Rock/Body: A new research network

Rock Body

Photo courtesy of Isabel Pina Ferreira and Lizzy Burt

Dr João Florêncio explores questions raised as part of Rock/Body, an AHRC-funded project for which he is the Principal Investigator.

If asked about the similarities and possible continuities between the geologic world and the human body, most people will probably shrug and leave it at that, probably with a sense of disbelief on the value of the question just thrown at them: what would such disparate realms have in common? Why would one be interested in thinking together rocks—perceived as hard, static, dead, ever-lasting—and human bodies—seen as living, fleshy, organic, perishable, and capable of affects?

However, when paid closer look, geologic and human bodies begin to appear somewhat porous to one another. Think about calcium, for instance. Produced by the stars, it entered the composition of rocky planets like the Earth, where it became constituent part of sedimentary rocks. However, calcium is also very soluble in water and thus makes the jump into the animal food chain where it becomes a crucial element for the mineralisation of teeth and bones as well as some cellular processes. Without calcium—arriving from the stars to the rocks to the water to the food you eat–you wouldn’t be able to stand, let alone dare to walk.

Besides life’s dependence on minerals, geologic and human bodies have also been brought closer together thanks to two other events of a totally different kind (recent ones, if we consider them in relation to the wider history of the Earth). Those events—industrialisation and capitalism—unfolded through the exploitation, on the one hand, of geological resources such as coal and, on the other, human resources in the form of labour time. It was coal that powered James Watt’s steam engine; and it was human labour that extracted the coal to feed the industrial revolution. The burning out of rocks and bodies were essential for the accumulation of capital. And they keep on being so even today when our smartphones, tablets, and “cloud computing” interfaces—so cleanly conceived and designed they appear eons away from the smog and black lung of the industrial revolution—are still dependent on the mining of rare metals mostly taking place in developing countries and which are necessary to support the circuit boards, servers, and communication cables upon which our fetishised gadgets depend. Further, it is also often developing countries that are paid to import the e-waste produced when our smart machines reach their planned obsolescence and dispose of it. What do these stories tell about different kinds of human bodies and their relationships with metal and other geological resources at a time when one could be forgiven for thinking the world has freed itself from matter and become primarily quantified and understood in terms of data and Mbps (Megabytes per second)?

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Image courtesy of Isabel Pina Ferreira and Lizzy Burt

As such, if we consider the porosity of the geologic and the human to one another, highlighted by millions of years of circulation and storage of minerals between rocks and living bodies and back again; and if we accept that both rocks and human bodies have a shared history of exploitation under capitalism, in what ways can these overlaps—these blurry areas where rock becomes (human) body becomes rock—open new pathways for collaborative research projects across disciplinary borders that have divided modern academia between sciences, humanities, and arts? What kinds of questions can a focus on these areas of ontological fuzziness bring about if the geologic and the human appear to no longer hold clearly defined boundaries separating the one from the other? And what can it do for the ways in which we make sense of ourselves and our place in the world at a time when the planet is changing so rapidly, environmentally, socially, politically?

In order to start probing these questions, Lancaster University’s Professor Nigel Clark and I have brought together a diverse group of scientists, humanities scholars, and artists under Rock/Body, an AHRC-funded research networking project. Departing from the belief that the scope and implications of the issues at hand cannot be safely contained within the traditional boundaries of a single discipline—or of various disciplines working without permeability to one another—the participants in the network have been meeting since April for a series of three research seminars where each researcher has been contributing their own thoughts on the interfacings of the geologic with the human body.

Organised around three sub-themes—Flesh/Minerality, Extraction/Exhaustion, and Time/Duration—the seminars bring together artists, curators, social scientists, earth scientists, and humanities scholars in order to start enacting much-needed cross-disciplinary dialogues and, from there, sketch future research partnerships.

The project will culminate at Exeter in September with an exhibition of artworks by participating artists and the presentations of a new site-specific performance piece conceived in response to the seminar discussions and the Exeter landscape.


