Promoting public understanding of international film in North East England and Ibero-America
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Durham
Unit of AssessmentModern Languages and Linguistics
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
Research on world cinema at Durham University has led to collaboration
with filmmakers, cinemas and film festivals regionally and
internationally. Durham academics have assisted regional organisations to
bring major figures of international independent cinema to North East
England, in order to showcase work which would not normally achieve wide
exposure, and to enhance public understanding of foreign film, culture and
language. In doing so, they have helped those organisations to meet their
own institutional objectives. Internationally, Durham research has led to
jury membership at a film festival whose mission is to raise the profile
of independent filmmaking in Ibero-America, and to provide financial
support to encourage further film production. This participation has also
led to changes in the festival's practice, in the form of increased
involvement of jury members with an academic background.
Research by staff in Durham's School of Modern Languages and Cultures on
international film is undertaken in the research group on Visual Culture
and Performance. The group's members bring their expertise in a range of
languages, cultures and methodologies to bear on an agreed set of
principle research issues, most notably that of gender. The research that
underpins the activities presented here is attentive to gender's
political, aesthetic and historical dimensions within visual culture.
Collaborations by Marie-Claire Barnet and Santiago Fouz
Hernández with contemporary international filmmakers result from
their research into European cinema and visual culture. Fouz Hernández (in
post at Durham since 1999) has worked on Ventura Pons's cinema of as part
of his investigation into contemporary Spanish cinema, and in particular,
representations of masculinity and the male body. He has shown how Pons'
films of the late 1970s and early 1980s break contemporary taboos in their
depiction of non-normative masculinities, and how Pons' cinema goes beyond
the gaze to engage other senses of the spectator [output 4]. He has
demonstrated how these concerns are related more broadly to the period of
the Spanish transition to democracy (1975-1982), and to contemporary
Catalan culture and national identity [outputs 3 and 5]. Barnet (in post
at Durham since 1997) researches contemporary French literary and visual
culture, focusing on female writers and filmmakers. She has investigated
Agnès Varda's use of cinematic and photographic space, and the
continuities between her films and her increasing use of mixed-media
forms [outputs 1 and 2]. In October 2006, Barnet and Shirley Jordan (Queen
Mary, University of London) interviewed Varda together [output 1].
Barnet's questions emphasised issues of space, gender and autobiography.
They led Varda to elucidate her conceptual concerns, including the
interplay between material and psychic spaces, and the resonance of
certain geographic locations. In particular, Varda set out the importance
that beaches hold for her as spaces of mourning, memory and indeterminacy.
Barnet pursues these themes in her reading of Varda's 2006 exhibition, L'Île
et Elle [output 2]. She shows how Varda's experimental artistic
practice extends beyond celluloid and the conventional museum space, into
site-specific installations of both private and public spaces.
Andrea Noble's work as a jury member at the 2012 Guadalajara
International Film Festival arose out of her research on Latin American
visual culture, and in particular her 2005 book, Mexican National
Cinema [output 6]. Noble has been in post at Durham since 1998. Her
book takes a cultural historical and thematic approach to Mexican cinema,
from its inception in 1896 through to more recent productions. It examines
clusters of films produced at different moments in the history of Mexican
cinema, demonstrating how they register changes and patterns in Mexican
and Latin American cultural history and identity. In doing so, her book
maps the connection between cinema and modernity, where cinema is
understood as a key emblem and crucible of modernity and the processes of
modernisation. For example, it analyses the relationship between the 1910
Mexican Revolution as a historical event, and film as a receptacle for and
catalyst of memory of the Revolution. Crucially, it draws out the role
played by film melodrama in articulating changing conceptions of
masculinity; and it stresses the cinematic representation of the
indigenous Other in relationship to the development of patterns in
anthropological discourses. Its analysis is underpinned by an
understanding of Mexican cultural and cinematic history in relation to
Hollywood on the one hand, and developments in Latin American cinema on
the other. Methodologically, the book engages with film theory that has
emerged largely in the Euro-American academy, while seeking to question
and nuance this by bringing to bear insights from Latin American cultural
theory and history.
References to the research
Key outputs (alphabetised by author)
1. Marie-Claire Barnet and Shirley Jordan, `Interviews with Agnès Varda
and Valérie Mréjen', L'Esprit créateur 51 (2011), 184-200.
2. Marie-Claire Barnet, ```Elles-Ils Islands': cartography of lives and
deaths by Agnès Varda', L'Esprit créateur 51 (2011), 97-111.
3. Santiago Fouz-Hernández and Alfredo Martínez-Expósito (2007), Live
Flesh: The Male Body in Contemporary Spanish Cinema. London and New
York: I. B. Tauris. 288pp.
4. Santiago Fouz-Hernández (2009) `Caresses: the male body in the films
of Ventura Pons', in Mysterious Skin: Male Bodies in Contemporary
Cinema, ed. by Santiago Fouz-Hernández. London and New York: I. B.
