Developing the Educational Profile of Genre Film Festivals
Submitting InstitutionNorthumbria University Newcastle
Unit of AssessmentCommunication, Cultural and Media Studies, Library and Information Management
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Film, Television and Digital Media
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies, Literary Studies
Summary of the impact
The Case Study illustrates how research into cult, fantasy and horror
films has been used to engage organisers of film festivals — most notably
the `Abertoir' festival based in Wales and the `Offscreen' festival in
Brussels — contributing to enhanced educational content which provided new
audience experiences at both festivals. The primary activity was the
incorporation of the presentation of research findings to audiences within
festival programmes. The impact derives from the resulting changes in the
way that the festivals were organised, programmed and contextualized for
audiences and consequent changes in the profile of the festivals
concerned. The main benefit relates primarily to the organizers; in
particular, the enhancement of the educational content of the Abertoir
Festival has enabled it to bid for additional funding from the Film Agency
for Wales during the census period.
This case study's underpinning research has historicised and
contextualized cult and fantasy genres in terms of production, reception
and the discursive surround associated with these genres.
It has also explored the nature of cult fan cultures and the institutions
and practices that support these. The emphasis has been mainly on European
(including British) and American material.
Research findings relate to:
- the significance of location and site-specific definitions of generic
identity and value, focusing in particular on cult festivals and on
regional, national and international funding institutions;
- the discursive construction of generic identity and value within fan
communities and in fan-generated publications; and
- the extent to which cult discourses relocate historical material
within contemporary models of cult history (and what is lost in that
process, not least notions of national specificity).
Of particular significance to this case study is Hutchings's research on
the history and economics of European horror cinema (which is a key theme
in the festivals) and the relation of this to cult constructions of value
and meaning, and Sexton's research into cult cinemas, which has addressed
the formation of cult in relation to particular localities and
institutions, not least film festivals. The research has been ongoing, but
there are significant outputs in the current REF period and in the period
of employment at Northumbria of all members of staff involved — see below
The leads for this case study are Hutchings, Sexton (who arrived at
Northumbria in February 2010), and Early Career Researcher Hunter (who
arrived in September 2010), all of whom have worked with the organisers of
the week-long Abertoir festival in Wales, with Hunter and Sexton also
engaging with the Offscreen Festival in Brussels. Hutchings is the most
widely-published in this area, including numerous outputs on horror and
science fiction since 1993, all during the period of his employment at
Northumbria, and has also written for more populist outlets directed at
cult fan audiences. Sexton is a leading researcher on cult cinema, editing
the book series Cultographies (Wallflower/Columbia University Press) and
during the period of his employment at Northumbria completing a
co-authored book on Cult Cinema which developed a historical and critical
understanding of its subject in a manner applicable to cult festivals. In
particular, this work has focused on the importance of festivals and
audiences to the development of cult categories. Hunter, as an Early
Career Researcher, has less published material, although since September
2010 he has completed three outputs dealing with European cult and horror
cinema, with a particular emphasis on production context.
While the impact activity is related to specific outputs, the impact is
underpinned by recognition of expertise deriving from a larger body of
research, especially in the case of Hutchings.
References to the research
The following outputs (copies available on request) underpinned the
impact activity at both the Abertoir and the Offscreen festivals; details
about the relation of specific outputs to aspects of each festival are set
out in the following section.
Hunter, Russ and Ernest Mathijs, `The European Marketing and Reception of
Belgian Horror Cinema' in Brick, Emily, David Huxley and Patricia Allmer
(eds), European Nightmares: Horror Cinema in Europe Since 1945,
London-New York: Wallflower Press/Columbia University Press, 2012. (Output
in edited book which also includes the chapter below, listed in REF2.)
Hutchings, Peter `Resident Evil: The Limits of European Horror' in Brick,
Emily, David Huxley and Patricia Allmer (eds), European Nightmares:
Horror Cinema in Europe Since 1945, London-New York: Wallflower
Press/Columbia University Press, 2012. (Output listed in REF2.)
Hunter, Russ, `Eco Zombies: The Italian Horror Film and Political
Ecology' in The Italianist, 33.2, 2013. (Note that this article
was completed in time for the presentation of some of its findings at
Abertoir 2012.) http://dx.doi.org/10.1179/0261434013Z.00000000048
Sexton's editorship of the Cultographies series of research
monographs — which has been ongoing through the REF period — is a leading
asset of publications in this field of study.