FAT_6918_JoaoFlorencioDr Joao Florencio is a Lecturer in History of Modern and Contemporary Art and Visual Culture. He holds a BA from the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal, an MA with Distinction from the University of Greenwich, and a PhD from Goldsmiths, University of London.

7 ½ Reasons Why You Should Visit the Cartoon Museum before 24 July 2016

As part of my current AHRC project Reframing the Graphic Novel I have curated an exhibition with the Cartoon Museum in London called The Great British Graphic Novel. It tells the story of the graphic novel in the UK since the eighteenth century, with an emphasis on the last 40 years. There are all kinds of displays: cabinets of books, video interviews, and old comics, but the main attraction is original art. Over 125 pages of original art. The exhibition runs until 24 July, so you have roughly a month left to visit – and here are 7 ½ reasons why you should:

1. … to see a giant tube map of UK graphic novels

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(c) Cartoon Museum 2016(c) Cartoon Museum 2016

How could we show the history of graphic novels – and all the different types of graphic novel – and provide visitors with a way of navigating the different parts of the exhibition? We decided to visualise the graphic novels on display as stations on a map of the London Underground, where the lines represent the exhibition’s sections. The whole idea was brought to life as a spectacular image drawn by veteran underground comix artist Hunt Emerson. As you can see, he’s added characters and symbols from the graphic novels themselves. And if you think it looks good on a computer screen, the first thing that greets you when you walk into the main gallery is a giant version of Emerson’s map!

2. … to attend an amazing talk

We’ve had some great events tied in with the exhibition. Since we opened:

  • Bryan and Mary M. Talbot discussed their new graphic biography The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia, about the nineteenth-century feminist and revolutionary Louise Michel
  • Three editors from major UK companies shared their experiences and offered advice on getting your graphic novel published
  • We’ve been showcasing writers and artists from the Laydeez Do Comics collective

And there’s more to come:

  • Have you heard of graphic medicine but want to learn more? Come to the event on 13th July!
  • Woodrow Phoenix has been doing page-turnings of his graphic novel She Lives! (see below) and there are more page-turnings coming up
  • You can also catch Monica Walker’s Spotlight Talks focusing on key works in the exhibition!

3. … because some of the art on display is HUGE

Size matters, right? Well, the multimedia art of Dave McKean is enormous and spectacular. One of the graphic novels McKean famously worked on was The Sandman, written by Neil Gaiman. McKean’s covers gave the series a distinct look that set it apart from other comics on the rack and in the exhibition you can see that McKean didn’t just draw the covers, he constructed them as large-scale, three-dimensional art objects that absorbed mementoes and found objects.

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Another gigantic exhibit in the show is Woodrow Phoenix’s She Lives! This is a one-off graphic novel. We’re displaying the book that Phoenix made by hand because there is no published version. Not many people would have room in their homes for it! There is only one copy in the world and it’s on show in The Great British Graphic Novel.

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And while you can’t turn the pages yourself, you can (a) come to one of the page-turnings and have Woodrow Phoenix take you through the story himself, or (b) the pages can be viewed on the video screen next to the book.

 4. …because you never knew graphic novels went back that far

My research is about the history of graphic novels and the opening section of the exhibition shows how comics have grown in length, been published as books, and been read by adults (all things associated with the graphic novel format) over the last 300 years. To reflect the influence of engraver William Hogarth on later artists, the exhibition starts with some prints from Hogarth’s sequence of images A Harlot’s Progress (1732). Contemporary creators are not only influenced by the history of illustration, they appropriate and rework artistic traditions, and Eddie Campbell’s Bacchus is a great example of this. In the 1980s and 1990s Campbell depicted the present-day exploits of Bacchus, the Greek god of wine and revelry, and in one scene (shown in the exhibition) Bacchus is chased by Mr. Dry (a character based on Prohibition-era political cartoons) through a mini-history of alcohol-related paintings, starting with Hogarth’s Beer Street (1751).

