Film festivals: creating, events, programmes and audiences
Submitting InstitutionQueen Mary, University of London
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
Film Festivals constitute the main institutional alternative to
commercially-driven cinema and as such occupy a vitally important part of
our cultural heritage. The BFI estimates that `only 7% of all cinema
screens are regularly devoted to non-mainstream film', and cites the film
festival as an exemplary model for broadening cinema knowledge and
education (`New Horizons for UK Film 2012-17'). Film Studies Queen Mary is
committed to enhancing a public understanding of obscure and complex film
through film festivals, bringing to bear insights born of research
including production histories and analytical interpretations of film
texts and performances. Collaborating with programmers, curators, local
authorities, and diasporic communities, researchers have made significant
contributions to festivals including to the founding of two new film
festivals (the London Spanish Film Festival 2005 and Cutting East Youth
Film Festival 2013), engaging with constituent groups and cultures that
are not strongly represented in the UK's commercial film culture.
Film Studies at Queen Mary has well-developed research interests in
European cinemas, cinema- going and film festivals, that underpin the
engagement with the creative industries in London and their audiences. The
research has been developed through extended and in-depth engagement with
film archives and libraries internationally, and has excavated new
information concerning the role of actors, directors, scriptwriters,
financiers and the memory of audiences. From these excavations, new
interpretive accounts have been written to revise perceptions of films,
extend audience engagement with cinema in particular periods and
neighbourhoods, and engage communities with film culture more broadly.
Researchers in the department have made wide contributions to the field in
the form of monographs, articles, scholarly editions, edited collections
and educational notes for exhibition and DVD publication.
Peter Evans has been at the forefront of psychoanalytical approaches to
film, tracing an ongoing fascination with sexuality and religion as a
national unconscious of Spanish cinema, forging links between surrealist
avant-garde filmmaking and popular film genres. Evans has published widely
on Spanish cinema, notably The Films of Luis Buñuel: Subjectivity and
Desire (1995), combining a history of Buñuel's exile in Mexico with
a detailed analysis of his films, a study of a Pedro Almodóvar film, and
an anthology of essays, Spanish Cinema: the Auteurist Tradition
(1999). A further reconsideration of the career of Buñuel, the co-edited Luis
Buñuel: New Approaches (2004), continues the re-evaluation of
historical Spanish film. Evans' work has become a key reference in the
narration of Spanish cinema history; he is cited on Buñuel's Wikipedia
page, the journal Senses of Cinema's profile of the director and
the International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. In 2012, Evans wrote
the booklet accompanying the Blue Ray release of Buñuel's final film, That
Obscure Object of Desire (1977), and in the same year published a
study of the cult film, Jamón jamón (Bigas Luna), placing another
filmmaker on this map.
Scholarship on the history of cinema-going, pioneered by Kuhn in the
1990s and continued by postdoctoral researcher Gil Toffell, has been at
the forefront of developments in reception studies. Focusing on the
immediate neighbourhoods surrounding Queen Mary, Toffell traced the
ephemeral presence of audiences through archive sources including press
reports, advertisements, reviews and the history of cinema ownership and
film distribution. Archives sourced by Toffell include the British Library
Newspaper Archive, Tower Hamlets Local History Library, People's Palace
Archive, Manchester Jewish Museum and Edinburgh Film Guild Archive.
Toffell's work on Yiddish cinema- going between the wars, the first
scholarly examination of an explicitly Jewish cinema at this time, was
published in the prestigious peer reviewed journal Screen (2009),
and further articles have appeared in scholarly journals.
Key researchers' employment at submitting unit:
(i) Peter Evans, 1996- 2011 Professor in Film Studies (retired 2011).
(ii) Annette Kuhn, appointed 2006 (0.2) Professor in Film Studies.
(iii) Gil Toffell, 2009-11, Leverhulme Postdoctoral Fellow; 2011-13
fractional posts as Researcher in Residence, and Research Assistant
(iv) Janet Harbord, appointed 2010 Professor in Film Studies.
