Reframing Film Festivals

Screen Shot 2020-02-20 at 11.28.02Every day there are several film festivals happening simultaneously in different parts of the world. They vary in size, format, theme, vision and programme. Equally different are the theories, methods and approaches to research, frame and “reframe” them. Yet, “what are we reframing?” “What is the research question when we study film festivals?” Is film festival studies a discipline, even, or are film festivals “heuristic devices” – borrowing Lindiwe Dovey’s words (2015) – through which we study film culture? These are some of the key question that launched the ‘Reframing Film Festivals’ at Università Ca’ Foscari in Venice last 11-12 February 2020, with the renowned film festival scholar Prof Dina Iordanova. The international conference, organised in partnership with the Università degli Studi di Bari Aldo Moro, gathered over 70 researchers, practitioners and students working on the field, organised around 13 panels, two keynotes, and two talks and film screenings at Teatro Ca’ Foscari. A sister event, or second episode, as the co-organisers Marco Dalla Gassa (from Venice) and Federico Zecca (from Bari), put it, will be hosted from 25 to 26 March 2020. This is precisely what took Estrella Sendra there, who will be presenting the paper ‘Africa and/in Festivals: Decolonising Film Curation’ as part of the sixth panel ‘Constructing Local and National Identities’ in Bari next 25 March. The conference was an enriching space for the research-led teaching approach at Winchester School of Art, with panels that have inspired the teaching of the ‘Festivals and Events’ strand led by Estrella Sendra, as part of the team-taught module Global Media 2: Industries and Debates, led by Dr Megen de Bruin-Molé, in the MA Global Media Management.

Keynote_Dina Iordanova_Corrective

The conference opened with the keynote of an emblematic scholar on film studies, Dina Iordanova, Professor of Global Cinema and Creative Cultures at University of Saint Andrews, who emphasised the very essence of the existence of film festivals, with her presentation ‘The Corrective Role of Film Festivals.’ These, according to Iordanova, depart from the awareness of the fact that there is a body of films that are made but not seen. Their aim is then to showcase the unseen cinema. Therefore, when creating a film festival, we create a context for what is not seen. Festival are corrective in that their main function is to change power dynamics between stakeholders, since political and industry stakeholders are often at odds. The thought-provoking keynote included a reflection on how the Busan International Film Festival in South made the Parasitephenomenon possible. When film director Bong Joon-ho received the historic Oscar, he started making claims about the greatness of Korean Cinema. This, Prof Iordanova argued, evidenced a national industry ambition. That is, “even though Bunsan is international, it has foregrounded what is happening to Korea in the global state.” Prof Iordanova further shared her views on how the studies on film festivals should move forward, suggesting a historical approach to festivals, an analysis of how they come about, and of the politics of the industry.

Panel 3. Film Festivals_Theories and Methodologies

The various panels included one on World Cinema and Festival curatorship. Which included a presentation of East Asian Film Festivals in the European Film Festival Circuit, an analysis of the staging of Iranian cinema in Berlinale and another on particular interest of Estrella Sendra, by Farah Clémentine Dramani-Issifou, curator of BeninDocs and Belleville en Vue(s), in Benin and France, respectively, and currently a PhD candidate at CELSA and Gaston Berger Universities in Paris and Saint-Louis, respectively. Dramani-Issifou spoke about the two-fold artistic and political intention of the festival, in order to counter-balance false stereotypes about Africa in France, “a country where humanity has been rejected.” The researcher further stressed the difficulty of defining what is Africa, and how the films that are included in the programme are by filmmakers who identify themselves as African. A very strong panel was that on Theories and Methodologies, chaired also by Prof Dina Iordanova. Particularly enlightening was Dr Rachel Johnson’s presentation, from University of Leeds, who presented ‘Film Festivals and Ideology Critique: A Method.’ “Can we describe film festivals as ideological? And if so, how do we study such ideological dimension? What do we understand by ideology?” Dr Johnson then shared a three-tier method to research festivals, looking at the film festival apparatus, the paratext and the film texts. Further panels included archival methods, such as ‘Film Festivals: Origins and Histories’, ‘Amateur and Archive Film Festivals’, or how festivals shape film history in different contexts, with a strong focus on small festivals, such as presentations by Dr María Paz Peirano, from University of Chile, and Aida Vallejo, from the University of the Basque Country. The conference papers were complemented by evening talks and screenings, in conversation with key figures in film festivals, such as Alberto Barbera, director of the Venice International Film Festival. Full details of the programme can be found here.

