Royal Holloway Conference Abstracts Monday 18th April 2016



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Christopher Marnoch teaches film history at Royal Holloway University of London and has also taught at the University of East London.

Lost in the Forest? Childhood and the Nation in Contemporary German Cinema”, Alex Lloyd (Magdalen College, University of Oxford)


This paper examines two recent German-language films which dramatize the fate of parentless children at the end of World War II: Lore (2012, dir. by Cate Shortland) and Wolfskinder (2013, dir. by Rick Ostermann). The narratives chart the children’s respective journeys through the (apparently) quintessentially German setting of the forest, a liminal space through which they pass as they make the transition from childhood to adulthood. In doing so, the children find themselves forced to exert their spatial agency in a number of politically and socially contested territories. From their perspective, we witness a fight for survival, and the aftermath of war. Both films utilize standard cinematic tropes of childhood – fairy-tale allusions and the Romantic association of childhood with nature – which in themselves embody the close conceptual associations between childhood and a specifically ‘German’ cultural heritage. This paper considers the different ways in which these two films explore and comment on German identity and ideas about Germany as an emerging nation, both in the immediate post-war period – when the films are set – and as a re-unified state after 1990 – the context in which the films were made and distributed. While both films offer stories based on individuals’ own experiences, they offer a fruitful comparison in the light of their different production histories: Wolfskinder was funded primarily in Germany; Lore was a British-Australian-German co-production, filmed with German-speaking actors, but directed by the non-German-speaking Shortland. I read the films as part of a wider discourse on the legacy of Nazism in the Berlin Republic, particularly in the context of recent debates about German wartime suffering and victimhood.
Alex Lloyd is Lecturer in German at St Edmund Hall and Magdalen College, Oxford. Her main research interests lie in representations of youth, memories of war and dictatorship, and the material culture of childhood. Her doctoral thesis (Wadham College, 2012) examined post-1990 representations of childhood and youth under Nazism in literature, film, and museum exhibitions. She has published articles on German and Austrian cultural memories of the Third Reich, and recently co-edited a special issue of Oxford German Studies on childhood in German film after 1989. Forthcoming articles explore film adaptations of children’s literature by Erich Kästner, and child figures in Austrian director Michael Haneke’s cinematic oeuvre.

The Postcolonial Child in Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild”, Veronica Barnsley (University of Sheffield)


This paper considers the figure of the child in Benh Zeitlin’s film Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012), a vibrant but urgent ecological drama motivated by the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It examines how a film that on its release was praised as an American survival story focused on a feisty young heroine can be more productively understood through a postcolonial lens as a radical vision of world ecology underpinned by a complex critique of childhood, development and marginality. Exploring how vectors of racial, economic and environmental relations intersect in the film’s fantastical form, my discussion shifts the focus from individual survival to the connectivity that the precarious child heroine enables amongst actual and mythological animals and between past, present and future ‘time-worlds’. I argue that understanding the heroine, Hushpuppy, as a ‘postcolonial child’, allows us to explore the film’s critique of the capitalist, neoimperialist world-system, which decentres the contemporary notion of the human and the tenets of progress and mastery over ‘nature’ that hold it in place, provoking new ways of imagining ecological and political relations.
Veronica Barnsley joined the School of English at Sheffield as a University Teacher in September 2014 and was appointed as Lecturer in September 2015. She completed her PhD on Colonial and Postcolonial Indian Literature in 2013 and has taught at the Universities of Manchester and Salford and worked as a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Leeds. Her primary research interests are in colonial and postcolonial literatures from India and Africa, with a particular focus on alternative and global modernisms and writing interested in children, youth and development.


