Tag Archives: work

Transnational Cinematic Childhoods

LMS I
Figure 1: The Child and the Screen (Little Miss Sunshine)
In Spring 2018, I taught an Honours course entitled Transnational Cinematic Childhoods at the University of Aberdeen. It’s been on my to-do list since then to write a blog about the course as there was a lot of interest in the course when I tweeted about it at the time. Finally getting round to writing that post now! Life has been somewhat busy in the interim, what with retraining, finishing my book & having a baby! I’m sharing some insights here but I’m happy to share more in the way of course documentation if folks are interested. Just drop me a line either in the comments below or on Twitter (@FionaFNoble).
LMS II
Figure 2: The Child before the Screen (Little Miss Sunshine)
The aims of the course were to explore the ways in which cinema constructs children and to interrogate the significance of cinematic constructions of childhood (Figures 1 and 2). The word construction is key here. Children on/in film are just that. Constructions, representations, figures. Furthermore, cinematic depictions of children and childhood are typically shaped not by children but by adults. Adults write, edit, frame and direct children onscreen (Figure 3). That said, one cannot deny the agency and presence of the child actors who perform the roles of cinematic children. Indeed, child actors are often lauded for the power of their performances and praised for their authenticity and natural presence. Caught between these tensions, cinematic children are rich sites with regard to the human race and the big questions that inform our existence.
TVS I
Figure 3: Framing Children (The Virgin Suicides)
As cinematic figures, children onscreen carry significant symbolic weight. I proposed a flexibly broad definition of the child and childhood, encompassing adolescence and even adults grappling with difficult pasts (Figures 4 and 5). The child is a figure for what we once were and what we will never be again. The child carries connotations of innocence, of hope and of regeneration. But that which is innocent is subject to corruption. The child is also a site of cultural anxiety around which preoccupations concerning gender, sexuality, life and death cluster. And it is precisely these anxieties that my course sought to explore.
The corpus of the course was, as suggested by the course title, transnational in scope. It included films from the UK, US, Spain, France and Mexico. The corpus was as follows:
  • A Story of Children and Film (Cousins, 2013)
  • Little Miss Sunshine (Dayton/Faris, 2006)
  • The Virgin Suicides (Coppola, 1999)
  • Waterlilies (Sciamma, 2007)
  • The Spirit of the Beehive (Erice, 1973)
  • Raise Ravens (Saura, 1976)
  • The Devil’s Backbone (del Toro, 2001)
  • Pan’s Labyrinth (del Toro, 2006)
  • Who Can Kill A Child? (Serrador, 1976)
  • The Others (Amenábar, 2001).
The Others
Figure 6: Locating the Child (The Others)
There was an emphasis on Hispanic cinemas due to my expertise in that field. But the course was taught to students undertaking the Film and Visual Culture MA at Aberdeen so actively sought to make transnational links across the films studied. The categorisation of films along national lines is problematic in any case given the increasingly transnational character of funding streams and channels of exhibition and distribution. Many of the films chosen reflect this complexity. For example, The Others (Figure 6) is directed by Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar but filmed in English and stars Hollywood actress Nicole Kidman who hails from Australia. Is the film Spanish? Anglophone? A Hollywood production? All of the above? With these dynamics of transnationalism in mind, my students and I sought to trace a cinematic map of children and childhoods across national borders, while remaining sensitive to local and national specificities influencing childhood and its cinematic depictions.
Waterlilies I
Figure 7: Orienting the Child (Waterlilies)
Course readings were similarly diverse in scope, ranging from nationally specific readings of the films that pay particular attention to their sociohistorical production contexts to theoretical takes on the significance of cinematic children and childhoods. They included, as examples, Karen Lury’s The Child in Film: Tears, Fears and Fairytales, Emma Wilson’s Cinema’s Missing Children and Kathryn Bond Stockton’s The Queer Child; Or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century. I chose readings that complemented the films in question and that encouraged the students to think through the significance of cinematic children and childhoods in diverse ways (Figure 7).
The course was organised around five key themes with each theme spanning two weeks and encompassing two films as case studies:
  1. Framing Childhood (A Story of Children and Film / Little Miss Sunshine)
  2. Boundaries and Borders (The Virgin Suicides / Waterlilies)
  3. Childhood as Transition (The Spirit of the Beehive / Raise Ravens)
  4. Transnational Childhood (The Devil’s Backbone / Pan’s Labyrinth)
  5. Death and the Child (Who Can Kill A Child? / The Others).
Figure 8: Dead, Violent, Ghostly and Killer Kids (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone, Who Can Kill A Child?)
Across these themes, we asked questions of cinematic illustrations of children and childhood. We analysed child sexuality, the applications and implications of gender norms in relation to the child and childhood, violent children and child ghosts (Figure 8). We considered children as liminal, in transition, queer.
Because I was on an hourly paid fixed term contract while teaching this module and live a considerable distance from campus, I requested that my lecture and two hour seminar for the course be scheduled back-to-back. The only timeslot they could give me for this was 1-4pm on a Friday afternoon. I was convinced my students would be completely unimpressed at this but I was pleasantly surprised. The group of students who opted to take my course were the most dynamic, engaged and enthusiastic bunch of individuals I’ve had the pleasure of teaching in the 10 years I taught at university level. I always had to call the discussions to a close at 3:55pm as they had so much to say!! I think I was fortunate to have such a great group of students but I’ll also take some of the credit for compiling a course that inspired interest, debate and even controversy (we’ll skip over the one student who complained about the overtly feminist course content and that I was gender biased against him …).
Overall, this is undoubtedly the most successful course I’ve designed and taught. The students raved about it (for the most part) and wanted to know if I’d be back teaching them again the following year. It’s just a shame those in charge of hiring at the university have (thus far) not seen recruiting myself to the department as an option. I’ve not taught at university level since I delivered this course and it’s unlikely I’ll have the opportunity in the near future. But I want to share the details of this module in the meantime as its work I’m particularly proud of and would love to see it engaged with by others.
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Update – January 2019

