INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE OF THE LEVERHULME FUNDED INTERNATIONAL NETWORK:
18th – 19th APRIL 2016, ROYAL HOLLOWAY, UNIVERSITY OF LONDON
Figuring filmic representations of the child is an important recent trend in cinema studies. Adult cultural investments in the child are acknowledged whilst the most exciting work simultaneously pushes at the boundaries of film theory to create a new cinematic politics of childhood in filmic portrayals of the child’s experience. This conference aims to take forward children’s perceptions of, and involvement in, screen representation. At the same time, it acknowledges the importance of the child in figuring ideas of nationhood in adult cultural and social consciousness, as it is explored through film.
Confirmed keynote speakers:
Professor Daniela Berghahn (Royal Holloway)
Professor Karen Lury (Glasgow)
Professor David Martin-Jones (Glasgow)
Schedule and Abstracts
The conference schedule is now available here:
RH-Conference-Schedule (pdf version)
RH-Conference-Schedule (rtf version)
Abstracts and biographical details for speakers are available here:
ABSTRACTS-Royal-Holloway-Conference (pdf version)
ABSTRACTS-Royal-Holloway-Conference (rtf version)
Keynote: Professor Daniela Berghahn (Royal Holloway) – The Child As Victim and Creator of Postnational Affiliations in Diasporic European Cinema
Keynote: Professor Karen Lury (University of Glasgow) – Children, objects and motion… balloons, bikes, kites and tethered flight
Keynote: Professor David Martin Jones (University of Glasgow) – Telling the Story of History with (to, or by) the Child: Non-National, National, and Transnational Takes
“Films from Le Cinema Cent Ans de Jeunesse, an international film education programme” with Mark Reid (BFI), chaired by Stephi Hemelryk Donald
“Engaging Young People with Difficult Pasts through Film”, with Paul Cooke and respondent Kelly Royds
Screening of Little Soldier followed by Q and A with director, Stella Corradi, and producer, Carol-Mei Barker, chaired by Emma Wilson
Photographs by Compass Web Design Ltd
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Conference review by Dr Fiona Noble (Durham University) in Spanish Cinephilia
I’m currently sitting in departures at Heathrow Terminal 5 having spent the last few days at Royal Holloway, University of London attending the Childhood and Nation in World Cinemas: Borders and Encounters since 1980 conference. With plenty time to kill before my flight, now seems as good a time as any to write up my experience of the conference – which, in short, was one of, if not the best conference I’ve been to in my academic career so far.
The conference is the culminating encounter in a series of events organised by the Leverhulme-funded network Childhood and Nation in World Cinemas: Borders and Encounters since 1980 (website here: http://childnationcinema.org). As part of my doctoral thesis focuses on cinematic representations of the child in contemporary Spain, this themed conference was right up my street and not to be missed. Interdisciplinary in scope, the conference encompassed a diverse range of papers, presentations and sessions all of which were concerned with children, nation and visual culture.
Day 1 commenced for me with the chairing of a panel on Education, which brought together three very distinct papers focuses on extremely varied subject matter, but nonetheless concerned with questions of pedagogy and didacticism in relation to the figure of the child both on screen and behind the camera. The papers worked so well together – it was almost like a preformed panel. Topics covered included the child as model of moral conduct in Cuban child-centred films (Dunja Fehimović), the teaching of Spanish film in GSCE and A-Level (Mark Goodwin) and the use of participatory video in the context of global/development education (Kelly Royds).
I presented my paper entitled Who Can Kill A Child? Childhood (and) Death in Contemporary Spanish Cinema in the second panel session alongside Jenny Doubt who discussed the depiction of AIDS orphans on screen in South Africa. Unfortunately the other speaker in our panel was unable to attend but discussion of issues surrounding the child, death, queerness, ethics, exploitation and manipulation was still very fruitful. This was followed by our first keynote from Karen Lury, which explored the significance of objects and motion in relation to children on screen. Through the analysis of a range of case studies featuring balloons, bikes and kites, Lury traced a geopoetics of air that was particularly concerned with father-child relations and with both the fun and fearful edges of childhood play.
