the world, according to a leading expert in film studies.

Professor Dina Iordanova, Director of the Centre for Film Studies at the University of St Andrews believes that the next decade will see the study of film festivals become just as important as the study of film itself.

The researcher will be joined by film critics, festival practitioners and fellow academics to investigate the phenomenon at a special event in St Andrews this weekend (Saturday 4 April 2009).

The group of experts will gather for the one-day event to examine why a twenty year surge in the interest in films and film-making means that France alone has one festival for every day of the year. The event is part of a two-year project, Dynamics of World Cinema, sponsored by the Leverhulme Trust. The project, lead by Professor Iordanova, is currently looking into the distribution and exhibition of international film.

Professor Iordanova, who is convening the workshop, explained, “Over the past twenty years film festivals have proliferated all over the world. It is difficult to provide an exact figure for the number of festivals in operation, but it is well over 1,000 and more likely around 2,000.

“Just as the study of museums and galleries is central to our understanding of arts and heritage, the study of festivals is central to understanding the true scope of global cinema. It is logical, therefore, to expect that in the course of the next decade the study of festivals, a growing yet scattered field, will become central to film and cultural studies.

The workshop is hosted by the Centre for Film Studies at the University and takes place at the Byre Theatre in St Andrews this Saturday (4th April 2009). The discussion, moderated by leading critics (Richard Porton of the Cineaste, Nick Roddick of Sight and Sound, and Michael Gubbins, former editor of Screen International) and academics (Professor Iordanova, Professor Stuart Cunningham of the Australian Film Commission and Dr Ruby Cheung of the Dynamics of World Cinema project) will evolve around festival programming, distribution, funding, digitisation/new media, and cultural policy.

Other participants include: Irene Bignardi (Film Italia, former artistic director of Locarno International Film Festival), Lindiwe Dovey (SOAS, University of London), Janet Harbord (Goldsmiths College, University of London), Skadi Loist (University of Hamburg), Lucy Mazdon (University of Southampton), David Slocum (The Berlin School of Creative Leadership), Núria Triana Toribio (University of Manchester), and Marijke de Valck (University of Amsterdam).

Professor Dina Iordanova continued, “This workshop provides a rare opportunity for productive conversation about the state of the field and current research agendas. I am happy to see the enthusiastic support from so many renowned film scholars and critics. I hope that this event will inspire more and more related events and scholarly work in the field of film festival research.”

6 April 2009