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on here so I thought I’d write a little update blog on what I’ve been up to and why the blog has been somewhat neglected of late.

The end of January marks four years since I submitted my PhD thesis at the University of Aberdeen. In some ways it feels like just yesterday. In others, it feels like a long time ago. In the four years since I submitted, I have achieved a lot. I was awarded a fixed-term teaching contract at Durham University. I had such a fab time there. I love the north-east of England and really enjoyed working in the Hispanic Studies department there. My colleagues across the School of Modern Languages and Cultures were warm and welcoming. The students were engaged and motivated. And I got the opportunity to teach research-led sections across a variety of team-taught modules. In fact, my former colleague and PhD examiner Professor Santiago Fouz-Hernández contacted me earlier this evening to let me know that he asked his dissertation students why they had chosen to work on Spanish cinema and that they said they’d been inspired by my classes when they were in first year. Since my time in Durham, I became a mum and had a spell of maternity leave (though admittedly kept working on academic stuff during this time – work on my book, peer reviews, book reviews etc.). I worked part-time outwith academia for a while after my maternity leave before taking up a fixed-term contract as Associate Teaching Fellow in Film and Visual Culture at the University of Aberdeen. I was lucky to be asked to teach an Honours module on the topic of childhood in cinema and I had an absolute blast designing and delivering a course entitled Transnational Cinematic Childhoods. (I might well do a post on this at some point as I had a lot of interest in my syllabus on Twitter… Watch this space!!).

Last Spring, while working part-time as a waitress, teaching part-time on an hourly-paid contract, trying to keep my research going plus being a mum, I decided I couldn’t keep juggling all of the things. I applied for the PGDE in Secondary Education (French-Spanish) at Aberdeen and was offered a place. I quit my waitressing job. I’m still plugging away (admittedly, very slowly!) with my book manuscript though my deadline has now passed. I’m still applying for academic jobs. And I am almost halfway through my PGDE. Life is pretty hectic and I’ve just not had much time to dedicate to research-related activities and hence to post on the blog. One of my goals for 2019 is to resume my blog writing so I am going to try and post a bit more regularly in the coming months. We’ll see how this pans out …

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!

