European Film, European Heritage, European Identity

europeanfilmnetworkThomas Elsaesser suggests that ‘European cinema distinguishes itself from Hollywood and Asian cinemas by dwelling so insistently on the (recent) past’. And, even if one takes the briefest of looks at the European films most visible to international audiences he would appear to have a point. From Germany’s The Lives of Others (2006) to the UK’s The King’s Speech (2010), historical dramas dominate mainstream European film production, their impact further increased by the fact that they often generate major national debates on the role of the past in contemporary national identity construction. One thinks, for example, of Nile Gardener’s jingoistic attack on the EU’s public celebration of The King’s Speech success at the Oscars (a film that it supported), or the debates generated in Germany on the ‘right’ of a West German director to tell the story about the East German Secret Police in The Lives of Others. At the same time, internationally, such films frequently function as a ‘shop window’ that can not only help to generate an audience for the domestic film industry, but can also support the wider heritage and tourist sector by attracting international visitors to the country.

 Network Lead:  Dr Alan O’Leary, University of Leeds

Institution Student Studentship Topic Principal Supervisor Second Supervisor
York Martina Lovascio Representing The Recent Past In European Film Andrew Higson (Theatre Film and Television, York) Dr Alan O’Leary (Italian/Modern Languages and Cultures, Leeds)
Leeds Michael Samuel Place and Policy and the Role of Heritage Paul Cooke (Centre for World Cinemas, Leeds) David Forrest (English, Sheffield)
Sheffield Daniel Clarke The limits of ‘Europeaness’ in European historical drama Jonathan Rayner (English, Sheffield) Duncan Petrie (Theatre Film and Television, York)

Given the importance of historical dramas within European film culture, they also unsurprisingly play a particularly important role within the cultural policy of both the EU and the Council of Europe. An examination of the types of historical dramas that are produced with the support of both these institutions, along with how they circulate and are consumed by audiences across and beyond the continent, allows us to explore the foundational principals of the ‘European project’, how European cultural policy instrumentalises European history to help generate a common understanding of what it means to be European, as well as to support the continent’s economic growth via the cultural, creative and heritage sectors, particularly in the face of the continent’s current economic crisis. The importance of history, film and heritage to an understanding of contemporary Europe can be seen particularly clearly, for example, in the current Horizon 2020 programme, where these issues are explicitly addressed in many of the project calls.

This network will explore the role played by European institutions in the production of European historical dramas, examining three interrelated sets of questions across the 3 proposed studentships:

  1. What role does European, national and regional cultural policy play in the production of historical dramas, how do filmmakers negotiate such policy and how does film production interact with the wider heritage sector?
  2. How do historical dramas extend, or delimit, the possibilities of historical representation? How do their various modes of emotional engagement with history underline, or reflect tensions in, the aims of the European heritage industry as a whole.
  3. How are historical dramas consumed across and beyond Europe? Who is their audience and what are the mechanisms of their consumption?

The six academic partners come from a range of disciplinary backgrounds, and all adopt a broad interdisciplinary approach to their chosen areas of study, drawing on methodologies from (inter alia) Modern Languages, History, English, Film and Television Studies, Cultural Studies, Sociology and Social Geography. The team are at various stages in their academic careers (from ECR to Professor) and all have strong publication records in relevant areas (Cooke European film and film policy, O’Leary, European film, historical film debates and popular culture, Rayner, national identity, film and history, Higson, heritage cinema, national and transnational cinema, Forrest, British historical drama, Petrie, national and regional cinema, film development). The network builds on previous and current collaboration between Sheffield, York and Leeds and a strategic focus in all three institutions to draw together and develop interdisciplinary strength in film studies (see recent investment in ‘Theatre, Film and Television’ at York, The Centre for World Cinemas and the Institute for Communication Studies at Leeds and the creation of The Sheffield Centre for Research in Film). The WR has one of the largest interdisciplinary groupings of scholars working on film and media in the country. This network will help to realize the potential of this regional critical mass. The project will also be firmly embedded within an international network of academic and non-academic partners (see ‘Interactions’ below). This wider network will not only provide excellent opportunities for the PGRs to gain both international and relevant professional experience (a key focus of the PGR training offered by WRoCAH), it will also provide the opportunity for the network to develop, along with an AHRC CFF major bid, a Horizon 2020 bid (we are specifically focused on the call: ‘Reflective Societies: Cultural Heritage and European Identities’).