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Session 23: New Historiographies: Social Aspects of Cinema Cultures

Paper 1 - Hannah Garibaldi, University of California, Pop-up Cinematic Accessibility: The Film Bunch’s Integrative Potential for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Despite the monumental, anti-discrimination Equality Act introduced in 2010 in the UK, British deaf and hard of hearing moviegoers continue to express distress about the dearth of adequate theatrical accommodations for hearing impaired viewers. To mitigate this problem, a small pop-up cinema—The Film Bunch—was created in 2016 in the London East-End with the purpose of projecting captioned short films, as well as providing filmmaker support, education, and advocacy. Integrating disability studies research with an examination of cinematic exhibition practice, this paper utilizes evidence from the group’s social media accounts and reports from the screenings to evaluate The Film Bunch’s effectiveness in creating a collaborative venue for deaf, hearing, and hard of hearing individuals.

While a cursory inspection of The Film Bunch’s activities indicates an idyllic site of sociality amongst linguistically separate groups, I argue that the organization is best understood for its overlapping interstitiality. Borrowing the term from Ella Harris in her evaluation of the pop-up style, this “in-betweeness” not only characterized The Film Bunch’s placement between different urban locales, but also defined the organization’s at times contradictory sensorial spatialities which inherently mediated the social possibilities for the hearing, deaf, and hard of hearing within the sites themselves. After using The Film Bunch’s own publicity to contextualize their activities, I spatially analyze The Book Club, one of the group’s central locations, to appraise the degree of perceptual accessibility actually available to deaf and hard of hearing groups by using Hansel Bauman’s influential “DeafSpace Design Guidelines.” This appraisal foregrounds the various spatial compromises and perceptual conflicts present within The Film Bunch events, concretely demonstrating its unresolved “in-betweeness.” In spite of these complications, I conclude that, though imperfect, The Film Bunch’s activities point to the possibility of brighter, more visibly inclusive forms of everyday cinematic exhibition.

Atherton, Martin. Deafness, Community, and Culture in Britain: Leisure and Cohesion, 1945-1995. Disability History. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012.

Bauman, Hansel. “DeafSpace Design Guidelines.” campus design guide, Gallaudet University, 2010.

Bauman, H-Dirksen L., and Joseph J. Murray, eds. Deaf Gain: Raising the Stakes for Human Diversity. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014.

De Ville, Donna. “The Persistent Transience of Microcinema (in the United States and Canada).” Film History: An International Journal 27, no. 3 (2015): 104–36.

Harris, Ella. “Navigating Pop-up Geographies: Urban Space-Times of Flexibility, Interstitiality and Immersion.” Geography Compass 9, no. 11 (2015): 592–603. https://doi.org/10.1111/gec3.12248.

Hannah Garibaldi is a PhD student in Film and Media Studies at the UC Santa Barbara and received her Master’s degree in Film Studies from Chapman University. Her research interests include the influence of physical illness, injury, and disability on historical Hollywood film productions.

Paper 2 - Morgan Corriou, Université Paris 8, Caroline Damiens, Université Paris 10, & Mélisande Leventopoulos, Université Paris 8, Community Building at the Cinema.

Cinema audiences may be understood as continuously changing collectives, characterized by a perpetual restructuration and reinvention, shaped by the spectator’s cultural, ethnic, national and religious identities. These temporary constellations, however, not only change from one screening to another, but they need to be confronted – more directly than what has been done so far within New Cinema History – to the shifting trajectories of the communities of which they are composed. This paper intends to present a collective research project, supported by two French universities, on cinematic community building practices in countries with no – or almost no – film industries during the first part of the 20th century. Our project aims at questioning (separately or simultaneously) two kinds of processes: the phenomena of cinema and cultural homogenization and that of the coexistence, whether forced or consented, of diverse groups within the same territory, while exploring the wide range of political and social collective practices that have emerged within and beyond screening spaces.

Three territories located on the edge of State boundaries, faraway from political power, will be connected in the presentation: Soviet Siberia, colonial Tunisia and post-ottoman Greek Macedonia. Empire strategies, Nation-State building and geopolitics had one way or another left them under foreign domination. In these multicultural and multilingual territories sometimes propitious to cultural clash, the national cohesion was not a self-evident process. Indeed, the ethnic, religious and cultural identities and practices of local groups entered in contradiction with those of the dominant State (whether the latter was a federation, a Nation-State or an Empire), making the collective dimensions of cinemagoing particularly interesting to explore and to compare.