Tauris, pp. 143-157.
5. Santiago Fouz-Hernández and Ian Biddle (2012) `Voicing gender:
performativity, nostalgia and the national imaginary in Spanish cinema of
the Democratic Era', in Screening Songs in Hispanic and Lusophone
Cinema. Manchester: Manchester University Press, pp. 30-50.
6. Andrea Noble, Mexican National Cinema. London: Routledge,
Evidence of quality
• Outputs 1 and 2 are published in an international, peer-reviewed
journal of French studies, and are submitted in REF 2
• Outputs 3, 4 and 5 are published in peer-reviewed edited volumes
published by major academic presses. Output 5 is in REF 2
• Output 6 is peer-reviewed and published in a prestigious series on
national cinemas by major UK publisher of arts and humanities research.
The research and writing was supported by a Leverhulme Research
Fellowship, 2001-2002 (award value £17,285)
Details of the impact
Through their research on Pons and Varda respectively, Fouz Hernández and
Barnet established personal contacts which led to each filmmaker's
engagement with, and participation in, events aimed at increasing
understanding of their work among the general public. The events were
organised in partnership with the Gala Theatre in Durham and the Tyneside
Cinema in Newcastle and thereby helped them to fulfil their objectives of
contributing to the cultural enrichment of North East England. Pons and
Varda are major figures in European art house cinema. Pons is one of the
best-known filmmakers in contemporary Spanish and Catalan cinema, having
made 24 films in the course of a 30-year career. His films have been
credited as establishing a Catalan `star system'. Varda's contribution to
film has been recognised over several decades, including a lifetime
achievement award at the Cannes Film Festival (2010).
In 2009, Fouz Hernández invited Pons to give a public lecture at Durham
University, and to take part in the UK premiere of his film, Barcelona
(un mapa) (2007), at the city's Gala Theatre, an institution funded
by Durham County Council. The events took place on 25 January 2010, with
support from the Catalan cultural organization, the Institut Ramón Llull.
Fouz Hernández's research on Pons had come to the filmmaker's attention in
2007, thanks to his co-authored book, Live Flesh (2007). Films by
Pons had previously been shown at the (now-defunct) Newcastle Film
Festival, and Pons was keen to show another film in the North East. Fouz
Hernández selected Barcelona (un mapa) because it emphasised key
aspects of Pons' cinema, and in particular, the issues of male nudity,
homosexuality and identity that Fouz Hernández has stressed as central to
his work. Pons' public lecture at Durham University (attended by over 100
people) was followed by a question and answer session chaired by Fouz
Hernández, and a sold-out screening of the film at the Gala Theatre. Pons
commented that `the screening and talk at Durham strengthened my links to
the UK film circuit, having presented some of my other films at festivals
in Manchester, Cambridge and, especially, London, for the last three
decades. [...] Events such as this can have a considerable impact on
foreign distribution of my films in various formats and, importantly, on
the spread of Catalan culture abroad' [source 1]. Although the Gala
Theatre generally screens mainstream films, it does aim to `show films
from around the globe, particularly from independent film makers, and to
bring their work to wider attention'. The screening of Pons' film
contributed to the Gala meeting this objective. The then-Director of the
Gala Theatre states that staging the UK premier of Pons' film `was
enormously successful', and gave `a tremendous boost to our programme and
[helped] to establish our venue in the region as a key World Cinema
location' [source 2].
The Tyneside Cinema is an independent organisation and registered
educational charity located in central Newcastle, screening foreign
language and independent films from around the world. According to the
cinema's Programme Manager, its aim is to play `a significant role in the
cultural life of the North East', and to do so by bringing `as many people
as possible together in our venue to experience, enjoy and engage with the
past, present and future of cinema'. During 2011, Barnet collaborated with
the Tyneside Cinema on a festival to mark the fiftieth anniversary of
Agnès Varda's most celebrated film, Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962). Held
from 10 to 24 November 2012, the festival included a retrospective of five
Varda films; in addition to Cléo de 5 à 7, Barnet selected four
films to demonstrate the diversity of Varda's cinematic output over the
course of five decades. The selection served to emphasise the key thematic
concerns that Barnet's research has shown to be central to Varda's work.
For example, both Sans toit ni loi (1985) and Les Glaneurs et
la glaneuse (2000) depict the nature and condition of marginality in
contemporary society, while Les Plages d'Agnès (2008) foregrounds
Varda's investigation of space, and its relationship to mourning, memory
and identity. Barnet co-authored the press release and the relevant
section of the Tyneside programme. The festival included an academic
conference on Varda, featuring nine speakers from six universities in the
UK and Canada, and open to the general public. The conference examined
Varda's artistic production across five decades, and her manipulation of a
range of genres and styles, from photography and film to hybrid
documentary and installation art. The festival closed with a sold-out
evening showing of a restored print of Cléo de 5 à 7, with Varda
herself present. The screening was followed by a question and answer
session with the cinema audience and Varda, chaired by Barnet. The films
generated box office takings of £1,433 (gross) for the cinema [source 3].
