Tag Archives: film

Editing a Special Journal Issue – Chat with Liz Harvey-Kattou

In June 2018, my friend Dr Liz Harvey-Kattou (@lizharvey99), a lecturer in Hispanic Culture at the University of Westminster, tweeted about the publication of a special issue of Studies in Spanish and Latin American Cinemas on the topic of Central American Cinema, edited by herself and Amanda Alfaro, (a PhD student from Costa Rica). When I saw her tweet, I messaged Liz to ask about her experience of editing the journal issue. I was intrigued to know more about the whole process, not having embarked on such a project myself in my academic career to date. Liz replied with really interesting and helpful advice about the venture. We decided to have a Skype session to talk about it in more detail as I felt that Liz’s recent experience and excellent insights would make a very useful blog post for anyone interested in pursuing such a task. I have edited our conversation for clarity.

 

Liz, firstly, thanks for agreeing to chat with me about this! Your insights will be valued, I’m sure. First off, what gave you and Amanda the idea for the special issue? Why did you think it was important there be a publication dedicated to the topic of Central American Cinema in the 21st century?

No problem, I’m happy to share my experience! My PhD dealt with national identity in Central American literature and cinema and there is currently not much scholarship on this topic. In fact, Amanda and I are the only two people looking solely at Central American cinema in the UK! Though there are a number of individuals in Costa Rica studying this topic too. We became aware of an emerging interest in Central American cinema more broadly, with Guatamalan film Ixcanul winning a host of awards in 2015, a couple of Central American films appearing on Netflix for the first time and a growing awareness in the cinematic production of various Central American nations on film festival circuits. We felt well-placed to complete this project given the centrality of the framework of Central American cinema to our work, although it was not an ideal time to embark on such a venture: I had just finished my PhD and was precariously employed at that point and Amanda was in the process of undertaking her PhD.

 

Sounds like you both invested a lot of time and effort into the process! Why did you opt for an edited special journal issue rather than another format, an edited book for example?

There were two main reasons for this: 1) we wanted to get the issue out quickly and knew the book process would take a bit longer; and 2) we wanted to make use of the journal’s infrastructure in relation to peer review, for example. Studies in Spanish and Latin American Cinemas was our number one choice due to its significance for the field.

 

That makes sense! How did you approach pitching the idea to Studies in Spanish and Latin American Cinemas? What factors influenced this choice? Was there a formula/template to follow for pitching the issue or did you have a bit of freedom as to how you did this?

Our first choice was Studies in Spanish and Latin American Cinema due to its significance for the field of Hispanic visual culture. They had previously featured a special issue on Cuban cinema and it seemed like a good fit for our project. Our experience of the process was somewhat informal. We initially contacted the editors to establish whether they might be interested in receiving a proposal for a special issue on the topic. We then sent the proposed Call for Papers, which in the end formed the basis for our jointly-written introduction to the journal issue, to the editor. Her response was positive and we worked out a timeline with her.

 

You mentioned the Call for Papers there. How did you go about soliciting articles for the issue? How did this process pan out? Were there any particular hurdles at this stage? What would you do differently, if pursuing a similar project in the future?

We wrote the Call for Papers and distributed it widely. We were particularly keen for scholars based in the US and Central America to contribute. We asked for the submission of a 300-word abstract initially and were completely shocked at the number of submissions (around 24 in total)! We realised, with hindsight, that we should have made the Call for Papers more specific. We had deliberately left it as open as possible because we weren’t sure how much interest there would be! We had an array of really interesting proposals on documentary filmmaking, for example, but decided to focus on feature-length productions as that is where our interest lies.

In terms of narrowing down the submissions, we thought about how the different proposed articles would fit together. We were keen to have a film from every country in Central America though that ultimately wasn’t feasible. In the end, we had an article with an overview of the field, one on distribution, film festivals and the effect of these elements on the aesthetics of filmmaking and the remainder of the articles focused on specific films from various regions. We looked for a coherent narrative across the different contributions when trying to narrow it down. There were so many interesting proposals we had to reject that just did not fit, for example one on sports figures in Central American film. But it just didn’t work well with the other contributions and so we had to reject it. That bit was tough!

