JOINT PhD/MA SEMINARS 2019-20
FMST 605/805 Topics in English Canadian Cinema – Diasporic Cinema
This course examines contemporary diasporic voices and imaginaries within English Canadian cinema. Avoiding essentialisms, this course interrogates hegemonic understandings of national film culture by analysing how the current landscape of Canadian film and media production is shaped by diverse im/migration histories. One of our primary goals will be to critically examine the ways in which ‘dominant’ and ‘minority’ screen cultures are mutually informed and negotiated. We will thus investigate how cultural policies and institutions like the National Film Board have directly impacted multicultural screen practices and resulted in ambivalent articulations of national identity. Throughout the course, we will explore how concepts of post/colonialism, multiculturalism, transnationalism, migration, exile, memory, hybridity, race, gender, and class play out in the work of filmmakers like Atom Egoyan, Richard Fung, Julia Kwan, Helen Lee, Deepa Mehta, Winston Washington Moxam, Midi Onodera, Mina Shum, Clement Virgo, and others.
FMST 635/835: Technology and Intimacy
This seminar examines contemporary forms of technological intimacy, drawing on approaches from digital media, cultural theory, feminist science and technology studies, and disability studies, among other fields. From “the cultural politics of emotion” (Ahmed), “ugly feelings” (Ngai), and “surplus life” (Cooper) to “emotional capitalism” (Illouz), “habitual new media” (Chun), and the “political economy of intimacies” (Lowe), we will trace a wide range of debates related to changing conceptions of technological and human relations. Of particular interest is the intersection of bio-technologies that now command an increased capacity to extract and harvest, alter and optimize, patent and monetize “life itself.” The course will give specific attention to debates about behavioral economies, data intimacies, algorithmic identity, network aesthetics, smart media, privacy and publicity, enhancement technologies, shifting habits and sociality, and experimental embodiment.
FMST 665/865 Sound, Ecology, Cinema
This course situates established approaches to the study of film sound within broader questions about the relationships between sound, society, and the environment central to sound studies across disciplines. The field of acoustic ecology is used to reframe core issues in film sound theory and to provide an interdisciplinary model for how the study of film sound can become part of larger conversations about media and the environment in the humanities. Acoustic ecology has developed a rich set of conceptual tools for thinking about the relationship between sound and human experience within specific geographical locales. Along with these conceptual tools has come an equally rich set of issues and problems pertaining to acoustic ecology’s objects of study and its research practices. In this course we explore how these tools and problems can be made equally productive for charting sonic pathways through the emerging field of ecocinema studies. Screenings across a range of genres, cultural contexts, and historical periods are paired with literature from film studies, cultural studies, communications, musicology, and critical geography. These texts provide an interdisciplinary environment through which to listen for the ways in which films can help us navigate the current state of environmentalist discourse, while also challenging key tenets of acoustic ecology and film sound theory alike.
FMST 665/865 Video Modernity: Media and Cultural Infrastructures
This course delineates the multiple lives of video and its cultural, social and political impact through infrastructures created by VHS tapes, VCD and DVD culture, and streaming and mobile platforms. It focuses on issues and forms distinct to each technological apparatus such as the emergence of the video nasties in the global north, local entertainment industries spurred by VCD culture in the global south, and DIY aesthetics and whatsapp videos of the digital age. Through an examination of the poetics of infrastructure, the course will map and traverse the landscape of bootlegging, piracy, local media cultures and the forensic imagination. Deploying the lens of video, the course will address the issues of media infrastructures vis-a- vis the post cinematic imagination. While it is critical that we debate video as a post cinematic apparatus, it is equally necessary that we place front and centre certain discussions from the global south (piracy as access, localized video cultures, doctored videos and the crowd) if only to comprehend infrastructural politics and poetics of the medium(s).
FMST 630/830 Classical Film Theory
This seminar will focus on some of the major figures of what is now referred to as "Classical Film Theory". The course is addressed first and foremost to students interested in the history of film theory and the development of ideas about film from the silent period to the 1960s.