5. …to learn how graphic novels get put together

One of the pleasures of curating the exhibition was illuminating how the country’s leading artists go about producing their graphic novels. Some of the draft work on show includes character designs and page layouts (sketches that outline where panels will go on a page and what goes in each one). Visitors can see the lengths Hunt Emerson went to in his adaptation of Inferno, drawing his own map of the underworld to help him recreate the events in Dante’s original. You can also see how artists like Katie Green work with computers as well as pencils and ink. All of this, we hope, will inspire visitors old and young to pick up different tools and have a go at making comics for themselves!

6. …to see the classics of the future before they’re even published

At the end of the exhibition we’ve spotlighted three works by Kate Charlesworth, Asia Alfasi, and Jade Sarson which are still in progress but are shaping up to be classics of the future. The work of Alfasi and Sarson demonstrates the influence of Japanese comics on British graphic novelists (elsewhere in the exhibition, the art from the Manga Shakespeare series is another example of this). Jade Sarson’s book For the Love of God, Marie! is forthcoming as I write this but it will be published by the time The Great British Graphic Novel closes.

7. …to marvel at page after page of your old favourites

It’s edifying to spend years putting an exhibition like this together and for people to enjoy it. We haven’t been able to show art from every British graphic novel ever published, but what we’ve included has received some very positive reviews. If you’re already a passionate reader of graphic novels and are expecting to see your personal favourites, the chances are you won’t be disappointed. There’s art on show from Posy Simmonds’s Gemma Bovery and Tamara Drewe, The Sandman by Neil Gaiman and various artists, Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett’s Tank Girl, Bryan Talbot’s Alice in Sunderland, and Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum. Alan Moore is one of the most written-about comics writers of all time and we have pages of art from five of his graphic novels: From Hell (art by Eddie Campbell), Watchmen (Dave Gibbons), V for Vendetta (David Lloyd), A Small Killing (Oscar Zarate) and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Kev O’Neill).

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(c) DC Comics Inc. 1986

7 ½.…because there’s lots to do when you (eventually) finish looking round the exhibition

The Cartoon Museum is one street down from the British Museum and located perfectly to explore Bloomsbury, or to do some shopping on Oxford Street, or to see a show in the West End. So although you’ll obviously come to look at the comics, you won’t have any difficulty finding other things to do when the Museum closes …


Dr Paul Williams is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of English in the College of Humanities at the University of Exeter. He is currently researching how comics became graphic novels in the long 1970s. This project is funded by an AHRC Early Career Research Fellowship (2014-16) and you can read more about it on his blog.

The University of Exeter host landmark Lusitanist International Conference

Dr Ana Martins and Dr Susana Afonso lecture in Portuguese in the Modern Languages Department at the University of Exeter.

The Association of British and Irish Lusitanists (ABIL) met for the VI International Conference at the University of Exeter, on the 7-8 September. The event attracted attendees from across the UK, Ireland and overseas, including Brazil, North America and Mozambique to discuss cultural developments across the Portuguese-speaking world.

The conference also coincided with a series of celebrations, including the 10th anniversary of the Association of British and Irish Lusitanists (ABIL), and the 50th anniversary of the publication We Killed Mangy-Dog, written by acclaimed author and keynote-speaker Luís Bernardo Honwana.

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Dr Susana Afonso and Dr Ana Martins with guest of honor Luís Bernardo Honwana and the president of the Association, King John II Professor of Portuguese Phillip Rothwell

The international event also marked the first official UK visit for the acclaimed Mozambican writer, who penned the influential collection of short stories in 1964, We Killed Mangy-Dog and Other Stories. Mr Honwana’s achievements extend beyond his literary accomplishments, having worked as Director of the Mozambican President’s Office in the newly independent Mozambique in 1975. Mr Honwana later went on to serve on the Executive Board of UNESCO (1987 to 1991), Chairman of Unesco’s Intergovernmental Committee for the World Decade for Culture and Development, and Director of UNESCO’S office in South Africa.