References to the research
Gil Toffell, `Cinema-going from Below: The Jewish film audience in
interwar Britain', Participations Journal of Audience and Reception
Studies, Volume 8, Issue 2, November 2011: pp 522-538.
Gil Toffell, `Come, See and Hear! Yiddish Cinema-going in inter-war
London', Screen 50/3, 2009: pp 277-98.
Annette Kuhn, `Film Stars in 1930s Britain', in Tytti Soila (ed.) Stellar
Encounters: Stardom in Popular European Cinema, (London, John
Peter Evans 'Splitting Doubles: Angela Molina and the Art of Screen
Acting', in Rob Stone and Julian Daniel Gutierrez Albilla (eds) Companion
to Luis Bunuel, (Wiley- Blackwell, 2013): pp.494- 508.
Peter Evans, Isabel Santaolalla (eds), Luis Buñuel: New Readings
(BFI, London, 2004).
Peter Evans (ed.), Spanish Cinema; the Auteurist Tradition (OUP,
Leverhulme Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2009-11: £53,938 (Kuhn PI/Toffell
London Centre for Arts and Cultural Exchange (LCACE) Award, 2011: £4,600
Public Engagement Fund, Queen Mary, 2011: £2,500 (Harbord PI/Toffell RA).
AHRC Cultural Engagement Fund, 2012: £40,000 (Davis/Harbord PIs, Toffell
researcher in residence).
AHRC International Network Grant, Bazaar Cinema: debating the cultural
rights of youth communities in London and Mumbai: partners EEFF and TATA
Institute: £42,359 (Harbord PI, Rai CI, Toffell RA).
Details of the impact
The department's strategic aims in its relation to film festivals have
been to engage audiences in historical accounts of cinema-going, to
exploit the potential of public cultural debate provided by film
festivals, and to expand the audience demographic attending festivals. The
involvement of academics as co-founders of and advisers to festivals, is
supplemented by further contributions as interlocutors, co-curators, and
mediators to enrich the understanding, knowledge and constitution of
festival audiences. Through close collaboration with cultural partners,
the public understanding of film outside of the mainstream and a regional
history of cinema-going have been significantly extended. A variety of
approaches have been used to translate scholarship into popular discourse,
including on-stage interviews of those involved in film production,
curation of film programmes and participatory memory-based events
recalling cinema-going in the East End. Through collaborations and the
adoption of formal roles—Evans as an advisor to the London Spanish Film
Festival (LSFF), Toffell as an AHRC Public Engagement Researcher in
Residence with the East End Film Festival (EEFF)—along with the College's
financial support of the LSFF, the relationship between researchers and
cultural institutions has been defined by a mutual shaping of agendas.
Evans' work, crossing popular and surrealist Spanish filmmakers of the
1920-1990s, was formative in `supporting this festival since the
conception of the very first edition' (Joana Granero, Director LSFF).
Evans continues to influence the decisions of contemporary and
retrospective film programming in the festival's eighth year. The LSFF is
held at the Ciné Lumière and Instituto Cervantes, West London, for a
period of two weeks during July, and assessment data shows that it
attracts approximately 75% of new audiences each year (Tristana Media). In
2012, it attracted over 4000 people, its success leading to an extension
of the festival as `Spring Weekend' events. As a member of the advisory
group, Evans continues to work with the programming team to determine the
focus of each festival, to ensure the programming of contemporary and
archive film, and during the festival, to introduce programmes and conduct
interviews with key film production personnel. In 2009, Evans' interview
with Angela Molina sold out a venue of 226 seats, a success that was
repeated in 2011 when Evans interviewed actress Geraldine Chapman. Evans'
analysis of Pedro Almodovar was highly influential in planning and
commissioning a sell-out special series of events examining the acting
registers developed by the director. Evans' psychoanalytic approach
connecting acting styles to national culture, has a further dimension
through his participation in the International Psychoanalytic Film
Festival, a forum for dialogue between psychoanalysts, filmmakers,
academics and the public.