Carte Blanche for Alberto Barbera_VFF

Universita Ca Foscari  Estrella in Ca Foscari

‘Feeling Bodies’ at Queer Asia Film Festival

66893402_10156096847931599_6446023381832695808_nLast week, Estrella Sendra joined the panel ‘Film Festival as Method – Curation, Challenges, Content’, following the themed curated films ‘Feeling Bodies’, as part of the third edition of the Queer Asia Film Festival. Seven short films from different part of Asia were screened to shed lights on different ways of embodiment of queerness across the continent.


The panel included different organisers and researchers of queer festivals and further festivals curating queer films in their programmes from the UK, China and India. Poorva Rajaram shared her experience in the Bangalore Queer Film Festival. Matthew Karen and Will Dai spoke about the case of CINEMQ in Shanghai. Theresa Heath discussed the Queer Wotever DIY Film Festival. Estrella Sendra shared her views on the queer films curated as part of the Cambridge African Film Festival, which she directed in 2014 and 2015. All members of the panel stressed the role that the festival plays as a space where to perform, embody and reflect on queerness, beyond the engagement with the curated films as art and text. They all shared the challenges of curating queerness and the political choices made in the curatorial process. The event was chaired by Daniel Luther, a SOAS graduate and one of the co-founders of Queer Asia, currently director of the film festival.


Estrella Sendra shares her PhD thesis findings in Senegal

58698627_10155929702241599_6308146028163891200_nEstrella Sendra, member of the Transforming Creativity research group and Teaching Fellow in Global Media Industries in Winchester School of Art, has recently been to Senegal to share her PhD thesis findings. Her thesis, ‘Two-tier festivals  in Senegal between the local and the international: A case study of the Festival International de Folklore et de Percussion in Louga (Senegal)’, examines the phenomenon of festivalisation in Senegal. It traces, for the first time, the history of festivals in Senegal, and offers an in-depth theoretical analysis drawing on immersive ethnographic methods on post-2000 festivals, with a particular focus on FESFOP, a festival located in a rural area that has been defined as a “crossroads of culture.” Following the PhD viva on 26 March 2018 at SOAS, University of London, examined by Dr Hélène Neveu Kringelbach and Prof David Murphy, Estrella Sendra went to Senegal in April 2019, to deliver three presentation in different locations.

The first presentation took place on 19 April at the Regional Cultural Centre in Louga, home of the main case study of Estrella’s thesis, the Festival International of Folklore and Percussion (FESFOP). The presentation was introduced by Aby Faye Ba, director of the Regional Cultural Centre, Babacar Sarr, the president of FESFOP, and Cheikh Bayefall, a leading contemporary musician from Louga, who had been a key oral source for the writing of the cultural history and context of Louga. The auditorium was crowded by FESFOP members, cultural actors and actresses in Louga, partners and FESFOP audiences. Many of these people had been interviewed or inspired Estrella to write about the festival and congratulated the researcher on the exhaustive research carried out in the field. The range of introductions by Sarr, Faye Ba and Bayefall, as well as Estrella’s presentation emphasised the polyphonic dimension of research, as the result of a large number of testimonials and encounters.

The second presentation took place on 22 April at Aula Cervantes in Dakar, a recurrent venue and partner of a significant number of festivals in the country, and where Estrella had also carried out archival research. The presentation was introduced by Ignacio Villapadierna, director of Aula Cervantes, who had previously welcome Estrella to host the film screening of her two documentary films on migration, Témoignages de l’autre côté (2011) and Témoignages… waa “suñu gaal” (2016). His words were followed by Omar Diouf, Chief Editor of ‘Cultures and Media’ in the national newspaper Le Soleil, with whom Estrella had been an intern in the summer of 2012 in the cultural section of the newspaper. The audience included students, cultural actors and actresses, journalists and professors, some of which had also been crucial sources for her thesis.