Panel 5b) Memory and Identity
The Sentimental Child: Emotional (Ab)uses of the Child Figure in Two Films of Spain’s Memory Boom”, Sarah Thomas (Brown University)
In Spanish cinema depicting and emerging from the Civil War (1936-1939) and dictatorship (1939- 1975) periods, we find a proliferation of child protagonists and films highlighting the child’s perspective. There are many reasons this is the case: the child as a vehicle for (nostalgic) recreation of a depoliticized or supposedly “objective” past; skirting censorship; the child’s connection to nonlinear time; childhood as a universalizing category of experience, to name a few. This paper examines two films from the so-called “memory boom” of the 1990s and 2000s, La lengua de las mariposas (Butterfly’s Tongue, José Luis Cuerda, 1999) and El viaje de Carol (Carol’s Journey, Imanol Uribe, 2002), as a means of critiquing the sentimentality and appeals to emotion that these heritage films deploy in their representations of both childhood and the historical past. It asks to what degree nostalgia and sentiment mediate or disrupt access to both the past and the child’s perspective, examining how the films construct viewer identification and sympathy. Given the films’ release dates – solidly anchored in the pre-crisis democracy of the late 1990s and early 2000s, and coinciding with the memory boom in literature and film dealing with the Civil War and dictatorship periods – the paper proposes that easy slippage into spectator identification points toward a lack of rigorous engagement with both the violent national past and child subjectivity. It posits that these films frequently offer too-easy identification with or sympathy for their child protagonists, eliding the ethical and representational complexities of accessing both the past and the child’s perspective.
Sarah Thomas received her PhD from New York University in 2013, and she is currently an Assistant Professor of Hispanic Studies at Brown University. Her research primarily focuses on contemporary film from Spain and Latin America, with particular interest in post-dictatorship cinema and the representation of childhood. She has published on representations of the child in Spanish, Argentine, and Peruvian cinema, and is presently completing a monograph entitled The Filmic Child: Childhood, Temporality, and the Violent Past in Spanish Cinema.

Cinema’s Wild Child and The Invention of Ethnicity”, Dijana Jelača (St. John’s University, New York)


The child has been a frequent cinematic witness in films about the Bosnian war (from the SaGA documentaries made during the siege of Sarajevo, to Bosnia’s first postwar feature Perfect Circle, to So Hot Was the Cannon). These cinematic children and their stories frequently call attention to screen’s complicity in perpetuating and fetishizing the pain of “innocents.” In this paper, I focus on No One’s Child (Vuk Ršumović, Serbia, 2014), a film that depicts a wild child whose enculturation develops in parallel with Yugoslavia’s disintegration and emerging ethnic violence. Karen Lury notes that, through the figure of the wild child, cinema explores how children “forge an uneasy alliance with the natural, animal world in a manner that usurps a conventionally anthropocentric position” (2010: 15). Furthermore, Vicky Lebeau suggests that: “the wild child, as both fact and fiction, has been used to question not only the boundary between ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ but the idea of the child as such” (2008: 58). Building on their interventions, I show how No One’s Child locates the onset of violence in the moment of the wild child’s entrance into ethnic identity. In a blurring of the nature/culture split, war and violence are here provocatively exposed as defining traditions of the civilized and cultured rather than their abominations. I examine how, in its critique of the invention of ethnicity, the film depicts wilderness as the child’s final retreat from the violence of war, and from identity as such—through a return to a non-anthropocentric mode of being.
Dijana Jelača holds a PhD in Communication and Film Studies from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She teaches in the department of Rhetoric, Communication and Theatre at St. John’s University, New York. Jelača's research interests include critical ethnic studies, Eastern European cinema, childhood and trauma studies. Her forthcoming book is Dislocated Screen Memory: Narrating Trauma in Post-Yugoslav Cinema (Palgrave 2015). Jelača's work has appeared in Camera Obscura, Feminist Media Studies, Studies in Eastern European Cinema and elsewhere.