The third panel session I attended dealt with the topic of sensuality and queer/female sexuality and included a thought-provoking paper by Davina Quinlivan on Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Falling through the lens of Freud and Cixous. This was followed by the second keynote presentation of the conference from David Martin-Jones which was entitled Telling the Story of History With (To or By) the Child: Non-national, National and Transnational Takes. Martin-Jones took three films as his case studies: The Year My Parents Went On Vacation (an example of the national); Seachd: The Inaccessible Pinnacle (non-national) and La casa muda (transnational).
Day 1 was brought to a close with a screening of the extremely impactful short film Little Soldier, starring the vibrant Zawe Ashton and introducing 10-year old Amaris Miller, whose luminous presence on screen was at once moving and thought-provoking. The film was conceived of by writer/director Stella Corraldi and producer Carol-Mei Barker, who joined us for a Q&A session. While many of us presenting at the conference work on cinematic representations of children, the dialogue between Corraldi and Barker, chaired by Barker, illuminated what goes on behind the scenes and dwelled on methods and approaches to engaging child actors. There were also two further presentations by Mark Reid of the BFI and Paul Cooke which addressed participatory visual practices involving adolescents. These sessions spoke to some of the earlier issues raised concerning children, pedagogy and film.
Day 2 was equally rich and diverse. First, I attended the panel on Time, Interruptions, Miscommunications which included presentations on childhood, time and universality in the films of Erice (Anna Kathryn Kendrick), on the stereotyping of children and young people in Brazilian media (Rachel Randall) and on adolescent sexuality in the films of Céline Sciamma (Monica Patterson). The theme of time was central to all three papers, facilitating an engaged discussion in the time for questions that followed the papers.
The second panel I attended on Day 2 was entitled Memory and Identity, the themes of which encompassed death, ethnicity, sentimentalism, history and violence. The highlight of this panel for me was Sarah Thomas’ presentation on La lengua de las mariposas and El viaje de Carol in which she interrogated the function of these films within the context of historical memory of Spain. For Thomas, her case studies are paradigmatic of the tendency towards the sentimentalisation of childhood in memory boom cinema in Spain and her intervention asked what these films are doing and why – questions which, as far as I am concerned, are vital to understanding the ways in which childhood is deployed in contemporary Spanish cinema. Thomas’ paper demonstrates the need to engage with, rather than dismiss or disregard, these texts, even if, and perhaps even because, they engender feelings of discomfort and unease.
Day 2 continued with a panel on Child Stars, Commodification and Children Acting and included presentations on Leslie Thornton’s Peggy and Fred in Hell (Stefan Solomon), on Darsheel Safary: Bollywood, Globalization and the Child Star (Michael Lawrence) and on the female body as decorative object and commodity in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette (Anna Backman Rogers). A key concern of this panel was the way in which cinema enables us to watch children grow and charts the changing body of the child – a tenet central to the majority of the papers I saw at this conference. This was followed by the Network Partners roundtable in which Jordana Blejmar spoke about children’s toys, nationhood and blondness in Argentine animated films; Stephi Hemelryk Donald presented on child migration; Zitong Qiu analysed sentimentalisation and the child in the context of state-sponsored Chinese films; Emma Wilson discussed sisterly relations in the films of Céline Sciamma (notably Tomboy) and, finally, Sarah Wright considered female adolescence as national trope in La isla mínima. Common threads of interest included the body, historical trauma, space and migration.
As Day 2 drew to a close, we had a third and final keynote presentation from Daniela Berghahn who analysed the figure of the dead child and elective kinship inspired by children in films dealing with migration. For Berghahn, these thematic foci speak to the ways in which the migrant family can be incorporated into the national imaginary. In the case studies presented by Berghahn, while the dead child tends to facilitate the cultural assimilation of the migrant family through the disavowal of the dead child’s Otherness, the child as creator of alternative kinship ties achieves the same effect by engendering plurality, heterogeneity and conviviality.