WISPS 2017: Virtual Shut Up and Writes

Today (Saturday 11th November 2017), I presented virtually on the phenomenon of virtual shut up and writes as part of a roundtable on Digital (R)evolutions in Academic Writing. I was honoured to be asked to participate in this panel by Niamh Thornton (you’ll find her on Twitter at @enortee) and delighted when she accepted my suggestion that I present something virtually. If you’re interested in viewing my presentation, it’s on YouTube and I’ve embedded it here:

 

(The) Power (of) Walking

(Image taken from: http://www.active.com/walking)

Due to a change in personal circumstances, I am not currently working in the academic sphere nor am I able to dedicate much, if any, time to my academic work. This is not to suggest that I’ve given up on academia. Far from it. In the last few months, I have edited and submitted the final version of a journal article following peer review (I wrote about this here), peer-reviewed three articles and I’m at present completing a book review. I have also very recently signed a book contract for my first monograph. With limited protected time for academic work, my usual working processes are no longer an option. Instead I’m having to find new ways and means of carving out valuable thinking and writing time.

One of the main ways I’m doing this is through walking. I’ve always, or at least for as long as I can remember, found walking both therapeutic and productive. I’m clearly not alone in this given the recent attention paid to concepts such as walking desks, walking meetings and the like (you can read about these phenomena here and here). When I was completing my PhD, I went for a walk every day. It was sometimes only a brief 10-minute stroll around the block, sometimes slightly longer. The main purpose of this walk, which I usually took after eating lunch, was to get out in the fresh air. But I also found the act of walking coupled with time spent not consciously thinking about whatever I was working on would often lead to breakthroughs in terms of my thoughts and ideas connected to my research. The act of allowing my mind to wander unanchored in conjunction with the physical exertion demanded by walking facilitate, for me at least, the emergence of new synergies.

To give a concrete example, earlier this year I was working on an article following peer review. The article contains two main strands of argumentation and one of the peer reviewers had commented that I should explicitly connect these two lines of thought and that this would reinforce my argument. Though in agreement, I could not see, in the little time I had to spend working on the edits, how I might do this. I spent a good few hours puzzling over this during some elusive #acwri time. I got nowhere. It was only when I went out for a walk, during the sleepy mid-afternoon period, that things clicked into place.

I am very lucky to live in an area with beautiful walks on my doorstep. I particularly enjoy walking away from roads where possible. I’ve recently devised a route around the village that takes me along a disused railway line which backs onto fields and then into our local country park before heading along a wooded path back home. There is something very relaxing about being surrounded by nature and away from houses, cars, roads, people. My plan is to keep walking in the hope that the thoughts, ideas and inspirations continue to flow in spite of the limited time I have available to act upon them.

What about you? Does walking aid your thinking? Are there any other activities you find similarly productive? I would love to hear others thoughts on this!

Post-PhD Precarity: A Rant

As those of you who follow me on Twitter may know, I recently passed my viva voce examination with minor corrections.  I completed these corrections a couple of weeks ago and, all being well, I should be submitting the final revised version of my thesis this week.  Since reaching this milestone, I have been asked a series of similar questions by several (uncountable) people including ‘So what are you doing now?’ and ‘Any luck on the job front?’.  These questions are difficult to answer.

In terms of what I’m doing now, I explain that despite being “finished” with the thesis, I’m not really finished.  I’m keen to publish the material I’ve produced throughout my doctoral research and I’m busy working away on various different projects connected to this goal.  I’ve got a couple of articles on the go – one on childhood temporalities, earlier versions of which you can read here and here, and one on seascapes and immigration, partly inspired by an earlier post on immigration and death which you can read here.  I’m also working simultaneously on a postdoctoral research application and a book project that will develop one of the chapters of my thesis on performance in post-Franco Spanish cinema, which I’ve previously written about on this blog (see here).

Continue reading Post-PhD Precarity: A Rant