Keynote speakers also included Professor David Treece, Camoens Professor of Portuguese from Kings College London, and Professor Anna Klobucka, Professor of Portuguese and Women’s and Gender Studies at UMass Dartmouth.

Dr Ana Martins, lecturer in Portuguese at the University of Exeter, and local organiser said: “The papers presented at the conference were of a very high standard. The plenary speakers in particular offered insights into topics as varied and timely as the politics and aesthetics of black music in Brazil, the linguistic future of Mozambique, and the politics of gender in Portuguese modernism, setting the tone for the ensuing general panel discussions. There were also three exciting thematic panels dedicated to ‘Translating Cultures,’ ‘Lusophone literatures and environmental criticism,’ and ‘In Memory of Professor Clive Willis,’ as well as a postgraduate session and a publisher’s talk. We would like to thank all our panellists for contributing to creating such a vibrant and scholarly debate throughout the conference.”

Null_A_MartinsFocussing on the theme “De/formations: Illegitimate Bodies, Texts and Tongues”, the international event offered postgraduate students and early career researchers the opportunity to share their latest research, and explore aspects of Lusophone culture from the medieval period to the present day.

Fellow organiser Dr Susana Afonso said: “The conference was particularly significant for Portuguese in the Department of Modern Languages, as Portuguese was one of the languages which was launched quite recently, in 2014. It was therefore an honour to have hosted such a fantastic event at Exeter.”

This was the first time the conference was be held at the University of Exeter, in partnership with ABIL, Instituto Camões in Portugal, The University of Exeter, and the Anglo-Portuguese Society.

For more information about the VI International Conference, please visit the VI International Conference of the Association of British and Irish Lusitanists webpage. To learn about the conference, please use the accompanying hashtag #abil2015 on Twitter, or visit the Facebook page.

Exeter alumnus, Jonathan Holloway, recalls fond memories of his time at university

Jonathan Holloway is an artistic director and writer. Following his recent appointment to the role of Artistic Director of the Melbourne Festival (from 2016 onwards), he recalls fond memories of his time at the University of Exeter.

Jonathan Holloway

Jonathan Holloway cr. Frances Andrijich

I’ve had the extraordinary good fortune to do some amazing things over the past two decades, but I would still say that my years as an undergraduate at Exeter University were a life highlight.

I read Drama from 1988 – 1991, which my peers and I think of as “the great years” in Exeter – although I’m guessing that others, before and since, may just say the same thing. I say I “read” Drama, but it wasn’t all reading. The course was very practical, and its content has had a direct and ongoing influence on my work.

From Brecht to Butoh, each five-week unit was totally immersive and focused, each one approaching a subject from every angle.  We were regularly encouraged to dive into something new and confront it, learn it, and become confident in it. As soon as we felt comfortable, the content would change completely – who knew what would be next?

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Royal de Luxe in Perth

The course began with basic anthropological questions about the arts: why do we sing, or dance, or tell stories?  Over 25 years later, these questions still form the basis of my approach to festival direction. Now that I work in Australia, this context is particularly important, as ancient traditions live on through the Aboriginal custodians of the land and their stories.

Some of my greatest memories come from extra-curricular activities: the beautiful walk between the Thornlea Studio and the Guild offices; working on promotions and security every weekend at the Lemon Grove; and trips to Dawlish Warren with friends who would go on to be rockstars, radio presenters and academics.

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Royal de Luxe in Perth cr. Scott Weir

Drama at Exeter is rightly hailed as one of the great theoretical and action-based training grounds for practical theatre makers in the UK and beyond. I found that the course produced world-aware and highly communicative people, all with cultivated skills, beliefs and intellectual stand-points.