The last of the three presentations took place on 25 April in the Hahatay‘s Cultural Centre Sunu Xarit Aminata in Gandiol, where they have been running the Festival Taaru Gandiol for three years. Introduced by Mamadou Dia and Laura Feal, co-managers of the Association, as well as Babacar Sarr, the president of FESFOP, the presentation offered an opportunity to the festival organisers in Gandiol and the rest of young people involved in the wider work by the cultural centre and association, to exchange and learn from the case study of FESFOP. A further FESFOP member, Marthé Khady Diallo, was also present in the event, and was invited to talk about the social impact of FESFOP, emphasising the importance of social capital and social sustainability in festivals, and even more so, in rural festivals.

Estrella Sendra further enjoyed the trip to Senegal to exchange with the school of cinema ‘Cinébanlieue’, initiated by Abdel Aziz Boye, who passed away in 2017, and to whom Estrella has dedicated her thesis, in memoriam. She screened her documentary film Diabel Cissokho: the story of a griot (2014), which was followed by a Q&A with the young filmmakers.

Researchers in WSA and University of Southampton share their research and practice on festivals

TC Festivals event_roundtable 2Yesterday, a number of researchers at Winchester School of Art and University of Southampton gathered together in ‘Enhancing Creativity and Transforming Places through Festivals,’ an academic event fully devoted to research on festivals and the links between research and practice in festivals, put together by Dr Estrella Sendra. The aim of the two-hour event was to foster exchange between festival researchers and practitioners based in Winchester and Southampton, reflecting about the multifaceted dimension and impact of festivals. Across the presentations there was a particular emphasis on the link between curation, the festival location and local audiences. Speakers included Prof Jussi Parikka, who has been involved in the Tranmediale Festival in Berlin (Germany), particularly in the academic events during the festival. Prof Parikka stressed the link between activism and art in the festival, and the fact that Transmediale was not just a media art festival. Dr Estrella Sendra presented the International Festival of Folklore and Percussion in Louga (Senegal), a rural festival understood as a “project of territory” by its director whose sustainability relies in the endorsement of the local population. The festival has led to the transformation of Louga from a marketplace to a festival space. Prof Lucy Mazdon, film festival researcher and judge of the Winchester Film Festival, spoke about this film festival in Winchester, in response to some of the festival director’s reflections about the main challenges. Prof Mazdon highlighted the role the festival has played in screening films that would not otherwise reach audiences in Winchester, but acknowledged the challenges of the curation of a contemporary cultural event in Winchester, which contrasts with the image and imaginary of the city, known for its cathedral, Jane Austen and heritage. This institutional and artistic difficulty in responding to the complexity of the identity of a place was also noted by Dr August Jordan Davis, who spoke about the curation of an exhibition in the WSA gallery as part of the 10 days Winchester Biennial Arts Festival in 2015, and whose them was Chalk. Dr Davis further noted that the success of the exhibition and the biennial more broadly was precisely due to the fact that it was showcasing local work, and the way in which the exhibition brought local traffic to WSA, with over 750 visitors. The researchers then joined in a roundtable, chaired by Dr Mihaela Brebenel, where they responded to questions from he audiences and reflected further on the connections between their different festivals.


Enhancing Creativity and Transforming Places through Festivals, Thursday 14 March 4 PM at LTA, WSA

TC Festivals Event Poster

The ‘Transforming Creativity’ Research Group 

at Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton 

presents an academic event on festivals engaging researchers and practitioners. 

‘Enhancing Creativity and Transforming Places through Festivals’

This seminar seeks to foster exchange between festival researchers and practitioners based in Winchester and Southampton in order to reflect about the different ways in which media scholars and cultural theorists can engage in festival research. Through a series of presentations of festival examples from Asia, Africa, and Europe, the different scholars will discuss festivals as multifaceted events and “crossroads of capital” (Adesokan, 2011), looking at the social and economic impact of this mediated form of culture. In so doing, scholars will reflect on the transformative aspect of festivals, often involving the re-invention and re-marketing of places into tourist destinations (Gibson & Connell, 2011; Kirshenblatt Gimblett 1998) and re-signifying places for local audiences. Practitioners will address these questions from their situated case studies, focusing on the curation of film and arts for audiences in Winchester.