 

In addition to narrowing down the contributions, what else were you responsible for as editor? How would you describe your role as journal issue editor? How did you divide the labour between yourself and your fellow editor?

One of my main tasks as editor was translating reviews into Spanish for the Spanish contributors. I also had responsibility for editing the language used in the articles while Amanda did a lot of the communications. Amanda and I have known each other for some time as we both worked with the same supervisor at UCL. We were able to work well together because of this. We both read all of the articles numerous times and were very familiar with them by the end of the process. In effect, most things were done twice by both of us! It was great working with someone else on this as I think I would have questioned myself a lot if I had embarked on such a project on my own. It was really helpful having someone to check stuff over, especially when a lot was done in Spanish. We would often meet up and read the articles together, going over them with fine tooth comb. We also wrote the introduction together. It was very much a joint venture!

 

I’m a real fan of collaborative projects for this very reason! What about the peer review process? What was that like? Would you do anything differently if embarking on a similar project in the future?

Prior to peer review, we collected in the final articles. The peer review was organised by the journal, rather than by us as editors. It was a long process and a few of the articles had to go through double peer review, in the end. What we should have done was an initial informal peer review ourselves, swapping the various articles amongst the contributors, for example. Had we done so, we would have realised that there were some incongruities in terms of style, in part due to the translation of some of the articles from Spanish into English, and in terms of the preferences of the journal’s editorial board, for aesthetic analysis over historical overviews for example. This is definitely something we learned from the process!

 

What was the timeframe of the whole process?

It took about 2 years in total. It should have actually been three months short of that. I think that’s pretty good going!

 

I’ll say! That’s amazing. What did you most enjoy about the process?

For me, the most enjoyable thing was getting the actual journal out. That was really exciting! I also enjoyed the networking, making new contacts and getting to know people’s work. We were aware of some of the contributors and their work prior to this but there were others who were new to us, particularly ECRs and people moving into the field.

 

And what did you least enjoy?

The peer review process – especially being the go-between between the contributors and the journal. You feel like you’re on the side of the contributor and it was awful having to pass on negative feedback as you don’t want to knock someone’s confidence. There was also a lot of going back and forth in some cases which involved a lot of work for us as editors. It was all worth it in the end though!

 

Any final points of advice for anyone wishing to pursue a similar project?

I guess, this sort of thing that we are doing now with the chat and blog post! Try and talk to people who have done this and can give advice – especially at a similar career stage and/or who’ve done it recently.

 

Thanks, Liz! It has been so great to chat about this process with you and I do hope this blog is useful to anyone interested in pursuing such an editing project. Your experience and advice should certainly prove valuable!

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Silencing Snow White: Blancanieves (Berger, 2012) (BAFTSS 3rd Annual Conference 2015)

As described in my last post, I recently attended the 3rd annual BAFTSS conference at Manchester Metropolitan University (16th-18th April 2015).  While my last post provided an overview of my experience at the conference, in this post I discuss my panel and presentation in more detail.

Myself and three colleagues – Dr Francisca Sánchez Ortiz (Manchester Metropolitan University), Dr Paula Blair (Newcastle University) and Dr Lorna Muir (University of Aberdeen) – proposed a panel entitled ‘Performing Woman/Women: Visual Representations of Body, Voice and Space’.  You can read our panel proposal and individual abstracts here.  As the panel title indicates, body, voice, gender and space constituted the thematic and conceptual constellation at the heart of all of our papers.  Alongside my paper were the following presentations:

  • ‘Adaptation and the Problems of Representation: Dead Female Bodies and Human Waste in The Bridge’ – Francisca Sánchez Ortiz (Manchester Metropolitan University).
  • ‘Mediated Women in Post/Conflict Northern Ireland – Paula Blair (Newcastle University).
  • ‘Hearing Her: Voice, Gender and Performing Surveillance Systems’ – Lorna Muir (University of Aberdeen).