After graduation, I spent several years as a director, writer and curator of arts programmes, culminating in co-writing and directing Robin Hood at the National Theatre in London (under my stage name Jack Holloway), and establishing and directing the National Theatre’s “Watch This Space” Festival. Festivals are unique in their ability to unite and uplift a city, and so the invitation to come to Melbourne was irresistible: the cultural capital of Australia, with the Melbourne Festival at its creative centre.

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Studio Cirque ‘Place des Anges’, cr. Toni Wilkinson

For a number of weeks a year, a festival can transform a city, turn it on its head, and in so doing can change the perceptions of the city from both inside and far away.Festivals have the ability to curate extraordinary experiences and stories, to explore what really defines and challenges a city and its communities. I believe that the role of the arts is changing as rapidly as the world around it, and festivals have a pivotal role to play in helping people to navigate and re-map the modern world.  The arts need to occupy all platforms, from the digital and virtual to the purpose built and the unexpectedly occupied found space.

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Studio Cirque ‘Place des Anges’, cr. Toni Wilkinson

Now, I find myself reflecting on the University of Exeter, and how it helped me to develop resilience, knowledge, curiosity and confidence; as well as the set of principles by which I live my life. The skills and approaches I learned at Exeter were useful throughout my work in Bracknell, London, Norwich and Perth. Now I’m in Melbourne – who knows where I’ll be next?


 

For more information on the Melbourne Festival, please visit the Melbourne Festival website.

MA International Film Business – Term One

Last term the College of Humanities welcomed its first student cohort on the inaugural MA International Film Business programme at the University of Exeter.

JimW-Mike Leigh 11Chairman of the London Film School (LFS) and multi-award-winning director Mike Leigh with Deputy Vice Chancellor (Education) Professor Nick Kaye. Photo by Jim Wileman.

In an exciting partnership with the London Film School, MA International Film Business students have had the opportunity to explore the filmmaking industry both here in the south-west and the capital, where the students have been studying since January. Co-directed by Angus Finney of the London Film School and Professor Will Higbee at the University of Exeter, the programme provides students with an understanding of the film industry and its practices, key business tools, and an insight into world cinema and the role of film culture.

During their first term, MA International Film Business students were taught by film specialists from the College of Humanities and the Exeter Business School. A number of notable industry experts came to speak to the students. These included film director and producer Don Boyd, British independent producer James MacKay, US/UK film producer Gavrik Losey and Ken Dearsley, Independent Consultant and Partner of the Intellectual Property and Technology group IPT.

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US/UK film producer Gavrik Losey came in last term to speak to students. Photo by Theo Moye

Another industry speaker to visit the University was local filmmaker and pop-up cinema entrepreneur David Salas. David worked with the students to curate their own pop-up cinema event, asking them to prepare and present a series of short films for the general public in the Bill Douglas Museum at the University of Exeter. The six groups of students put on a varied and exciting programme of films, each spanning different genres, styles and languages.

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During the course of this year, we hope to let you know the progress of these students as they embark on their next term of study at the London Film School.

The students are due to attend the Berlinale festival, taking place from the 5 – 15 February. If you wish to follow the festival online via Twitter, search for the following hashtags #MAIFB, #Berlinale and #BerlinaleMoments

For more information about the MA International Film Business programme, please visit the College of Humanities website.

Day two at Berlin Film Festival, part two

Dr Will Higbee, Senior Lecturer in French, Director of Programmes (Film) and Deputy Director of the Humanities Graduate School, is currently at the Berlinale, the Berlin International Film Festival.

Pt 2: films

After a morning of workshop discussion, I then spent the afternoon at a couple of screenings for two very different films at very different venues that emphasise the diversity of filmmaking talent on offer at the Berlinale.