The last session of the conference was dedicated to the screening of Catherine Grant’s video essay inspired by the work of Annette Kuhn – Interplay: (Re)Finding and (Re)Framing Cinematic Experience: Film Space and the Child’s World, followed by a dialogue between Grant and Kuhn. I’ve been interested in learning more about audiovisual essays as methodology for some time and this only confirmed to me the potency and significance of this format. The discussion was wide-ranging and included a meditation on the pedagogical relevance of the format of the audiovisual essay. Topping off what had been a fabulous two days, we had the conference dinner in the Picture Gallery at Royal Holloway – a stunning space in which excerpts of Downton Abbey have been filmed.
What’s more, in terms of the practicalities, the conference was impeccably organised. There were no glitches, cancellations or unexpected changes to the programme. Most sessions kept to time and those that didn’t were only 5-10 minutes max. This is quite an achievement – it is much harder than it would seem to keep academics to strict time limits! – and not something I’ve seen often at other conferences I’ve attended. The venues were also well signposted to help us avoid getting lost and the conference was fully catered. Overall, this was a highly engaging and inspiring experience and although this is intended to be the culminating event of this Leverhulme-funded network, I’m hopeful that some of the connections established at this initiative will prove long-lasting.
Dr Fiona Noble (Durham University), is a researcher in Hispanic Studies and Film and Visual Culture. She successfully defended her doctoral thesis, entitled “Post-Transition Transitions: Childhood, Performance and Immigration in Post-Franco Spanish Cinema”, in June 2015 at the University of Aberdeen.
Conference review by Pippa Maslin (Royal Holloway, University of London)
LITTLE SOLDIER (2015): A NEW SOCIOLOGY OF CHILDHOOD
Although I had spent thirteen years teaching English in state secondary schools, it was not until I embarked upon my doctoral research on contemporary British coming-of-age films that I realised how common it is for the figure of the child or adolescent to be drawn as a victim in cinema. In fact, stories of mistreatment by parents, teachers, and other adults abound – with generational conflict a familiar dramatic device. Moreover, an important strand of British cinema’s longstanding tradition of social realism is the way in which filmmaker after filmmaker has chosen to portray young protagonists disenfranchised by a socio-economic system which reproduces inequality – essentially creating lives where material comforts are scarce, poverty limits opportunity, formal education fails to inspire, and meaningful employment is an unlikely prospect.
Further to this, when I started to follow Childhood and Nation in World Cinema: Borders and Encounters Since 1980, I began to appreciate how such a pattern may be observed in many other national cinemas, and how, whilst it often finds form in works that may be classed as realist, it also features in productions with more fantastical proportions. Indeed, there is many an unhappy tale of growing up, with the figure of the child or adolescent used time and again to expose a variety of injustices perpetrated by the adult world – and this cuts across a variety of cinematic genres, styles, movements, cycles, trends, and traditions.
It was, therefore, of particular interest to me that a handful of speakers at the project’s final international conference discussed films which, by contrast, veritably champion the agency of children and adolescents, depicting their unique energy, their propensity for play, and their burgeoning understanding of themselves and the world around them – and taking pleasure in their difference to adults generally. From Karen Lury’s exploration of the relationship between children, objects, and motion, with her focus on balloons, bicycles, and kites; to Rachel Randall’s examination of Brazilian street children counteracting their misrepresentation in the mainstream media; to Stefan Solomon’s introduction to the captivating performances of the eponymous heroes of Leslie Thornton’s serial Peggy and Fred in Hell (1984-2013) – it was heartening to see young people accorded a good degree of autonomy.