Varda's attendance at the festival was the director's only public
engagement in the UK to mark the anniversary of Cléo de 5 à 7, and
was secured thanks to the relationship developed between Barnet and Varda
since 2006. The Varda festival, and the filmmaker's participation, helped
the Tyneside achieve its own objectives as an arts organisation. The
Programme Manager highlighted Varda's participation at the festival as
essential to its success: `To get someone like Varda to come and talk
about their work is the kind of thing you usually only get in London at
the BFI. It was a real coup for us. It was about having someone of that
stature coming here'. Varda's presence raised the cinema's profile in the
North East, with coverage in regional media (Sky Tyne and Wear and The
Journal). The Programme Manager concluded that `the opportunity to
bring a filmmaker of the stature of Agnès Varda to the Tyneside was a real
gift to the Cinema and its audiences' [source 4].
In 2011, Noble was invited by the Director General of the Guadalajara
International Film Festival (FICG) to serve on the panel for `Best
Ibero-American film' in its 2012 edition. The FICG is the most important
film festival in Latin America, awarding approximately £240,000 in prize
money. 260 films from 45 countries were shown in the 2012 edition, which
registered a record of over 100,000 paid admissions. The winner of the
`Best Ibero-American film' category automatically enters the selection
stage of the Golden Globes organised by the Hollywood Foreign Press
Association [source 5]. Noble's selection by the Director General was
based on her track record of expertise in the cultural history of Mexican
and Latin American film acknowledged by film historians and professionals
in Mexico over the course of the previous years. Her work had come to the
Director General's attention during her research visits in 2000 and 2001
to the Filmoteca de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, the most
important film archive in Mexico, which he ran between 1989 and 2008. The
Director General states that, `during these visits, she told me about the
objectives and focus of her work; [...] but also several academics and
cinephiles from our country and abroad told me about the importance of her
work' [source 6]. The importance of Noble's research was also acknowledged
by the Mexican cultural attaché in the UK, who had been director of the
main government-funded body for promoting and financing national cinema in
Mexico, the Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografía. In 2007, the cultural
attaché and the Mexican Embassy funded a visit to Durham by the future
director of the FICG to take part in a workshop on Mexican science fiction
films with Noble.
Noble was the sole academic jury member in the 2012 edition. Her panel
was otherwise made up of film industry professionals, including the editor
of a leading Spanish-language film magazine; an international film
festival organiser; a Mexican film director; and a Mexican film actress
[source 7]. According to the Director General, Noble's contribution as a
jury member lay in insights based on her historical understanding of key
themes and trends in Mexican and Latin American cinema: `an academic
perspective is always important because it is based on a wide historical
context that can be shared with other members of the jury who are perhaps
focussed on purely technical and contextual questions. This is precisely
what happened through Noble's participation, which brought historical
antecedents that helped to understand the provenance of certain themes'
[source 6]. Recognising Noble's successful participation in the 2012
festival, and the contribution of her historical expertise, the organising
committee included a greater number of academics on juries for the 2013
festival (three in total): `having Noble on the jury has reinforced this
position, and in the last edition of the festival, we included a greater
quantity of academics' [source 6].
The jury on which Noble served was one of eight panels in the festival.
Its remit was to award prizes for new cinematic production from across the
Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking world. It considered sixteen pre-selected
films from nine countries (Argentina, Bolivia Brazil, Chile, Colombia,
Ecuador Peru, Spain, Venezuela). The panel awarded prize money totalling
$400,000MXN (£19,000), and trophies in the following categories: Best
Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best First
Film, Best Director and Best Ibero-American Feature. Success in the
competition represented a significant increase in profile for the winning
films, with concomitant benefits in terms of local and international sales
and distribution. The award of Best Director and Best Actor to Ecuadorian
film Pescador came shortly before the film's commercial release in
its home market. According to the film's producers, it helped them promote
the film and generate public interest there [source 8]. The distributor of
Abrir Puertas y Ventanas [Back to Stay] states that the award of
Best Film `was a catalyst in terms of sales' as a result of increased
media exposure: for example, shortly after the award of the prize, the
film secured national distribution in its home country of Argentina
Sources to corroborate the impact
- Statement from filmmaker.
- Statement from former Director of Gala Theatre, Durham.
- Data from Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle.
- Statement from Programme Director, Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle.
- `Mariachi Gringo, Back To Stay win at busy Guadalajara', festival
report in Screen International,
- Statement from the director of the FICG.
- List of jury members on the official website of the 27th Festival
Internacional de Cine en Guadalajara, https://www.ficg.mx/27/index.php/es/programacion/jurados.
- Statement from the producer of Pescador.
- Statement from the distributor of Abrir Puertas y Ventanas.