Firstly I went to see celebrated Taiwanese auteur Tsai Ming-liang’s medium-length non-narrative film Xi You /Journey to the West screened in the fabulously retro Kino International on the East side of the city. The film begins with a long take shot in extreme-close up on the face of a man who is breathing heavily. Those familiar with Tsai’s work will recognize this description as part of the authorial style that has come to be known as a cinema of slowness– long takes, shot from a fixed position, observing characters either in close-up or in relation to their surroundings, where change and the perception of duration is almost undetectable. However, in Xi You Tsai appears to be pushing this idea of a cinema of slowness to its experimental limit. So in a film that runs for just under an hour we have single takes lasting around ten minutes (or at least that’s what it felt like) as a Buddhist monk (played by actor Lee Kang-sheng, who has featured in all of Tsai’s films to date) walks barefoot and incredibly slowly, so slowly that his movements are almost imperceptible. In contrast to the earlier scenes where he is shot in isolation, the movements of the monk are placed in the increasingly busy and populated streets of Marseilles. The monk, who is eventually joined by another unnamed man (played by veteran French actor Denis Levant), thus appears to advance in super-slow motion as the rest of the city moves around him as normal. The monk’s incongruous relationship to his surroundings is further highlighted by the fact that Tsai simply places his character amongst pedestrians (not actors) who greet his presence with a mixture of amusement and disbelief. What exactly Tsai is trying to say with this film, I couldn’t honestly tell you. However, if you simply immerse yourself in the cinematic spectacle before you on the screen, there is a hypnotic, poetic beauty to Lee Kang-sheng’s slow walking expedition of the Marseilles streets.

I left Tsai’s film, and returned, geographically speaking, to the very heart of the festival, the red carpet and luxurious surroundings of the Berlinale Palast. I went there to see one of the films in official competition, the Argentinian La Tercera orilla, directed by Celina Murga and produced by Martin Scorsese. With not a slow-walking monk in sight, the film explores the stifling atmosphere experienced by, Nicolas, the illegitimate teenage son of a respected local doctor in the provincial town of Paraná. Simply but elegantly shot, the film builds in an understated manner on the tensions between father and son, with Murga coaxing a powerful performance by the young actor playing Nicolas (Alián Devetac), and leading to an unexpected narrative climax. It is one of two Argentinian films in Official Competition at the Berlinale this year, though given its mostly understated delivery, I’m not sure it has enough to scoop the festival’s prestigious Golden Bear for best film. That said, it could well find success in one of the other categories, such as Best Actor for Devetac.

Speaking of awards, I ended the day at an ‘in conversation’ event with British director Ken Loach, an informal prelude to tomorrow evening’s ceremony where Loach will be recognised for his hugely important contribution to British, European and World cinema over more than five decades. A packed crowd at the film museum in the Sony Centre (with many more looking on from outside, just to catch a glimpse of the director) listened to Loach speak eloquently about his career in cinema and the political and artistic convictions that have lead him to direct more than twenty feature films as well as numerous documentaries and TV films. It was a privilege to attend the event but seeing the size and appreciation of the crowd in Berlin did make me wonder if enough recognition will ever be given to Loach back in the UK, considering the respect for him that exists in Germany, France and Spain and his position as one of the most important European directors of the last fifty years.

Will

Find out more about our MA International Film Business.

Day two at Berlin Film Festival

Dr Will Higbee, Senior Lecturer in French, Director of Programmes (Film) and Deputy Director of the Humanities Graduate School, is currently at the Berlinale, the Berlin International Film Festival.

Part 1: Emerging patterns in distribution and marketing

Another packed day at the Berlinale began with coffee and croissants followed by a lively and very insightful master class from Anna Higgs, Commissioning Executive for Film 4.0, the digital arm of Film 4. The master class formed part of the ‘Making Waves’ workshops, to which I was kindly invited as a guest of the Berlin dbbd and LFS. Anna was the driving force at Film 4.0 behind the A Field in England – director Ben Wheatley’s low budget, psychedelic English civil war thriller. As well as adopting a cinematically original approach to the film’s historical subject, A Field in England was experimental due to its simultaneous release in multiple formats and across multiple digital platforms, as well as being screened (without ad-breaks) in a prime-time Friday night slot on Film 4 in July 2013.