If there was one item on the conference programme that, for me, epitomised this sense of agency and autonomy, it was the screening of Little Soldier (2015), a short film written and directed by Stella Corradi, and produced by Carol Mei-Barker – for whilst I admire hugely Andrea Arnold’s illustration of 15-year-old Mia Williams (Katie Jarvis) and her younger sister Tyler (Rebecca Griffiths) in Fish Tank (2009), I found Corradi and her team’s portrait of 10-year-old council estate resident Anya (Amaris Miller) exceptionally bold. Slipping between Anya’s real and imagined attempts to sabotage her mother’s relationship with a man whom she clearly dislikes, Little Soldier is, depending upon your interpretation, a noteworthy accompaniment or challenge to Arnold’s piece. In comparison with Arnold’s emphasis upon the claustrophobic living conditions which compel Mia to practise her dancing in the space of an untenanted flat, take long walks along busy A-roads, or seek solace in an Internet café – with spatial dislocation into the countryside crucial to her growth – Anya’s movements are limited to the flat and estate that she calls home, and yet Corradi makes her equally active, and indeed, arguably more powerful than Mia. Constructing an other-worldly den in the living room, and allowing her mother to join her; spitting in the milk carton that she knows her mother’s boyfriend will later drink from; tampering with the toaster that she knows he will also later use; and, in her mind, collaborating with her peers to conduct against him a spectacular military assault of sorts, using powder-paint bombs – Anya cuts a defiant and resourceful figure. As Corradi and Mei-Barker state on their crowdfunding page:
Anya’s vivid imagination is inspired by the people and places that surround her. This story was born of the estates we grew up on, they were our hiding places, our battlegrounds, our forts… Often heartbreaking yet also funny, through Anya’s eyes our film explores how children make sense of and build resilience to social conditions that are out of their control. We hope this film will contribute to the discourse on social housing by reinserting human experience into contemporary narratives of British council estates
Significantly, within the field of sociology, ‘a new paradigm’, ‘often called the new sociology of childhood’, has ‘signalled a shift away from theories which s[ee] children as merely “becoming” skilled, knowledgeable members of society’, towards a stance which views children as ‘active participants or “beings” in their own right, who interpret and construct their own lives, cultures and relationships’ (Giddens and Sutton 2013: 340). Perhaps the artistry of Corradi and her team may be aligned with the proponents of this development – for Little Soldier demonstrates well that adults may think that they are in charge, but children are a lot more capable and independent than they are often perceived to be.
 Sociology, Cambridge, Polity Press
Philippa Zielfa Maslin is a Ph.D. student and Visiting Tutor at Royal Holloway. Her research concerns British coming-of-age films, 1979 to the present day, and she has been teaching contemporary British cinema to third years.
Conference review by Stephanie Henderson-Brown
CHILDHOOD AND NATION IN WORLD CINEMAS CONFERENCE (ROYAL HOLLOWAY, UNIVERSITY OF LONDON, APRIL 2016)
I was pleased hear from my dissertation supervisor that there was an international conference on Childhood and Nation in World Cinema being held at the Royal Holloway.
It was most useful to hear Ara Osterweil of McGill University deliver her paper “Into the Black: Vietnam, Out of the Blue, and the End of Childhood” as it has helped me to be able to consider the focus of my own MA dissertation. Ara used Dennis Hopper’s 1980 film Out of the Blue to focus on Vietnam-era cinema an allegory for the war and the subsequent change of American perceptions of childhood and masculinity. She pointed out that the film undermines the normative “redemption through violence” narrative that characterizes American cinema.
Karen Lury of the University of Glasgow’s Keynote talk on “Children, objects and motion… balloons, bikes, kites and tethered flight” aided my ability to contextualise the meaning of the child’s balloon caught in the telephone wires and then being released by the wind in Fritz Lang’s M (1931). I will now consider this image as a connotation of the geopoetics of air depicting the apprehensive edges of childhood play as a representation of separation anxiety experienced by the mother of the dead child.
I found Davina Quinlivan, who has taught me at Kingston University, to be revered by the audience with her presentation and detailed analysis female hysteria “Her Skin Against the Rocks, The Rocks Against the Sky: Revisiting Weir’s ‘Picnic At Hanging Rock’ (1975) after Morley’s ‘The Falling’ (2014), and the Fable of Female Hysteria”. Davina dealt with the topic of sensuality through the intimate gestures of haptic cinema using the formal properties of the close-up which will enable me to reflect on how children deal with the loss of childhood in the films that I am researching.
It was a fascinating experience and has encouraged me to look for more theoretical sources to draw on in my work.
Stephanie Henderson-Brown is an MA Film Studies student currently attending Kingston University. She is researching and writing her dissertation on paedophilia in film.