Growing pains: Young people and violence in Peru’s fiction cinema”, Sarah Barrow (University of Lincoln)


The process of ‘coming of age’ has been used as a narrative, thematic and ideological device in much of the fiction cinema that has emerged from Peru over the last two decades. Most of the more well-known and critically acclaimed films from this period have dealt with the violence between government and Shining Path that rocked Peru from 1980-2000. While critical attention has been paid to the topic of violence itself as a cinematic metaphor for the struggle for identity and nation formation in Latin America, and the image of the child is a widely debated device for exploring the processes of self-discovery, this presentation looks specifically at the use of the image of a young person at the centre of this period of social, political and cultural turbulence in Peru. This paper looks at questions of personal and collective identity/memory in relation to the cinematic image of the young person, and explores some of the ethical issues raised by these representations in films such as Lion’s Den (Francisco Lombardi, 1988), Paper Dove (Francisco Aguilar, 2003), Milk of Sorrow (Claudia Llosa, 2009) and Bad Intentions (Rosario García-Montero, 2011), whose protagonists’ lives have been dramatically affected by the struggles of the recent past. Drawing inspiration from the work of Karen Lury, I ask to what extent the child’s story serves as ‘metonym for wider suffering’ and/or as a blank screen on which to ‘project adult emotions and fears’ (2010, 106-7).
Sarah Barrow is Head of the School of Film & Media at the University of Lincoln. Sarah worked at the Cambridge Arts Cinema as one of the first venue-based film education officers, funded by the BFI. While there she set up a production company which focused on making films with and for young people. She was one of the founding members of the Cambridgeshire Film Consortium, a film education initiative, and is committed to a range of media literacy and digital arts education projects in Lincoln and beyond. She is currently a Trustee of the English & Media Centre in London, and the lead on an Arts Council Exceptional Award-funded project for young people linked to Magna Carta themes called 1215.today (www.1215.today)


Panel 6: Child Stars, Commodification and Children Acting
“‘The kid is not my son’: The Evolution of Children and Media in Leslie Thornton’s Peggy and Fred in Hell”, Stefan Solomon (University of Reading)
While a number of landmark filmmaking projects, such as Seven Up (Michael Apted, 1964-present) and Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2002-2014), have captured the growth of children over an extended period of time, less is known about Leslie Thornton’s evolving experimental work, Peggy and Fred in Hell (1984-present). Elliptical in nature, Thornton’s collection of films depicting the real life siblings, Janis and Donald Reading, offers itself as a combination of found footage, documentary, and science-fiction, and is difficult to summarise. The work is also concerned with the evolution of media, as Thornton has employed 16mm film, analog video, and digital over the last three decades, and has exhibited Peggy and Fred as a single-channel installation piece in a number of galleries and museums. In taking this transitional, open-ended approach, Thornton locates unexpected sympathies between children and media, where changes in both dictate changes in the project as a whole. This paper will consider the way in which the protagonists of Peggy and Fred, ‘raised by television’, develop into intermedial characters, their growth determined in part by Thornton’s use of different modes of visual representation. It will seek to understand the singularity of the child in American avant-garde filmmaking, and the way in which an ongoing work registers the strange and uneven experiences of childhood in the late-twentieth century United States.
Stefan Solomon is a Visiting Fellow in Film Studies and New Media at the Australian National University. He is the co-editor of William Faulkner in the Media Ecology (LSU Press, 2015), and has just completed work on a monograph, William Faulkner: From Hollywood to Mississippi (UGA Press, 2016). His next project focuses on examples of protracted composition in film, literature, and other media.

Darsheel Safary: Bollywood, Globalization and the Child Star”, Michael Lawrence (University of Sussex)