All four of us were concerned with the interrelations amongst body, voice and space in contemporary feminist contexts.  The strength of the panel lay in its expansive and inclusive scope, encompassing visual media such as cinema, television and installations from a range of diverse contexts including contemporary Spain, the US-Mexico border, Post/Conflict Northern Ireland and contemporary Hollywood cinema.

My presentation – ‘Silencing Snow White: Blancanieves (Berger, 2012)’ – launched our panel and focused, as the title suggests, on Pablo Berger’s black and white adaptation of the Snow White narrative, set in 1920s Spain.  While I offer an overview of my presentation here, if interested you can view my accompanying Prezi here and listen to an early practice version of my paper here.  An earlier response to the film can be found here.

I began by discussing the manifold ways in which Blancanieves silences its eponymous protagonist: as a child in lidded glass crib at the beginning of the film (Figure 1) and as a young woman and a silent spectacle at the end of the film (Figure 2).  As a means of analysing Snow White and her absent voice, I opened with a quotation from Mary Ann Doane on the transposition of the voice onto the body and intertitles in silent cinema and proposed to examine three aspects of Blancanieves: the body as silent spectacle, the intertitles in terms of who speaks and music in its relation to the maternal.

Figure 1: The Silencing of Blancanieves Part I
Figure 1: The Silencing of Snow White Part I
Figure 2: The Silencing of Snow White Part II
Figure 2: The Silencing of Snow White Part II

My discussion of the body centred on my initial approach to the film as a potentially feminist rewriting of the Snow White narrative in Blancanieves.  I considered the way in which the film dispenses with certain fairy-tale tropes which are difficult to reconcile with a feminist position, such as the Prince Charming character and the dismissal of the Snow White character as passive and maternal.  By opting to have one of the dwarves, Rafa, save Blancanieves and to replace her as the dwarves’ caretaker with cross-dressing dwarf Josefa, the film enacts a feminist, perhaps even queer, rewriting of the Snow White tale.  That said, the silencing of Snow White across manifold levels in the film tempers any feminist potential it might hold.  Her formal silencing – in that this is a silent film – conjoins with her physical stifling in the film.  She is silenced both as an infant and as a young woman, contained within glass cribs and coffins as seen above, as well as throttled by her evil stepmother’s henchman, her breath literally squeezed from her throat.  As a means of relating this to voice and cinema, I drew upon Kaja Silverman’s work in which she discusses the construction of the female subject as a body and champions the notion of the disembodied voice as a feminist strategy – a possibility that formally escapes the women in silent cinema.

Building on this idea of the stifled female voice in silent cinema, I turned to the film’s intertitles.  Various voices make themselves heard through the film’s intertitles, including those of the film’s third-person omniscient narrator, Blancanieves’ father, Blancanieves herself, her stepmother, the dwarves and Pepe, Blancanieves’ pet chicken.  The voice missing from these intertitles is the voice of Snow White’s mother, which is of particular significance when considering theoretical interventions focused on voice and cinema.  Such frameworks, featured in the work of Doane, Britta Sjorgen and Michel Chion, frequently draw on psychoanalysis and as a result draw heavily on the notion of the maternal voice as a means of conceptualising the spectator’s experience of cinematic sound.

While the maternal voice is absent in terms of the intertitles, I argued that there is an interesting point of connection between voice and the maternal through the music in Blancanieves.  The mother of the eponymous protagonist dies in the opening scenes.  However, she posthumously reappears at other points in the film.  Such appearances are connected to music.  As an example, consider the scene in which a young Blancanieves sits beneath the table, sulking because her father has not attended her first communion.  A flamenco rhythm begins and an image of a gramophone followed by a moving image of her mother dancing and singing appears superimposed on the tablecloth.

The lyrics of the song are as follows:

Te busco y no te puedo encontrar/

Te busco y no te puedo encontrar/

Te llamo y no me contestas/

No sé por dónde estarás

(I look for you but I cannot find you/

I look for you but I cannot find you/

I call you and you don’t answer me/

I don’t know where you might be).