Adesokan, Akinwumi (2011). Postcolonial Artists and Global Aesthetics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Gibston, Christopher & Connell, John (eds.) (2011). Festival Places: Revitalising Rural Australia. Clevedon: Channel View Publications.

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara (1998). Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums and Heritage. Berkeley; London: University of California Press.

Date: Thursday 14 March.

Time: 4- 6 PM.

Venue: Winchester School of Art, West Side Building, Lecture Theatre A.

Speakers: Prof Jussi Parikka, Transmediale Festival in Berlin (Germany); Prof Robert Ed D’Souza, Kochi-Muziris Biennale in Kochi (India); Dr Estrella Sendra, International Festival of Folklore and Percussion in Louga (Senegal); Prof Lucy Mazdon & John Haynes, Winchester Film Festival (United Kingdom); Dr August Jordan Davis, Winchester Biennial Arts Festival, 10 days (United Kingdom). Chaired by Dr Mihaela Brebenel (Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton).

Format: 10-minute presentation each, followed by discussion in a round-table with the audience.

Organisers: Dr Estrella Sendra, as part of the ‘Transforming Creativity’ Research Group

About the ‘Transforming Creativity’ Research Group: 

Co-directed by Dr Dan Ashton and Dr Seth Giddings, the Transforming Creativity research group addresses contemporary change in the cultural and media industries, everyday and activist media cultures, critical making, and playful, critical and speculative design for cultural experience. Taking a critical approach to notions of creativity and imagination as a focus – and the our home within an art school as an inspiration –  we foreground on the one hand the professional and political generation of ideas and cultural products and on the other everyday consumption, play, activism and participatory culture. We emphasise the transformations of media, design and cultural industries and their creative practices wrought by digital media and social networks, and the playful, political and bottom–up cultures they facilitate. Throughout, the group keeps an eye out for the distributed, the political, the experimental, the affective, the queer, the playful, the transgressive and disruptive within creative industry and the everyday.


Transmediale and Post-digital Culture

This presentation will discuss the transmediale festival and its role in the wider landscape of media, art, activism and digital culture. Taking place annually in Berlin, the festival has grown from a video art festival into one of the largest international critical events in media art, but with a specific angle to combining issues of politics and activism with a critical engagement with art. Hence, it is less celebratory of “new technologies” than an engagement with art practices as part of a larger body of social debates. One of the research themes we have worked with them is about post-digital culture and institutions, and it was published as the first transmediale reader that collected several leading international theorists and critical technology artists in the volume Across and Beyond: a transmediale Reader on Post-Digital Culture, Concepts and Institutions (edited by Ryan Bishop, Kristoffer Gansing, Jussi Parikka and Elvia Wilk; Sternberg Press, 2016).

Jussi Parikka is professor in technologic culture and aesthetics at Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton. He is also Docent at University of Turku, Finland and author of several books on media archaeology, environmetal humanities and visual culture. These include among others Insect Media (2010), What is Media Archaeology? (2012) and A Geology of Media. He is also the co-editor of Writing and Unwriting Media (Art) History: Erkki Kurenniemi in 2048 (co-edited with Joasia Krysa, 2015).

The Biennale Ecosystem: Notes from Kochi

As a means of considering more broadly the actual and potential effects of Biennale ‘practices’, this presentation draws insights from the book India’s Biennale Effect (D’Souza & Manghani, 2017), which takes on the case of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, established in 2012, and now into its 4th edition. At the time of writing the book, it had been described as one of the most significant newly emergent biennales, alongside Shanghai, Sharjah and Dakar. The study provided detailed examination of what the editors term the ‘biennale effect’ — a layered contestation of place, economics, art and politics. In presenting various perspectives and focusing on historical, political, aesthetic, commercial and educational aspects, a close reading is given of the unique context of the biennale as well as setting out a broader critical framework for understanding global contemporary art and its effects. What emerges, particularly in the context of Kochi and what has often been described as its ‘people’s Biennale, is a complex ‘ecosystem’ that draws together different groups and socio-economic structures, both to enable the biennale itself but also a ripple of different economic and creative effects and opportunities.

