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Prize-winning PhD candidates examine Fascist cinema in Ethiopia and heart valve diseases

Giuseppe Di Labbio and Giuseppe Fidotta are the latest recipients of the Concordia Stand-Out Graduate Research Award
December 4, 2018
From left: Giuseppe Fidotta and Giuseppe Di Labbio
From left: Giuseppe Fidotta and Giuseppe Di Labbio

Twice a year, Concordia recognizes two students who have demonstrated exemplary research skills in the fields of “Technology, Industry and the Environment” and “Person and Society.” Giuseppe Fidotta and Giuseppe Di Labbio are the latest recipients of the Stand-Out Graduate Research Award, which comes with a $1,000 prize.

To be eligible, graduate students must have previously applied to the Relève étoile Jacques-Genest (previously known as Étudiants-chercheurs étoiles) competition run by the Fonds de Recherche du Québec and published their research findings within seven months of the application deadline.

Fidotta is a third-year doctoral student at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. He has researched Italian film productions set in the former colonies of East Africa during the fascist era (1922-1943).

Di Labbio is a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering and holder of a Vanier Scholarship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. His research focuses on a heart valve disease known as aortic regurgitation. With the average human life expectancy rising, heart valve diseases could become the next cardiac epidemic of this century.

Excavating fascist-era Ethiopian cinematic archives

Fidotta’s project was developed in dialogue with a research collective of anthropologists, historians, media practitioners and Africanists. It concluded in the publication of the book Cine-Ethiopia: The History and Politics of Film in the Horn of Africa, the first academic volume dedicated to the history of Ethiopian cinema. Fidotta contributed one chapter in the book on fascist imperial cinema.

The essay explores the imperial imagination actively promoted by the government of Benito Mussolini, the fascist dictator who ruled Italy from 1922 to 1943, through cinema. It also demonstrates how cinema contributed to the colonial rule through its actual participation in repression, surveillance and exploitation of indigenous people.

“This proves the importance of cinema as a key cultural instrument of colonial rule also in the metropolitan centre, where these films contributed to building a renewed sense of imperial and national identity,” writes Fidotta.

According to the researcher, the project has helped excavate a tragic history long-time erased from both public memory and scholarship.

“What I found was a delusional myth-making machine trying to enforce what was then called the ‘imperial consciousness’ among all Italians,” explains Fidotta.

“The main product of this machine, the imperial documentary, is a hybrid object that defies common understandings about documentary, propaganda, information and fiction.”

Movies are not to be studied in isolation, he notes. The Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema has helped Fidotta approach film and media through materialistic lenses that bring into focus its industrial and political dimensions, moving away from more traditional perspectives.

“As a cultural historian, I believe that history explains the present and influences the future,” he says. “I conceive of this research as militant in nature, because it touches upon the tangible issues brought about by unresolved conflicts and contradictions of the colonial era in modern-day Italy.”

The link between heart valve dysfunctions and cardiac disease

Cardiovascular diseases are still comprehensively the leading cause of death in the world, and Di Labbio is tackling the problem head-on. His work was published in the Journal of Biomechanics in September 2018.

Di Labbio focuses on a valvular disease called aortic regurgitation, which is characterized by a dysfunctional aortic valve that doesn’t close tightly enough, causing the left ventricle to fill partly from leakage through the valve. While this doesn’t sound positive, this very characteristic can be leveraged for earlier diagnosis of the disease.

Indeed, the behaviour of the blood flow in the left ventricle itself could be used as an early indicator of cardiac disease, which in turn can be managed and treated more effectively if diagnosed earlier. Moreover, the technology to capture the blood flow in the left ventricle is already available in clinical practice with the help of ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging.

His work is conducted under the supervision of Lyes Kadem, professor in the Department of Mechanical, Industrial and Aerospace Engineering, in the Laboratory of Cardiovascular Fluid Dynamics. Di Labbio underlines the necessity for researchers to be able to present their topics to a lay audience.

“It is so easy to get preoccupied with the many complexities associated with day-to-day research and the big picture gets lost sometimes,” he says.

“Reflecting on what you have done and putting it in simple terms is also an excellent way of gauging the depth of your own understanding. If you can’t explain something to the average person, then perhaps you just don’t understand it well enough.”

Currently, Di Labbio and his team are taking steps to test their findings against real patient data by collaborating with Dr. Eyal Ben-Assa, an interventional cardiologist and research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Learn more about Concordia’s Stand-Out Research Awards.


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