The reason this was such a bold move was that the film’s distribution by-passed the traditional series of windows that see a film rolled out over a period of months from cinemas, to pay-per-view/VOD, to rent and buy on DVD and finally on TV. Defying industry logic that suggested no one would go to the cinema if they could watch the film at home for free, A Field in England actually outperformed expectations for a film of this size across all platforms. After going into a detailed analysis of why this distribution strategy worked for this particular film, Anna then responded to questions about the current state of distribution for low-budget/independent cinema today. Her broad conclusion was that the ‘one size fits all approach’ that has to date dominated distribution strategies (and for the most part benefitted Hollywood) is no longer sustainable in a multi-platform, digital age. Instead, producers need to work with distributors to create a bespoke release strategy for each film, using all the digital means at their disposal to engage audiences. For an example as to how this can be achieved, see the Film 4 Digital Masterclass on A Field in England. http://www.afieldinengland.com/masterclass/

Next it was a quick bus ride across town for a late morning session at the ‘Berlinale Talents’, a programme of activities across six days, organized by the festival to support emerging talent within the European film industry. The session I attended was moderated by Ben Gibson (Director of the London Film School) and saw Danish producer Louise Vesth talk about her work on the latest Lars Von Trier film, Nymphomaniac Pt I, as a case study for exploring questions of strategic branding, bespoke marketing campaigns for individual territories, and using innovative strategies on social media in order to successfully distribute ‘difficult’ films. Though Von Trier’s multimillion dollar production and transnational cast of Hollywood stars and European A-listers, which has generated a stir due to its graphic sexual content and the way that the actors’ bodies were digitally replaced with body doubles, is far removed from Wheatley’s low budget ensemble cast in A Field in England, what the speakers from both sessions shared was an insistence on the need for bespoke distribution strategies in order for more challenging and creative films to find a place in the market.

Part 2 will follow later today!

Will

Find out more about our MA International Film Business.

Day one at the Berlin Film Festival

Dr Will Higbee, Senior Lecturer in French, Director of Programmes (Film) and Deputy Director of the Humanities Graduate School, is currently at the Berlinale, the Berlin International Film Festival.

The end of a very exciting first day at the Berlinale; after sorting out the all-important accreditation badge and trying desperately to pick up tickets for some of the day’s screenings – most tickets for badge holders are snapped up first thing in the morning or booked the day before – I headed off to the Sony Centre for meetings with Ben Gibson, Director of the London Film School (LFS). Here at the Berlinale, the LFS are key collaborators in ‘Making Waves’: a MEDIA funded initiative that brings together students from film schools across Europe to participate in workshops with industry professionals, focusing on emerging strategies in distribution and exhibition.

During the course of the morning, I met Lizzie Francke, Senior Development & Production Executive at the BFI’s Film Fund and executive producer of André Singer’s documentary Night Will Fall (2013). Singer’s film, which is being premiered at the Berlinale, explores a ‘missing’ film by Alfred Hitchcock. In 1945, Hitchcock was approached to edit a documentary on German wartime atrocities, based on the footage of the recently liberated concentration camps shot by British and Soviet film units. Legend has it that when Hitchcock first saw the footage from the camps that would form the basis for his documentary, he was so traumatised that he stayed away from Pinewood Studios for a week. Singer’s documentary explores the political reasons why this sobering and at times distressing documentary was quickly shelved and retraces the story of the unfinished film that became known as the ‘missing Hitchcock’.

In the afternoon I moved on with colleagues from the LFS to the European Film Market: the business end of the Berlinale. This is one of the places that students on our MA International Film Business will visit on their field trip to the festival next year and is an excellent introduction to the importance of the international festival as a key hub for producers, distributors and exhibitors. The visit to the European Film Market will allow our students to begin to see how what they are learning on the MA is applied to the real world of the international film business. It will also provide them with unique and exciting networking opportunities with producers, directors and industry executives, as well as the chance to make professional contacts that could prove useful for final dissertation projects.