Robert E. D’Souza is Head of Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton, where he is Professor of Critical Practice. He has an international personal practice and research agenda that lies in the cross-cultural interactions of the overlapping areas of visual art, cultural study and social science with a sustained focus on India. His approach is to work collaboratively with other practitioners, writers, academics, institutions and students through a practice that questions the mythologizing of Indian identity by considering wider ideas of the interchange and tensions between identity, location and context. Recent publications, projects and exhibitions that respond to social and political change in relation to India include Outside  India at W+K Exp Gallery, Delhi, 2011 and the accompanying publication Outside India: Dialogues and Documents of Art and Social Change (W+K Delhi, 2012), Barcelona Masala: Narratives and Interactions in Cultural Space (Actar, 2013) and the inclusion of his installation End of Empire, at the 2nd edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in 2014. Recent projects in relation to biennales include The Indian Biennale Effect: The Kochi- Murziris Biennale 12/12/12 (Journal of Cultural Politics, Duke University Press, 2013) and India’s Biennale Effect: A Politics of Contemporary Art (Routledge, 2016) launched at the 3rd Kochi-Muziris Biennale in 2016 and more recently the review Timely Provocations: The 3rd Kochi-Muziris Biennale for The Biennale Foundation website in January 2017. He is currently preparing new work for a commission from the Oslo Biennale, 2019.

Festivals in Rural Regions: International Festival of Folklore and Percussion (FESFOP) in Louga (Senegal)

Following a long history of festivities in the country, which date from the precolonial period, and the celebration of the First World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar in 1966, Senegal has experienced an increasing festivalisation. The 1966 Festival was celebrated under the patronage of first president of independent Senegal, Léopold Sédar Senghor, as a state-funded initiative, and thus as a political project. In the twenty-first century, festivalisation would undergo an increasing detachment from the state, as cultural actors from different regions took the lead. The International Festival of Folklore and Percussion (FESFOP) is located in Louga, a rural region in the northwest of Senegal. Launched in 2000, it has celebrated eighteen editions, which take place annually from 28 December to 2 January. FESFOP is conceived as a “project of territory,” strongly linked to its rural dimension. This presentation examines the ways in which this festival operates as a “crossroads of capital” (Adesokan, 2011), through a decentralisation of the festival time and space. FESFOP serves as an illustrative example of the way in which certain places, particularly in rural contexts, are revitalised and reinvented through festivals, generating different forms of capital that extend beyond the festival dates.

Estrella Sendra is Teaching Fellow in Global Media Industries at Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton. a scholar, teacher, documentary filmmaker, journalist and festival organiser who seeks to contribute to the de-Westernisation of Media and Cultural Studies. He PhD research, funded by SOAS, University of London, looked at festivals in Senegal. She has published in international journals on different aspects of media, film, cultural studies and creative industries, such as African cinema, migration, particularly drawing on her area of expertise Senegal, for instance in ‘Displacement and the Quest for Identity in Gomis’s’ cinema, in a close-up on Senegalese cinema in Black Camera. In 2014 and 2015, she was the director of the Cambridge African Film Festival.

Winchester Film Festival

Established in 2012, the Winchester Film Festival hosted its seventh edition from 3 to 10 November 2018, with a selection of titles from over 50 different countries. As the only film festival in Winchester, it seeks to expose viewers to films they would not necessarily choose to see. It constitutes a window to an unseen world. Festival founder and director, John Haynes, will offer a practice-based presentation on the history of the festival, its specific aims and the relationship between film and venue.

John Hayes is founder and director of the Winchester Film Festival, editor in chief of the satire magazine SMUG and co-director of the upcoming National Portrait open Salon Auteur. John has curated over 25 exhibitions,  run 5 international film clubs and acts as agent to award winning satire artist Mark Michael.  In 2015 John guided the WFA to be Winners of the BID commitment to the City Award.  John’s background is as therapist and he is author of’ the books ‘The Art of Being Human‘, a therapist’s guide to romance, football, evolution and heaven and ‘Safe Space’, a practitioner’s guide to treating anxiety.  John is also responsible for the language acquisition methodology the  Spiral Approach Method.  In previous incarnations, John has lived in Malawi, Morocco, Spain, Italy, Yugoslavia and Beirut.

