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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Photos from “how does your city work?”

On Thursday 20th June, the Transforming Creativity research group joined up with Solent University’s Culture, Media, Place research group to participate in the How does your city work? interactive trail. Part of the Solent University Festival of Ideas, the trail is organised by members of another Solent research group, Work, Inequalities and the Lifecourse. More information on trail here.

We discussed culture, urban regeneration, architecture, employment, and walking methodologies. And almost solved the trail!

What is to be done with the arts?  New perspectives on the problem of value in arts and culture

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John Hansard Gallery and Transforming Creativity Research Group are pleased to host the public talk:

What is to be done with the arts?  New perspectives on the problem of value in arts and culture

Professor Julian Meyrick (Flinders University, Australia)
Thursday 11th July, 6pm at John Hansard Gallery

My talk introduces Laboratory Adelaide, a research project based in South Australia looking at the problem of evaluating cultural organisations and events.  Since 2013, the project has investigated a principles-based approaches to value reporting that emphasises integrated narrative, multiple time horizons, informing context, direct experience, and meaningful language use, as against “the metric tide” of abstract, quantitative data gathering.  I discuss the work undertaken by Laboratory Adelaide with its main industry partners – the State Library of South Australia, the State Theatre Company of South Australia, and the Adelaide Festival – and the reception of our book What Matters? Talking Value in Australian Culture, published in 2018.  I focus on one thorny issue for the problem of value in culture – how to assess those traditional activities perceived to be both non-commercial and socially exclusive.  Without either defending or attacking “the arts”, I explore why they present in the policy domain in the way that they do, and what can be done to challenge this framing in a robust way.  As the cultural sector expands into new technological and social pathways, what is its relationship to the core activities that once defined it?  What is to be done with the arts?

Biography
Julian is Strategic Professor of Creative Arts at Flinders University, South Australia, the Artistic Counsel for the State Theatre Company of South Australia (STCSA), and a member of both the Currency House Editorial and  CHASS Boards.  He was Associate Director and Literary Advisor at Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC) 2002-07 and Artistic Director of kickhouse theatre 1989-98.  He has published histories of Sydney’s Nimrod Theatre and the MTC, and numerous articles on Australian theatre, culture, and cultural policy. He is Chief Investigator for both the AusStage database and Laboratory Adelaide, an ARC Linkage project studying the problem of culture’s value, and a regular contributor to The Conversation.  The Retreat of Our National Drama, his second Currency House Platform Paper was launched in 2014.  He is the director of over 40 award-winning theatre productions, including Angela’s Kitchen, which attracted the 2012 Helpmann for Best Australian Work.  He was a founder member and Deputy Chair of PlayWriting Australia 2004-09 and a member of the federal government’s Creative Australia Advisory Group 2008-10.  His book Australian Theatre after the New Wave: Policy, Subsidy and the Alternative Artist appeared in 2017.  What Matters?  Talking Value in Australian Culture, co-authored with Robert Phiddian and Tully Barnett, was published by Monash University Publishing in 2018.

JM profile

Arts audience segmentation

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New article by Dan Ashton and Ronda Gowland-Pryde on ‘Arts audience segmentation: data, profiles, segments and biographies’ in Cultural Trends.

This article critically examines how segmentation is used to identify, understand and engage arts audiences. Policy reports and academic publications are reviewed to establish the priorities of arts policymakers and practitioners for understanding arts audiences and their continued focus on audience data and segmentation. This article then makes two contributions. Firstly, critical perspectives on the use of data for audience profiling are applied to arts audience segmentation. Secondly, research using biographical methods is introduced as a new approach for critically evaluating arts audience segmentation. This research, employing biographical methods, shows the exploration and negotiation of audience identity positions. This article takes these insights to critically examine the implications of how profiles and segments are used to define and understand audiences for the arts. The conclusion addresses the implications of segmentation in terms of the design and communication of cultural experiences, the complexities of aligning audiences’ identities with segments, and the seemingly inevitability of exclusion. This article will be of relevance in the scholarly study of arts audiences and for arts and cultural organisations and policymakers in reflecting on the implications of quantitative and qualitative approaches in designing and undertaking audience research.

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.