Details of the impact
The main focus for this case study is the Abertoir Festival based in
Aberystwyth, Wales, an annual festival that commenced in 2007. It is an
increasingly significant cult and fantasy festival on the international
circuit and is currently the only festival of its kind in Wales and one of
only three UK festivals (along with Leeds and Frightfest) to be members of
the European Fantastic Film Festivals Federation. There has also been
impact in relation to the annual Offscreen Festival based in Brussels, a
similarly themed cult and fantasy festival that commenced in 2008.
European cult film festivals of this kind tend to operate in a similar
manner, offering screening of new films and revivals alongside
opportunities for fans to meet directors and actors associated with this
area of culture. The appearance of academics in these festivals is not
unheard of and occasionally separate symposia or conferences will be run
alongside the festivals proper (with the London-based Cine-Excess, in
which all the researchers associated with this case study are involved, a
key example). However, the integration of research-based input from a
group of researchers into the main festival programme, such as was the
case especially with Abertoir in 2012 but also at Offscreen in 2012, is
unusual and innovative.
In both cases, the aim of the engagement between Northumbria researchers
and festival organisers has been to enhance the educational context of the
festivals. This has been most evident for Abertoir, where the organisers
have bid for additional funding as a result of input from Northumbria
staff based on their research. The most obvious product of the developing
relationship with Offscreen during the census period has been an
AHRC-funded international research network (awarded in December 2012),
which includes Offscreen as a participant and which has fostered
research-led engagement led by PI Sexton along with Hunter and Hutchings
with non-academic users of research, including festival programmers and
other producers and distributors of cult material.
Staff involved in the case study were initially approached by the
festival directors of Abertoir and Offscreen respectively. A series of
meetings and communications commenced early in 2012 and built on
pre-existing informal contacts. As a result of these, Hunter, Hutchings
and Sexton were all involved in providing research-derived material for
the week-long Abertoir event that took place in November 2012; this
included written material for festival brochures, public lectures and
presentations to the festival audiences. This material connected directly
with published research outputs thus:
- Hunter: hour-long public lecture `The Horrible History of Italian
horror' and brochure entry `Italian Horror Cinema' — which placed
Italian horror in a broader European context and which in this drew upon
research into Italian and Belgian horror in Hunter 2012 and 2013.
- Hutchings: 20-minute introduction to British Science Fiction and
short brochure entry on Italian horror. The first drew upon Hutchings'
1999 research into the British SF invasion film, and especially his work
there on the historical context of the Quatermass stories. The second
drew on the exploration of Italianate cinematic excess in Hutchings 2003
- Sexton: 20-minute introductory talk on 3D cult movies and brochure
entry on `Rocky Horror Picture Show' — all drawing directly upon
explorations of cult cultures in Sexton 2011.
The 2012 festival had its highest ever attendance figures, with 3,300
admissions. As a result of Northumbria-led input, the festival organisers
were able to report to the principal funder a significant enhancement in
the educational content of the festival in comparison with previous years:
"This year, we made a strong push to provide a much wider educational
aspect than in previous years and teamed up with the University of
Northumbria in a series of activities and elements that have taken our
engagement with education to new levels" (Source: Evaluation Report
for Film Agency of Wales). Consequently they were able to bid for
additional funding from the Film Agency for Wales for the 2013 festival.
Input into Offscreen included a presentation by Sexton on cult cinema and
a presentation by Hunter on Italian cult cinema. Both of these served to
demonstrate to festival funding agencies an educational profile for the
event, and supported the festival director's aspiration that Offscreen be
"more than just a festival". Key to this relationship has been Sexton's
Cult Cinema network. The Offscreen Director confirms that the contribution
of Sexton and Hunter has enhanced: "the internationalisation of the
festival and the reinforcement of its educational part. Collaborating
with your Cult Network has also helped in profiling the festival even
more deliberately and consciously into the cult territory and brought
the ambition of mixing an academic with a festival approach and audience
a step closer." (Email, 24 September 2013).
Impact activity for both festivals will continue to evolve after the
census period, with staff invited to contribute to Abertoir in 2013 and
Offscreen in 2014.
Sources to corroborate the impact
Supporting letter from Abertoir Festival Director.
Email correspondence with Director of Offscreen.
Evaluation report for Abertoir Festival for Film Agency of Wales
Festival brochures and associated marketing material (confirming
participation in both festivals).
Successful AHRC network bid which includes Offscreen as a key participant
(AH/K005111/1 - Global Cult Cinema in the Age of Convergence).