PhD Oral Exam - Kester Dyer, Film and Moving Image Studies
When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.
Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.
To this day, Québec cinema bears the reputation of a national corpus that shuns the supernatural as means of narrative and formal expression. Indeed, documentary and realist models have long dominated this film tradition. However, surprising incursions of the supernatural have occurred with increasing frequency in Québec films since the late 20th century. While these occurrences might be understood to mirror the continued collective malaise linked to Québec’s failure at achieving nation-statehood, more nuanced accounts can be gained from an approach that juxtaposes individual film texts authored by both non-Indigenous and Indigenous filmmakers. The current doctoral dissertation, as a collection of case studies drawn from previous publications and conference papers, uncovers textual and contextual explanations for the shift in emphasis that saw a more frequent foregrounding of the supernatural in Québec cinema since the 1990s. It also seeks to explicate the pronounced stress placed on interculturality as a theme associated with supernatural motifs. At the same time as it explores such stylistic change, the group of readings gathered here also considers reasons for the persistence of melancholia as sentiment that pervades much of Québec cinema. As such, this study asks whether the supernatural works subversively within this geopolitical context and, if so, against which dominant interests? Likewise, it asks whether orality, a storytelling framework that has been said to characterize Québec cinema throughout its history, can also offer oppositional potential. When these two traditionally compatible ideas, orality and the supernatural, combine in contemporary Québec cinema, how do their resistant capacities trigger alternative understandings of Québec society and nationhood? Through observations of cinematic frameworks for intercultural fantasies, gendered intergenerational religious traditions, encounters between radical Québec filmmaking and Indigenous practices, and the haunting provocations of Indigenous Cinema as an emergent means of contestation, this study seeks to understand the underlying colonial histories and structures that underpin manifestations of the supernatural and melancholia in Québec. Thus, this study helps to delineate an underexamined mode in Québec film studies, and re-inserts it into considerations of longstanding narrative devices. In addition, the project critiques Québec’s underplayed colonial past, as well as its anxieties concerning immigration and propensity for identity appropriation, while nevertheless investigating Québec’s potential for alliance with Indigenous efforts at decolonization and challenges to the nation-state paradigm.