The notion of searching for something and not being able to find it, of calling out for someone and not receiving a response chimes with the absence of the maternal voice within this film.  In a later scene, Blancanieves performs to one of her mother’s records for her father, her image morphing into that of her mother during the performance indicating the connection between music, memory and the maternal in this film.  Music in Blancanieves thus renders the maternal voice present, audible in a film which otherwise formally stifles not just female, but all vocal presences.

But what’s even more striking about this is the fact that the voice we hear is not that of Inma Cuesta, the actress who plays Blancanieves’s mother.  Rather, it is the voice of Catalan singer Sílvia Pérez Cruz (Figure 3).  In other words, the maternal voice conceals another female voice that represents not just the repression of female voices, but also those of peripheral nationalities in the Spanish context.

Figure 3: The Silencing of Silvia
Figure 3: The Silencing of Silvia

Relating the relationship between music and the maternal to theoretical explorations of voice and cinema, I drew once again upon Sjogren who describes ‘female voices-off’ as ‘expressly musical’ (65) and upon Chion who draws a connection between the recorded voice and death: ‘Ever since the telephone and gramophone made it possible to isolate voices from bodies, the voice naturally has reminded us of the voice of the dead’ (46).  Given that Blancanieves’ mother dies at the start of the film, the film draws clear connections between music, the maternal voice and death.  At this point in my presentation, I had rapidly ran out of time so had to come to a rather abrupt halt!  I’m still thinking through the significance of voice in Blancanieves and hope to work further on this in the near future.  Given that this is a developing area of interest for me, I would be especially keen to hear any feedback you might have so please do not hesitate to get in touch via Twitter (you’ll find me at @FionaFNoble) or via the comments function below.

BAFTSS 3rd Annual Conference (16th-18th April 2015, Manchester Metropolitan University)

A couple of months back I attended the 3rd annual conference of BAFTSS, the British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies.  I’ve been meaning to write up my reflection on the conference ever since I got back but I’ve been busy with other things (more to come on that in future posts!) that I’m only just getting round to it now.

The conference took place between Thursday 16th and Saturday 18th April 2015 at Manchester Metropolitan University.  Day 1 kicked off with a pre-conference session aimed at postgraduates and early career researchers entitled ‘The Road to Publication of your PhD: A Q&A Discussion with Publishers Attending the Conference’.  The event was hosted by Matthew Frost of Manchester University Press and Laurel Plapp of Peter Lang and was, in my opinion, one of the highlights of the conference.  As an ECR myself, this session was extremely useful in terms of learning more about the process of turning doctoral research into a viable book proposal.  Matthew opened the discussion by talking about the mechanics of the academic publishing industry before offering advice on how to prepare a book proposal.  His key points were as follows:

  • When trying to decide on a publisher, look on your bookshelves – who publishes the books you read/work with in your research?
  • Contact a reputable publisher; find their guidelines for proposals online and follow these – DO NOT send a general proposal around multiple publishers!
  • Source who to send it to – be sure to spell their name correctly!
  • DO NOT send your entire thesis saying you can rework it; send a proper proposal.
  • DO NOT call your work your ‘PhD thesis’; refer to it as your ‘research’.
  • Demonstrate your knowledge of your market and wider readership.
  • Think about whether you want to publish your thesis as a monograph or as a series of journal articles.

Matthew handed over to Laurel who gave us some more specific advice about how to prepare your PhD thesis as a book proposal.  She began by noting some differences between a thesis and a book, before giving us some questions to think about with regard to the transition between the two.  These included:

  1. What’s your goal?
  2. Who is your audience?
  3. Does your thesis require substantive revisions?

She encouraged us to think about the concept of ‘nearby audiences’ when considering possible markets for book projects and gave us a very helpful handout with further tips and advice.

