The Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television has just published its latest issue, including a book review I wrote on the academic reader The Europeanness of European cinema: identity, meaning, globalization. Edited by Mary Harrod, Mariana Liz and Alissa Timoshkina, this new anthology on the fast evolving area of European cinema, offering some of the most recent scholarly insights and reflections on current hot issues, is most welcome. You can read the book review here.
Yesterday, we had an excursion with our Ghent University Master students in Film and Television Studies. In the morning, we went to visit the Flemish public broadcaster VRT in Brussels. In the afternoon, we visited the great Film Theaters exhibition at the Caermersklooster in Ghent. The exhibition has two parts: one with beautiful contemporary photographs (by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre) of USA movie palaces from the first half of the 20th century that are now in decay, and one on the lively film theater culture in Ghent.
This ‘Ghent cinema city’ exhibition was made possible by Lies Van de Vijver and Daniel Biltereyst, both from the CIMS research group to which I belong (Centre for Cinema and Media Studies, Ghent University). It shows the long and rich cinema history of Ghent, with more than 70 film theaters and many more fascinating stories – from the fire in the erotic cinema Leopold and the collaboration history of the movie palace Capitole to the story of the very first and trendsetting real multiplex cinema in Europe. Until 3 January 2016, you can visit it in the Caermersklooster, but this great exhibition definitely deserves a permanent place somewhere in Ghent!
The second and final day of the conference ‘European Cinemas, Intercultural Meetings: Aesthetics, Politics, Industry, History’ is almost over. The conference is organized by the Film Studies section of the European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA) and takes place at the University of Copenhagen. I was an Erasmus exchange student at this university eight years ago, so besides being an academic experience, it’s also a quite nostalgic experience.
Yesterday, I gave a presentation on the concept of ‘regional transnationalism’, thereby departing from the the historically grown complex interrelationship between regional, national and transnational dimensions in government support for film production in Belgium. It’s been a very interesting and engaging two days, full of encounters with a large variety of current research trends in European film studies. To learn in two days’ time about the cultural backgrounds of Japanese new wave filmmaker Hiroshi Teshigahara, whose father was an important modernist ikebana (Japanese flower arrangement) artist, about the results of the large-scale MeCETES project (Mediating Cultural Encounters through European Screens) on contemporary European film and TV drama, about ethical aspects in recent European films about immigration… A very enriching experience indeed!
The Cinematek in Brussels is programming a retrospective on the work of Philippine slow cinema director Lav Diaz. The filmmaker is also attending the retrospective to introduce some films, and to participate in a symposium on his work, organized last Tuesday at Cinema Zuid in Antwerp. In the morning there were two scholarly presentations on Lav Diaz’ cinema. In the afternoon, his latest film Storm Children was shown. It’s a beautifully black-and-white photographed contemplative documentary on the devastation left in the wake of typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Diaz’ cinema is not the most easy or accessible cinema, but can become very worthwhile if you’re open to a radical different (and ‘slow’) take on time and narrative in cinema. The screening of the film was followed by a very lively and open roundtable with Lav Diaz and actress Hazel Orencio.
Today, a conference on digitalization and movie magazines started at Ghent University, co-organized by the University of Kent. The conference took off with an interesting keynote talk by Eric Hoyt on the digitization of the trade magazine Variety and how the work of his team contributes to larger media history databases (cf. http://mediahistoryproject.org and http://projectarclight.org/). Throughout his talk, he made a plea (inspired by philology traditions) to value the time-consuming process of digitization for its own right, and not only as a first necessary step before the real interesting analytical content work can start. At the same time, Hoyt argues that this ‘new’ way of doing media history can only be truly valuable when combined with ‘traditional’ methods such as close reading and archival research. It’s a pity I already have to leave this conference after the first day, but it’s for a good reason: the bi-annual film studies conference of the European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA) is starting tomorrow…
The latest issue of the Dutch-language journal Wetenschappelijke Tijdingen includes my article ‘To promote the Dutch language film culture’. The introduction of a Flemish film production policy (1945-1965). This article analyses the development of Belgian film policy after the Second World War, until 1965, with a special focus on the beginning of the government’s policy regarding film production in Flanders.
When the first (attempted) measures to support film production in Belgium originated after the Second World War, like the economically motivated reduced taxation system and the Cinematographic Service aimed at educational films, these invariably were conceived within a Belgian unitary framework. However, when plans were made at the beginning of the 1960’s to create a selective and culturally inspired film susidy mechanism by means of a Belgian Film Institute, the Flemish stakeholders demanded that the Institute would consist of a dual structure divided according to language. The Flemish pursuit of cultural autonomy resulted in the Royal Decree of 14 November 1964 to promote the Dutch language film culture, which meant the beginning of systematic and selective culturally motivated film production aid in Flanders. A film commission was established that advised the Minister of Culture about film production subsidies, taking into acount the Belgian nationality, the Dutch language character and cultural nature of the film projects. The objective was to create in this way a new recognisable Flemish cinema of good quality.
In the Ghent cultural/economic/housing site Zebrastraat, there’s an exposition on the Belgian animation film pioneer Raoul Servais (until 8 November). Born in 1928, Raoul Servais is an autodidact whose work is mostly characterized by a moral or political message, as is clearly exemplified by his international breakthrough film Chromophobia (1965). Concerning his style, he is often inspired by other Belgian artists, such as Constant Permeke for Pegasus (1973), or Paul Delvaux for my favorite Servais film, Nachtvlinders/Papillons de nuit (1997).In 1979, he was the first Belgian filmmaker to win a Golden Palm in Cannes, for his short surrealist film Harpya, in which he combines animation and live action techniques.
When I interviewed Servais a few years ago for my research, I would not have guessed that the now 87-year-old filmmaker would still release any new films. Nevertheless, his new film Tank had the honor to open the Film Fest Gent and is now playing continuously at the exposition. It is shown in a claustrophobic cellar of the Zebrastraat site, which fits perfectly with the theme of this World War I film, inspired by the poem Le Tank of the French pacifist poet Pierre-Jean Jouve.