Finally, I went to my first film of the Berlinale, Casse / Scrapyard (2013) by a young French director called Nadège Trebal (a director whom I must admit I’d not heard of before today). The film is an observational documentary that takes place in a scrapyard on the outskirts of Marseilles, where people search for car parts to repair cars. I was intrigued by how the director would treat the film’s quirky subject matter and dutifully queued with other festival-goers at the Cinemax, hoping to snap up one of the few remaining tickets to the screening. There was no way, I told myself, that I was going to let my first day at the Berlinale pass without seeing one of the films selected for the festival. My patience in line was rewarded with a highly original, beautifully shot and totally engrossing documentary. At times, Trebal’s approach to the subjects of her film made me think of the work by the legendary French director Agnès Varda, for the way that it respectfully gave space and a voice to members of French society who are too-often marginalized, while creating cinematic beauty from something as mundane as removing the spark plugs from a car engine. The film also offered an eloquent statement on experiences of immigration and integration in France by simply allowing its working-class (and for the most part immigrant) protagonists the space to tell their stories while working in the scrapyard. Trebal seems to have a rare talent for opening up a genuine dialogue with those before the camera, and responded in an equally generous fashion to questions after the screening. In the end the Q&A ran for almost 45 minutes – a clear indication of the enthusiasm for the film amongst the audience. The unexpected find of the festival? Maybe I’m letting a fantastic end to my first day at the Berlinale impair my critical judgment. (I don’t think so). I’m certainly looking forward to seeing where this talented young French filmmaker goes next.

Will

Find out more about our MA International Film Business.

Hilary Mantel reads her latest piece

Hilary Mantel (centre) flanked by Professor Nick Kaye and Professor Helen Taylor

Hilary Mantel CBE, one of the country’s most distinguished living novelists and a University of Exeter honorary graduate, read from her latest Man Booker Prize winning novel Bring Up the Bodies to a packed Alumni Auditorium last Thursday, 11 October. Bring Up the Bodies was announced as the latest winner of the prestigious literary accolade on Tuesday 16 October.

Bring Up the Bodies is the sequel to Mantel’s previous Man Booker Prize winner Wolf Hall, which is a study of Thomas Cromwell, the man who engineered the dissolution of the monasteries and the execution of Anne Boleyn. Wolf Hall won not only the Man Booker 2010 but also the inaugural Walter Scott Prize and the US National Book Critics Circle Award. Testimony to Mantel’s gifts as a great storyteller, Wolf Hall is also the biggest-selling Booker prize winner to date.

The evening was introduced by Professor Helen Taylor, the College of Humanities Fellow for Arts and Culture. Professor Taylor gave an introduction to Hilary Mantel, talking about her career in general and her recent successes. When asked what she would spend her Booker Prize money on, Hilary replied “sex, drugs & rock ‘n’ roll”, before acknowledging that there wasn’t much of this to be found in East Devon so she would pay off her mortgage instead.

Hilary read an excerpt from Bring Up the Bodies, humorously bringing the characters to life. There was time for a few questions from the packed audience, which comprised of members of the public, students and staff of the University, and members of the University Council, including Chair of Council and alumna Sarah Turvill. Hilary spoke about how her recent works are being adapted for the stage and BBC television, and how she would like to work on more big historical fiction once the Cromwell trilogy is completed.

Mantel, a former teacher and social worker, is only the third double winner of the prestigious Man Booker Prize, and was made an honorary graduate of the University in a ceremony at the Streatham Campus on July 17 2012. She moved to the westcountry in the spring of 2011.

Professor Helen Taylor said: “Hilary Mantel’s literary output is the most brilliantly original and varied of any contemporary writer. In 2011, Hilary Mantel became an honorary graduate of the University of Exeter and we in the College of Humanities are delighted to appoint her as Honorary Visiting Professor.”