Evans' work paved the way for a second tier of scholarship on film
festivals and cinema history with particular attention to extending the
audience for film festival events. The question of how to engage a
spectrum of generations to festivals, specifically the post-retirement and
youth audiences, was addressed through the appointment of Dr Gil Toffell
as a Leverhulme funded postdoctoral fellow (2009-2011). Toffell's research
on generations of film-goers in the East End was of interest to
programmers at the EEFF, and during the following two years he worked with
the East End Film Festival to present the history of East End cinema-going
in the festival's programme. Securing funding from the London Centre for
Arts and Cultural Exchange (LCACE), Toffell was invited to create an event
on the history of Jewish East End cinema-going in summer 2011, `The Sights
and Sounds of the Jewish East End', involving a screening of a rarely seen
documentary made in the East End, The Vanishing Street, and a
presentation of Toffell's research. The playwright and novelist Bernard
Kops gave the keynote introduction for the sell-out event (venue capacity
220). The audience was notably local, with some members having appeared in
the documentary, and for whom this event provided the first opportunity to
reflect on their involvement. Toffell's ability to unearth and interpret
cultural heritage led to the issue of an invitation to develop future
In 2012, Toffell's engagement with East End film culture was consolidated
with the EEFF screening of a Yiddish film, A Kid for Two Farthings
(Reed, 1955), and a workshop for young people exploring film and the East
End (supported by Queen Mary Public Engagement Fund). In November 2012, an
AHRC Cultural Engagement Award facilitated further collaboration between
the EEFF, the London Borough of Tower Hamlets (LBTH), youth community
organizations (Hi8tus, Mile End Community Project) and Queen Mary
researchers to develop a semi-autonomous film festival with young people
in East London. The project brought together Toffell's historical
knowledge of migration and cinema in East London with contemporary
diasporic culture to inform film festival decision making, and to help
young people realise their own cultural aspirations. Toffell, with Harbord
and Rai, worked with these organizations to recruit and train young people
outside of HEI to develop the semi-autonomous `Cutting East Youth Film
Festival'. Cutting East ran from 28-30 June 2013 at Rich Mix cinema,
attracting 553 people, 60% of whom were aged 19 or younger, and 42% were
Bangladeshi and non-white minority ethnicities (LBTH monitoring report).
In developing a new channel of involvement for local youth, the
collaboration also sensitized the EEFF to local needs. Academic research
methods aided the focus of the festival, with young people researching the
views of their diasporic communities about the EEFF in filmed interviews,
which in turn were screened at the event in July 2013. A further AHRC
award (an international network grant) has been secured to debate the
cultural rights of young people in their re-purposing of media,
interfacing community groups in East London and Mumbai, partnering with
the EEFF. These recent awards provide for a sustained enhancement of
public film culture through the collaboration of Queen Mary film
scholarship and film festivals.
Sources to corroborate the impact
The Cutting East film festival website describing the aims of the
festival and its emergence from collaboration between Queen Mary
researchers and LBTH: http://www.cuttingeast.co.uk/
A report by film festival youth programmers about their practice and the
impact of Cutting East on their relationship to East London public
Film London, the Government funded regional film and media agency,
reporting on Cutting East:
Screen International reporting on the decision of Film London to
financially support the London Spanish Film Festival (August 2011) as a
significant contributor to film culture:
Film London Cultural Film Exhibition Fund Evaluation and Monitoring
Information, submitted by LBTH for Cutting East Film Festival.
- Director of the London Spanish Film Festival: corroborating
popularization of auteur films through academic frameworks.
- Director of the East End Film Festival: corroborating
the impact of working with Queen Mary researchers on the remit of the
- Films Officer for London Borough of Tower Hamlets: corroborating the
success of a QM-LBTH- EEFF collaboration in involving a `hard to reach'
demographic in film festival culture.