This paper will address the relationships between the network’s themes of nation, childhood and world cinema in the contemporary global era by examining the career of the Indian actor Darsheel Safary (b. 1996), who became the highest-paid child star working in Bollywood following his debut performance in the award-winning and highly successful Taare Zameen Par (Aamir Khan, 2007). This film, like the fantasy adventure film Zokommon (Satyajit Bhatkal, 2011), which Safary made in 2009, and in which he plays a Kick Ass-style vigilante superhero, are among the first Indian films to be co-produced and distributed worldwide by the Walt Disney company; significantly, the latter was released under the ‘Disney World Cinema’ label, suggesting a new stage in the global consumption of popular Hindi film, long considered “an ‘un-fine’ world cinema” due to its lack of realism and notable auteurs (Bhaumik 2006). In 2015, the eighteen-year-old Safary appeared in an episode of Lage Raho Chachu, a popular children’s television show that airs on Disney’s Indian television channel. Safary’s association with global corporations includes working as official brand ambassador for companies such as Adidas, Horlicks and PlayStation; Bumm Bumm Bole (Priyardarshan, 2010), in which Safary starred, was produced in association with Adidas India. Safary’s relationship with such companies reflects specific transformations of Indian society and culture associated with the nation’s economic liberalization in the 1990s; he belongs to a new generation known as “liberalization’s children”. His last screen appearance, however, was as Saleem Sinai, the central character in Canadian director Deepa Mehta’s adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s magic realist novel Midnight’s Children (2012), who, like all the children born at the moment of Independence (midnight, 15 August 1947), has mysterious powers (in his case, telepathy). Whereas Saleem’s magical powers function in the historical fantasy to unite children from all over the nation, Zokommon’s “superhero” adventures function in the film to maximise its appeal to children all over the world (Bollywood has only very recently begun making “superhero” films of this kind). This paper focuses on both Zokommon and Midnight’s Children and considers how the “super powers” of Safary’s characters function in relation to this child star’s participation in such diverse products oriented towards international audiences, namely popular genre cinema produced with Disney or prestigious adaptations made by a Non-Resident Indian auteur director.
Michael Lawrence is Lecturer in Film Studies at the University of Sussex. His research interests include cinema’s various uses of children and animals, and popular Hindi cinema. He is the author of Sabu (BFI, 2014) and the co-editor, with Laura McMahon, of Animal Life and the Moving Image (BFI, 2015) and, with Karen Lury, of The Zoo and Screen Media: Images of Exhibition and Encounter (Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming 2016). He is currently working on a new monograph, The Children and the Nations: Juvenile Actors, Hollywood Cinema, International Relations and Humanitarian Sentiment 1940-1960, and has chapters on Hindi cinema forthcoming

”’A Market of The Senses; Your Relations Are of Power:’ The Female Body as Decorative Object and Commodity in Sofia Coppola's 'Marie Antoinette'” (2006), Anna Backman Rogers (University of Gothenburg)