Prof Lucy Mazdon is part of the festival judges. She has published widely in the fields of festivals, film and television. Her recent publications include essays exploring Franco-British Cinematic Relations (Je t’aime, moi non plus: Franco-British Cinematic Relations, Berghahn, 2010). Currently Mazdon teaches courses on contemporary French cinema, French cinema of the 1930’s, and cinema and childhood, at the renowned University of Southampton.

Winchester Biennial Arts Festival, 10 days

In 2015, Dr August Jordan Davis, as Director of The Winchester Gallery at WSA, was invited to participate in the Winchester biennial arts festival, 10days. As a member of the selection panel, August helped select artists from the open call to participate in that year’s festival, especially selecting the 10 artists / collectives to exhibit in The Winchester Gallery. That year’s theme was a meditation on Chalk and our show brought together artists from the region alongside WSA staff, students and alumni. Our show invited viewers on a journey to walk through chalk as medium, metaphor and channel. And we reached over 750 visitors in just a fortnight in October 2015. August also chaired an artists’ talk at the Discovery Centre during the festival, speaking with other artists from other venues in the festival.

Dr August Jordan Davis is Senior Lecturer, MA Programme Leader – Contemporary Curation, and Director of The Winchester Gallery since joining Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton in September 2011. August is a feminist art historian and curator, with a BFA from University of North Texas, MA from Keele University, and a PhD from the University of Liverpool. August writes about North American feminist art practice since the 1960s, with much focus on the theoretical implications of the work of Martha Rosler. Recent publications include guest co-editing a special issue of Third Text journal entitled Transfigurations: Transnational Perspectives on Domestic Spaces with Dr Basia Sliwinska. She has been invited to speak internationally on contemporary curation including at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, the Venice Biennale, and at Contemporary Istanbul.

Gender, Technology, Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Tunisia

27913430_1897865833587878_8647771956163346704_oThe book Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Tunisia: Women and the Use of Digital Technology in Local Development has just been published in French and Spanish. The book, edited by Lucía Benítez-Eyzaguirre and Marcela Iglesias-Onofrio, is one of the main research outcomes of the one-year project on women and the use of digital technologies hosted at Université de Sfax in Tunisia, led by Universidad de Cádiz in collaboration with Université de Sfax, and funded by the Agencia Andaluza de Cooperación Internacional [Andalusian Agency of International Cooperation]. One of the tutors appointed to run the workshops was Estrella Sendra, who taught on The Internet and Digital Culture. Her chapter, under the same name, can be found in the book in French and Spanish. The course offered a theoretical introduction on the rise of the Internet and its implications in culture and communication, making students aware of the advantages, disadvantages and challenges of digitalisation. This was complemented by a workshop based hands-on approach to allow students to improve their digital communication skills and apply them to their entrepreneurial initiatives in the sector. More information about the project and access to the full books can be found here.


The Madman’s Truth

The Transforming Creativity research group explores the contemporary cultural and media scene, looking at everyday and activist media cultures. Estrella Sendra, who recently joined the group, has been one of the curators in the Cambridge African Film Festival for the past four years. The 18th edition took place from 25 October to 1 November 2018, opening with the UK premiere of the documentary film screening The Madman’s Truth by Senegalese filmmaker Bamba Diop, followed by a Q&A with the filmmaker chaired by Estrella Sendra. Through the voices of key cultural figures and intellectuals in Senegal, such as write Cheikh Hamidou Kane, Joe Ouakam, Khady Sylla and Dr Ibrahima Wane, Bamba Diop achieves an intimate depiction of Thierno Seydou Sall, a socially engaged poet who uses madness as a platform for freedom of expression. The film further follows his wanderings as he travels to different rural communities in Senegal reciting his provocative poetry, raising awareness of social issues, particularly in relation to women’s rights. On Wednesday 21 November, Estrella Sendra was further invited to chair the Q&A with the director following the film screening at SOAS, University of London, organised by Dr Lindiwe Dovey, chair of the Centre for Media and Film Studies at SOAS.