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World Cinema Now

‘World Cinema’ has become a new catchword and rallying cry. It points assertively and polemically to what we have all always known, but too rarely take into account in our critical practice as critics, teachers, or programmers: that the global span of cinema is far wider than what receives general distribution in the commercial multiplexes and arthouses of most countries.

Film culture in most places has been slow to emerge from its Anglo-Euro-American habits and biases, even as the past two decades has given us one remarkable ‘new cinema’ after another: Iran, Taiwan, Romania, Argentina, Africa … And yet the discourses promoting World Cinema are themselves not without problems and traps.

Is there already a canon of World Cinema that is too restrictive and selective? Are we caught in another round of ’star auteurs’? Are we paying enough attention to all the invisible forms of cinema, like shorts and experimental work? Is the Film Festival circuit a satisfactory alternative space for distribution, exhibition and funding of world cinema? How does the digital revolution fit into the World Cinema picture? And quite simply, have we yet gone anywhere near like far enough in our embrace, pursuit and critical exploration of cinemas that are complexly international, multinational, post-national and transnational?

This conference explores both the state and the question of World Cinema today. 27-29 September 2011.

Keynote Speakers

Special Guest Filmmaker

For details of the conference program and events, visit the external website:


Associate Professor Adrian Martin (Film Culture and Theory Research Unit, Monash University)

Recordings of Keynotes

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What Do We Know When We Know Where Something Is? A Note on Brains, Maps, and Screens

Vinzenz Hediger

Photo: Vinzenz Hediger
“To render representation geometrically, i.e. to draw phenomena and arrange in sequence the decisive events of an experience—that is the first task in which the scientific mind affirms itself.” – Gaston Bachelard, La formation de l’esprit scientifique

Over the last few years, film theory has become concerned with two apparently unrelated topics: the experiential spaces of cinema; and the complex relationships of the moving image to the neuronal processes of the brain. In the age of portable, digital devices, the question ‘What is film?’ has been replaced by the question ‘Where is film?’, with an exploration of the various locations of the moving image. Meanwhile, in the footsteps of Gilles Deleuze’s dictum that “the brain is the screen” as well as from within the framework of cognitive film theory, there has been a flurry of attempts to map the aesthetics of the moving image onto the architecture of a brain made increasingly visible and transparent by new imaging technologies.

Relating these topological twists and turns in film theory to the fact that film culture has long defined cinema in topological terms, i.e., classified films according to their national and cultural origin—an approach of which the concept of world cinema is but the latest unfolding—this contribution asks what the new topologies of cinema, the inquiry into the experiential spaces of the moving image and the mapping of world cinema, have in common with the new metaphysics of the brain in action.

Tracing both the cultural topographies of cinema and the brain mapping endeavours of contemporary neuroscience (and film theory) to their 19th century origins, this contribution argues that, along and in line with the topological concerns in film theory, our current concern with world cinema may be driven by a nostalgic desire to retain the precarious unity and coherence of an object once simply called cinema.

Vinzenz Hediger is the Professor of Film Studies at the Goethe-Universität in Frankfurt am Main. His research interests lie in the field of history and philosophy of film and media theory centreing on non-canonical film formats, scientific and educational films. He worked on the fifteen-volume project Film Theory in Media History, which is published by Amsterdam University Press. Professor Hediger was a founding member of the European Network for Cinema and Media Studies (NECS).

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Globalising Male Melodrama

R. Barton Palmer

Photo: Barton Palmer

My paper talks about one part of a current book project (Commercial/Independent Cinema, co-­‐ authored with Linda Badley) and concerns two elements: first, the constitution of an ‘international art cinema’ largely in the exhibition sector of the American industry in the ‘50s and ‘60s and second, the influence of those films—which are roughly speaking modernist in opposition to the late Victorianism of Hollywood conventions—on ‘modernist’ American filmmaking in the Hollywood Renaissance period, a body of films that contrasts with the more celebrated auteurist work of Scorsese, Spielberg, Coppola and company. My talk focuses on the male melodrama that derives from Bergman, Antonioni, Losey and company as influential on a number of neglected films that includes, among others, Irvin Kershner’s Loving (1970), John Frankenheimer’s Impossible Object (1973), John Boorman’s Point Blank (1967), Robert Altman’s California Split (1974) and Jerry Schatzberg’s Scarecrow (1973). I suggest, using the term popularised by Bakhtin, that the international art cinema ‘dialogised’ Hollywood filmmaking in a more extensive way than has usually been thought, paving the way for a truly globalised sector of modernist film production that continues to have a life in the commercial/independent filmmaking of post-­‐80s Hollywood alternative filmmaking. This period of globalisation, I suggest, finds its own interesting antecedents in the early studio period, particularly with the ‘Germanisation’ of Hollywood in the 1930s, which I briefly discuss. I expand the reach of the term ‘globalised’ to cover more than recent developments in film and associated media to suggest that globalisation may well be one of the most important aspects of the institution of the cinema throughout its history.

R. Barton Palmer is Calhoun Lemon Professor of Literature at Clemson University and director of The South Carolina Film Institute. He is the author of Hollywood’s Dark Cinema: The American Film Noir (Twayne 1994) and many other books.

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Political Cinema Today: The New Exigencies

Nicole Brenez

What, today, are the propositions, dissidences, organisational forms and critical enterprises that bear witness to a free, irreducible, undetermined reflection, whether on the industrial apparatus, technological trends, or social controls? Can we discern lines of force and battlefronts, as well as singularities, in the field of civil images? Faced with today’s crises and revolutions, we shall observe some radical formal initiatives on the plane of images.

Nicole Brenez has been described in Sight and Sound magazine as “our greatest living film critic.” She is Professor of Cinema Studies at the Université de Paris 3 ‐ Sorbonne Nouvelle. She is the author of, among other books, Abel Ferrara (Illinois University Press 2007) and the monumental De la figure en général et du corps en particulier. L’invention figurative au cinéma (De Boeck 1998), as well as numerous articles translated into many languages. She has conceived and organised a large number of events and film retrospectives around the world, and has programmed the avant-garde screenings at the Cinémathèque Française since 1996.

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