Morgan Corriou (dir.), Publics et spectacle cinématographiques en situation coloniale, Cahiers du CERES, hors série n° 5, 2012 Daniel Biltereyst, Richard Maltby, Philippe Meers, “Introduction: The Scope of New Cinema History”, The Routledge Companion to New Cinema History, Londres, Routledge, 2019, pp. 1-12. Brian Larkin, Signal and Noise. Media, Infrastructure, and Urban Culture in Nigeria, Durham, Duke University Press, 2008 Judith Thissen, « Kol Nidre on Broadway: New York Jews and the Success of The Jazz Singer », Invited speaker Ross Seminar Series in Yiddish Studies, Los Angeles, 12 mai 2015

Morgan Corriou is a lecturer in media studies at the University of Paris 8 Vincennes – Saint-Denis. She specialized in the social history of cinema in colonial Maghreb and benefited for her PhD work from a grant of the French Institut de recherche sur le Maghreb contemporain in Tunis (Centre national de la recherche scientifique). Her current research focuses on the correlation of cinephilia and Third World struggles in Africa.

Caroline Damiens is a lecturer in film studies at Paris Nanterre University. She earned her PhD at the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilisations (INALCO) in 2017 and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Research and Education at the Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac. Her research focuses on film and indigenous peoples, expedition film and indigenous Siberian cinema.

Mélisande Leventopoulos is a lecturer in the Film studies Department of University Paris 8 Vincennes- Saint-Denis. Her main field of expertise is Catholics and the cinema in France on which she defended her thesis entitled “The collective construction of a critical perspective”. She is now interested in the cinema in the Balkans and she is currently working on a new research project about communities and cinemagoing in Thessaloniki during the first half of the twentieth century.

Paper 3 - Shruti Narayanswamy, University of St Andrews, Seeking Lettered Audiences: Film Contests in Bombay, 1930s.

This paper analyses how film contests were used by the Bombay film industry in the 1930s to engage with its audience(s). Advertised through English-language newspapers and film magazines, contests were fashioned out of contemporary social issues and solicited public opinion on divisive and culturally taboo subjects. For instance, to promote the 1938 film ‘Divorce’, based on the polarising law that gave women the right to divorce, the studio advertised a ‘Divorce Essay Contest’ to school students in Bombay. Students had to submit, along with their cinema ticket, a 200-word essay on the topic, “Is Divorce Good or Bad for Society?”. I examine how these contests sanitised cinemagoing and made it more amenable to audiences who were wary of the ‘disrepute’ of cinemas, particularly female audiences and parents.

These contests not only promoted specific films, but also served as interactive public consultation exercises for the film industry. I use examples of contests which solicited “detailed comments” from audiences on questions such as “Do you think Indian producers should take up social work by producing social themes?”, to understand how these contests were used to position the film industry as a commentator on contemporary social issues. Primarily aimed at middle-class and lettered Indians, these contests also lend insight into the kind of ‘respectable’ audience that the film industry aspired to attract. These materials reveal the increasing socio-political relevance of cinema in the late 1930s, as India was taking strides towards overthrowing colonial rule. This paper will argue that by examining these promotional materials and the audiences they were aimed at, we can understand how the Bombay film industry was projecting itself as a medium that deserved a stake in the future of a – soon to be independent – nation.

Bhaumik, Kaushik, “At Home in the World: Cinema and Cultures of the Young in Bombay in the 1920s”. In Towards a History of Consumption in South Asia, edited by Haynes et al., 136-154. New Delhi: Oxford University Press India, 2010.

Majumdar, Neepa. Wanted Cultured Ladies Only!: Female Stardom and Cinema in India, 1930s-1950s. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Shelley Stamp, Movie-Struck Girls: Women and Motion Picture Culture After the Nickelodeon. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Shruti Narayanswamy is a PhD student at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, working on female audiences and women’s cinemagoing in late colonial Bombay. Her research interests include transnational cinema and cult cinema. She has interned at the National Film Archive of India and Glasgow Museums. She blogs at www.mahalmovies.com