Classical Film Theory concerns a period in the study of the cinema that pre-dates the full-blown emergence of a discipline of films studies; one that, for the most part, precedes the development of a film studies curriculum in universities, the emergence of specialized academic journals, the rise of professional film studies associations, etc. Thus film theory was left to a group of individual thinkers often initially trained in either philosophy, psychology, art history, sociology, or other disciplines within the Humanities and working in isolation, but whose vision nonetheless introduced some of the most important and lasting debates about the nature of film and its relation to reality and the other arts. In fact, since the digital turn has taken place, those debates have returned to the forefront of film scholarship as academics consider what (if anything) has been gained, what (if anything) has been lost with regards to what cinema does and what our understanding of it is.
The course will center on the writings of 5 important figures of Classical Film Theory: Hugo Münsterberg, Rudolf Arnheim,Sergei M. Eisenstein, André Bazin and Siegfried Kracauer. Students will be asked to read the works of these theorists which will then be discussed in detail during class. Lectures will situate the different theories in their intellectual context. And since film theory doesn't develop out of "thin air", but in relation to films, films and film excerpts will be occasionally screened so as to contextualize and/or exemplify the work of each of the theorists considered.
FMST 635/835 Topics in Documentary Film: The Essay Film
This class will engage with the cinematic tradition of the Essay Film, understood widely as a kind of non-fiction film, and other media work, which is centered around personal and diaristic forms of expression. The class will move chronologically through both the theory and practice of this mode of filmmaking. From Astruc’s caméra-stylo, to Varda’s cinécriture, to first-person camera as theorized by Rascaroli, there exists a scholarly and theoretical corpus that was both inspired by, and alternatively has inspired actual artistic practice. The work of Harun Farocki (Images of the World and the Inscription of War) and Agnes Varda (The Gleaners and I), of Chris Marker, to name a few, has challenged current taxonomies and forced viewers and scholars to renegotiate their epistemological parameters vis-à-vis documentary, and, more specifically, non-fiction narratives. While these films can be understood as cinematic variations on the literary essay genre (according to Timothy Corrigan), in the second half of the 20th century they have become a cinematic tradition unto themselves. This seminar will introduce students to the contemporary debates on the narrative forms and spectatorial responses to documentary cinema, take up issues of realism and authenticity in relation to the moving image, and engage with the politics of self and community in the global age. Students will be asked to engage with a short video- or photo-essay project of their own, where they will write with images their own “essay film” about one of the topics discussed in class.
FMST 665/685: Managing Media
Management - on the surface it seems marginal to the films, television series and other media we care about; boring, even. Yet there is nothing more critically essential to understanding the process of how an idea for a film makes it to the big screen, or to grasping platform-mediated cultural production today. This course will examine the mysterious middle realm of media management, from the production processes where film and television and novels get made, to the management of media franchises, star images and brands, to the management of users by social media influencers and the gender politics of their labours, to the managing of consumers through increasingly complex and arcane end-user license agreements (EULAs), apps, interfaces and retail environments. It will chart the multiple layers and levels at which media and its consumers are managed, from platforms to hardware to ad agencies and talent agencies. In the process we will screen and analyze the many self-referential films and TV series that stage these management practices for our enjoyment.
PhD students only; SEMINARS 2019-20
FMST 801 Seminar in Film, Moving Image and Cultural Theory: Cinema of Exploration.
“Cinema of Exploration” aims to analyze the implications of exploration filmmaking around the world in relation to the technological, social, cultural, economic, and ecological developments that have marked its emergence and import in different geopolitical contexts. In this class, we will tackle the global tradition of travel films, from early anthropological reportages to different contemporary variations on the theme of the travelogue. These stem from a wide array of different modes of filmmaking: “national geographic”, documentary, experimental, avant-garde, “fakes”, etc. We will also examine film genres contingent on the trope of cinematic exploration (wild-life documentaries, westerns, sci-fi, scientific cinema, etc.). Some of the animating questions for this class include: What is the political import of representing exploration, particularly in light of the critiques of representation purported by postcolonial theory? How does the development of these practices and discourses impact our understanding of the history and geography of moving images? How do they both reflect and impact the actual technological and sociocultural developments of our age? What role have these traditions played in the development of film theory, media epistemology, and concepts of perception, world, and universe? How have exploration films changed now—in an era where human activity is a determinant cause of geological and climatological changes—and how might they provide useful documents for thinking and challenging such global crises? Finally, what roles has the cinema of exploration played in the conceptualization of the world, the planet, and such related phenomena as globalization? The class will be divided in four parts 1) Exploration of Seeing. In this section, we will look at examples of non-fiction cinema that push the human capability of seeing, from the very small (scientific cinema) to the very big (drones, reconnaissance, surveys, etc.). 2) Cinema of Expeditions. This part is devoted to “pith hat” cinema, from early explorers to contemporary big budget nature shows. 3) Narrative of Explorations. Contemporary auteurs that incorporate travel and exploration as a mode of filmmaking. 4) Cinema of Exploitation. This section is devoted to cinema of extraction of primary resources (oil, minerals, etc.)