Marie Antoinette evinces a fascination with surfaces and materiality; the film abounds with tightly framed shots of food, drink, fabrics, furnishings, shoes, clothes, hairpieces, and jewelry. It is, markedly, a film that is concerned with the mechanics and fetishized objects of rabid consumption. It is also, fittingly, a film that is about images: both historically or culturally inscribed images and images that work on us internally as a form of psychic structure. Its politics lies in the image, then. The film’s insistent engagement with surface and cliché as a form of (gendered) politics seems to have caused scholars and critics alike to argue that the film’s very form attenuates or precludes any kind of political engagement with the images it sets forth. This conflation of the image’s surface with superficiality is an erroneous interpretation that has marred the reception of many of Coppola’s films, but Marie Antoinette’s flagrantly anachronistic and postmodern approach to French history and its indulgent exploration of material culture renders it especially susceptible to critical misunderstanding and misappropriation. It is my contention, alongside Rosalind Galt, that implicit within such cavalier dismissal of the film as being too engrossed in its own superficiality is a misogynist agenda. Coppola’s devotion to exploring feminized and feminist space and female subjectivity through ambiguous imagery that draws directly upon prefabricated forms of visual culture, such as the cliché, precipitates a tendency to elide image and meaning too closely; the location of crisis – and by extension a politics - within the adolescent female body radically troubles the psychoanalytic notion (after Freud and Lacan) that a woman is too close, too approximate, with/to her own body and specular image to have perspective or knowledge and thus, to engender critique. As such, critical eschewal of images that explore female experience through deliberately feminized space, as is the case in Marie Antoinette, is telling: the clear assumption being that the ‘feminine’ - or to use Galt’s terms ‘pretty’ or ‘decorative’ - image is devoid of political import and substance. By way of stark contrast with the majority of critical readings of this film in the vein of ‘all style and no substance’ and scholarship that has characterized it almost exclusively in terms of post-feminism (See Diamond in Munich 2011: 203-232), this paper will argue, drawing predominantly on the feminist philosophy of Luce Irigaray (1985), that the film elaborates on the theme of commodity fetishism (through both form and content) in order to reframe history as ‘herstory’. That is, Marie Antoinette delineates precisely the manifold and insidious ways in which a young woman’s body is divested of identity and autonomy and turned into a commodity to be traded amongst and owned by a divisive, hierarchical and fundamentally patriarchal society. The film’s politics lies in its visual alliance of decorative and pretty objects with the female body. As such scholars are not mistaken in identifying a post-feminist strain in the film’s mise-en-scène, but it is my contention that the film enacts a critique rather than an outright endorsement of such a de-politicisation. Furthermore, the film’s resolutely contemporary and postmodern recuperation of history – which made many critics uncomfortable - enables engagement with, and critique of, both historic narratives that falsely and exhaustively pertain to accuracy and truthood, as well as current and neo-liberal forms of feminism. Marie Antoinette may be a film of surface and appearances, but one should not simply infer therefore that its politics is superficial and its form hinders access to interiority: for above all, its very structure demands that the viewer identify with a beleaguered female subjectivity. It is, at its very core, a feminist film.
Dr Anna Backman Rogers completed her PhD at The University of Edinburgh and is a Senior Lecturer in Filmvetenskap at Göteborgs Universitet. She is the author of 'American Independent Cinema: Rites of Passage and The Crisis Image' (Edinburgh University Press) and the co-editor with Laura Mulvey of 'Feminisms' (Amsterdam University Press). She is currently working on a monograph on the films of Sofia Coppola, tentatively entitled 'The Politics of Visual Pleasure' for Berghahn (due out 2017), and two books, co- edited with Dr Boel Ulfsdotter, for Edinburgh University Press (due out 2017) on female authorship and documentary film and the documentary image. She has published on Gus Van Sant, Jim Jarmusch, Miranda July, Sofia Coppola, Nicolas Winding Refn, The Maysles Brothers, Laura Mulvey, Maja Borg, and Lena Dunham. She is currently working on three book chapters: on Shulamith Firestone and the cultural contradictions of late capitalism and the romantic comedy genre, on Kelly Reichardt's 'Meek's Cutoff', and the photography of Francesca Woodman. She specializes in Film Philosophy, Feminist Philosophy, Feminist Theory, Continental (French) Feminist Philosophy, Gilles Deleuze, and Independent Cinema.


Panel 7: Network Partners Round Table
Children’s Toys, Nationhood and Blondness in Argentine Animated Films”, Jordana Blejmar (University of Liverpool)

This paper analyses two stop-motion short films ‘acted’ almost exclusively by toys – Barbie Gets Sad Too (dir. Albertina Carri, 2002) and Easy Money (dir. Nestor F. and Martín C., 2001) by exploring discourses of childhood, national identity and memory attached to both local and imported/transnational playthings in Argentina. Barbie Gets Sad Too is a short pornographic animation and an explicit, melodramatic, denunciatory and anti-sexist production that tells the story of a sexually unsatisfied and aristocratic Barbie doll, the symbol of Western female beauty and ‘The Blond’ par excellence, who leaves the sadistic and masochistic Ken and falls in love with her Hispanic maid. Easy Money is the tragicomic story of a naïve toy boy called Cuchu, ‘the little blond star’, born in a shantytown during the 1978 World Cup at a time when Argentina was still under a cruel military dictatorship. Cuchu is abandoned by his father and suffers the exploitation of those around him. He spends his lonely life dreaming of playing football with the Argentine national team and hoping, in vein, that his life will improve. I argue that both films playfully use the ‘blondness’ of their protagonists to tackle issues of race, xenophobia, class struggle and the dominant classes’ historical aspirations to ‘europeanize’ the country. I also suggest that what I call ‘subversive play’ and ‘guerrilla toy films’ such as these ones are highly effective for discussing seemingly unrepresentable and taboo subjects, such as sexual violence and disappearance, in ways that more realist or documentary accounts fail to do.

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