Following this introductory session, we were officially welcomed to the conference by Professor Phil Powrie (Chair of BAFTSS) and Dr Andy Moor before we attended the first of the conference’s parallel sessions.  The session I attended was called ‘Genre, Gender and Transforming Concepts’ and featured papers on gender in 1990s detective dramas, heroes and villains in Westerns and the absence of queer visibility and its relationship to sound in Italian cinema.  Given my interest in queer theory in the context of Spanish cinema, I was particularly interested in the latter paper, presented by Elena Boschi (Liverpool Hope University), in which she discussed the queer resonances of sound and music channelled through the queer stadom of composer Gianna Nannini in the film Sea Purple.  Elena’s paper gave me much food for thought in terms of the relations amongst music, inclusivity and otherness in terms of queer characters in Spanish cinema.

The rest of the day’s schedule suffered from a few unfortunate incidents.  The Q&A with Nicola Shindler of Red Production Company, the studio behind Last Tango in Halifax and the recent Cucumber, Banana and Tofu, was unfortunately unable to attend.  In her place was Jason Wood of Home, Manchester, whose unapologetic views of what he termed ‘specialist cinema’ coupled with his repeated derogatory (read: misogynistic) remarks about women involved in cinema (from Cher to Jennifer Aniston to Judi Dench) only served to create a disgruntled audience.  Furthermore, the planned film screening of Christine Geraghty’s ‘Desert Island Film’ Dance Hall (Charles Crichton, GB, 1950) did not go ahead as the film had not been sourced for the event.

Day 2 began with another series of parallel panels.  I attended the panel entitled ‘Representations and Performances of Masculinity in Contemporary Comedies’ and thoroughly enjoyed presentations by Claire Jenkins (University of Leicester) on ‘Parenting, paternity and male anxiety in the contemporary mom-com’ and by Lauren Jade Thompson (University of Warwick) on ‘“Hard” and “soft” masculinity in Crazy, Stupid, Love’ (the latter not just because of all the Ryan Gosling stills!).  Lauren’s paper was excellent, highlighting the trend for greater visibility of the soft masculine body in contemporary rom-coms before conducting a close analysis of the distinct ways in which Cal (Steve Carell) and Jacob (Gosling) are coded as soft and hard respectively in the film.  Other highlights of Day 2 included Socha Ní Fhlainn’s stimulating presentation on Nolan’s puzzle films and Martin Paul Eve’s plenary session on open access, in which we learned about open access expectations for REF2020.  I also presented my paper on Blancanieves on Day 2 – but I’ve written on that elsewhere.

Day 3 of the conference began with a particularly stimulating set of parallel panels and I struggled to choose which to attend.  In the end, I went for ‘Questions of Childhood’.  The session was excellent.  The panel was composed of postgraduate researchers whose presentations were extremely professional and highly engaging.  Eve Benhamou (University of Bristol) offered an insight into the generic hybridity of Frozen while Maohui Deng (University of Manchester) discussed the extent to which children perform.  The session was brought to a close by Karrie Ann Grobben (University of Exeter) whose paper compared The Wizard of Oz with Tim Burton’s recent adaptation of Alice in Wonderland in terms of their cinematic construction of girlhood.  Her arguments were accompanied by detailed close analysis of her key texts and provided intellectual fodder for my own work on the child.

Overall, I enjoyed the BAFTSS conference as it gave me the opportunity to present in a panel alongside three of my colleagues and friends (more on this here) as well as to meet other postgraduates and early career researchers working on cinema in the UK.  However, I have a couple of criticisms.  In the first instance, I think there were too many parallel panel sessions.  Attendance at the conference was modest and with five different panels typically on offer in each session, panels could not possibly be well attended.  I know of at least two panels where the presenters outnumbered the audience!  Furthermore, with five different panels to choose from, there was so much I missed out on that I would have been interested in seeing had I had the option.  A second criticism concerns the length of each parallel panel session.  In my panel, each presenter ran short of time.  The length of our session had been altered in the final conference programme in comparison with earlier drafts and when we looked at the programme more closely, we realised that the parallel sessions were all different in length, ranging from 1 hour 20 minutes to 1 hour 50 minutes, regardless of how many speakers there were in each panel.  While I appreciate that the organisation of conferences is a complex process and that things are bound to slip through the net, I do think BAFTSS would do well to consider such aspects when organising next year’s conference.