FMST 804/4 Epistemology of the Film and Media Archive
The objective of the course is to explore the changing role of the archive in audio-visual culture, as it intersects with a wide range of media technologies and emergent histories. What kind of knowledge is produced by different kinds of archives, and how does that knowledge shift with changes in media and technologies of storage and access? How have archives served (or not served) different constituencies in Canada and globally? How are archives funded and supported and how does that support influence the kinds of knowledge, research, and historiography thereby produced?
The class will include weekly readings and screenings with which students will be expected to engage critically. Students will be asked to identify an existing archive, and produce a critical analysis of that archive based on research questions developed in class from the assigned readings. An alternative assignment is to produce a work of media archiveology, for those students who have the appropriate media-making skills, in which they will use film extracts in order to analyze a specific archive—again using research questions developed from course readings.
The course will also lead towards a symposium in Spring 2020 involving researchers affiliated with the Archive/Counter Archive Research consortium. Students in the class will be involved in the planning of the conference and will be invited to participate.
FMST 806 ProSeminar I: Technologies, Techniques and Sites of Instruction
This course considers the ways in which film and media have been made meaningful in a range of disciplinary and institutional contexts. Our primary organizing question will be: How have film and media been conceptualized and put to work to both generate, perform, and instrumentalize distinct forms of knowledge and experience throughout the 20th and 21st Century? Working with theoretical and historical materials, we will address the place of film and media in activities such as researching, learning, training, analyzing, testing, exhibiting, displaying and analyzing a range of phenomena. We will begin with considerations of Film Studies itself as a historically distinct discipline, exploring the dynamics that led to film becoming a object of university based study. We will then expand to include other ways in which science, military, and industry have worked to create, circulate and perform new forms of knowledge and experience using recorded and mediated materials. Topics may include time-motion studies, museum media, industrial fairs, data architectures, immersive training environments, and efforts to expand the human sensorium.
FMST 807 Proseminar II: The Moving Image in the Postcolonial Condition
This course will introduce students to the historical trajectory of debates on geopolitics as a method of analysis in film and media studies from the 1950s to present day. With geopolitics, or the geopolitical, I intend here to define a form of hermeneutics of moving image cultures as seen through emergent political and geographical formations which took shape in and around the decolonization movement. This specific cultural formation has become now urgent due what Sandro Mezzadra defines as our current “postcolonial condition”, conceived here as a reconfiguration of historiography that demonstrates the centrality of colonialism for the epistemic presuppositions of European modernity.
This course will have its starting point precisely in the debates surrounding political cinema during the period of decolonization, focusing specifically on the Fanonian impact on European militant cinema inspired by liberation movements (René Vautier, William Klein, Ansano Giannarelli, the Rive Gauche filmmakers, Sarah Maldoror, etc.). It will continue with an exploration of the debates around such theoretical and methodological formations as Third Cinema, Cinema Novo, the Civil Rights movement in North America, focusing on the LA group specifically. The class will continue with an analysis of contemporary debates triggered by the current geopolitical formations of migrant crisis on the one hand, and neocolonial revanche, focusing in particular on the notion of Transnational and World Cinema, and their limitations as both taxonomy and hermeneutical devices. The class will conclude with the exploration of alternative models of analysis based on the geopolitical as method, by looking at Canclini’s notion of hybridity, and Hard and Negri’s notion of assembly.
While the ultimate goal of this course is to familiarize students with the genealogy of debates on Thirld Worldism and Postcoloniality within the field of Film and Media studies, it will also ask students to consider how these issues could be reflected in their pedagogical practices through a series of exercises of experiential learning (syllabi, film series curatorships, archiving, research-creation projects, etc.)