Film Strip image from Wikimedia Commons

Film Strip image from Wikimedia Commons

Monday, October 31, 2016

Event Summary: "The Art of Scale" with Aymar Jean Christian

At the inaugural meeting of the Chicago Film Seminar for the 2016-2017 academic year, Aymar Jean Christian of Northwestern University presented on his current research project, Open TV Beta, a production and distribution platform for independent web series and pilots by queer, trans and cis-women and artists of color. Mobilizing the concept of scale to analyze the development of work by Open TV artists, Christian argued that “production value” has different meanings at different production scales.

For small scale productions, like the work produced through and for Open TV, Christian argued that production value no longer depends upon a logic of scarcity (in which resources are rare and competition for resources is key) and that instead production value resides in a logic of capacity (in which resources are seen as something to be mined from what is available in community). In his talk, Christian focused on how space, time, and culture were utilized in Open TV productions from the 2016 season with an emphasis on mining and building capacity.

To build production value and capacity through strategic use of time, Open TV pilots crafted focused narratives that highlighted culturally specific writing and featured interdisciplinary performers who could take on several production roles at once. For example, Let Go and Let God was able to achieve a highly efficient set through foregoing sync sound in favor of telling story through dance while Southern for Pussy limited the story to a single set in order to emphasize visual style. Like Southern for PussyNupita Obama Creates Vogua also used a single set to create production value through strategic use of space. According to Christian, limiting locations and drawing on available spaces from within a community allowed artists to focus on building production value based on character development and culture knowledge. Cultural knowledge itself is a form of “production value” for Christian, and he argued that queer identity creates value for productions that draw on artists’ personal experiences, connections, and subcultural knowledge. A film about Chicago drag culture, Lipstick City, offered a clear example of how queer identity produces the production value of cultural sincerity.

In his response, Neil Verma of Northwestern University noted that the opposition between scarcity and capacity has been a key fulcrum organizing artistic practices from sculpture to dance to mass media, and he suggested that Christian’s work here opens up new questions about the relationship between quantity and quality in media production. He also suggested that Christian’s research project queers the border between production and pedagogy. 

The audience raised a variety of additional questions, including a question about what it means to still call this work “television.” Christian responded that, although he sees web series as an important shift away from the massive amounts of content that television production currently generates and towards considerations of art, he still considers web series to be “television” because the focus is on character-driven stories that unfold over time. In response to a question about whether the production value of queer identity could be described with the term “authenticity,” Christian argued for the use of the word “sincerity,” from John L. Jackson’s Real Black: Adventures in Racial Sincerity. Unlike authenticity, which suggests something absolute, sincerity is something that is negotiated in relation, and is at issue in camp performance, as Christian has explored in an article title “Camp 2.0.”

Upcoming Events and Announcements:

The Great Lakes Association for Sound Studies had its first meeting on October 21st, with a presentation by Jim Lastra among other business. Their Facebook page can be found here:

The conference Seeing Movement, Being Moved: An Exploration of the Moving Camera took place at the University of Chicago October 27-29. More information can be found here: 

Link Roundup:

Open TV – Beta
Let Go and Let God
Southern for Pussy
Nupita Obama Creates Vogua
Lipstick City
“Camp 2.0: A Queer Performance of the Personal” by Aymar Jean Christian
“Daughter, Mother, Mirror: Zackary Drucker's Southern For Pussy” by Nicole Erin Morse

All images courtesy of Aymar Jean Christian and Open TV - Beta

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

"The Art of Scale" with Aymar Jean Christian

Join the Chicago Film Seminar on October 20th at 7:30 pm for "The Art of Scale: Production Value in Networked Television" with Aymar Jean Christian of Northwestern University. Neil Verma will serve as respondent.

"Scale" dominates how technology and entertainment executives discuss their work today, and for them, scale almost always signifies "big" – whether as a noun to imply the size of capital available for production or as a verb to imply a process to facilitate capital accumulation while keeping costs low. Yet scale by definition is relational, a way to orient collective perspectives. A scale allows agents to approximate size in relation to other agents, projects, or objects so it is conceivable to collaborators and stakeholders. Scholars in media studies have for too long taken for granted the implicit bias toward "bigness" in television and new media, limiting our conception of television’s representational possibilities. The networked environment – marked by digital, peer-to-peer as opposed to one-to-many distribution – has opened TV distribution to productions across sizes, troubling conceptions of "high production value." Networked television encompasses everything from YouTubers who profit with relatively small crews to Netflix series outpacing cable television in production budgets.

Christian argues that productions have different values at different levels of scale. "Small scale" production critiques dominant trends in networked television by shifting value assessments from artificial scarcity to building capacity attendant to diverse needs and communities. Queer producers are especially equipped to re-scale television, shifting time, space, and cultural representation considerations on set from limitation and competition to value creation. Using data and experiences from developing Open TV beta, a Chicago-based platform for community-based networked television, Christian shows that small-scale production reveals heretofore under-recognized aspects of production value. He focuses on the experience of producing the first four pilots released under Open TV Presents, a series featuring artistic collaborations among queer and intersectional artists.

Aymar Jean “AJ” Christian is an assistant professor of communication studies at Northwestern University. His book, Open TV: Innovation Beyond Hollywood, will explore web television as an innovation in series development. His work on television and new media has been published in numerous academic journals and popular publications, including Cinema JournalContinuum, and Transformative Works and Cultures. He leads Open TV beta, a platform for television by queer, trans and cis-women and artists of color. He has curated film, television and video for the Peabody Awards, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Tribeca Film Festival, among others. He received his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania.

Neil Verma is assistant professor of sound studies in Radio/Television/Film and associate director of the MA in Sound Arts and Industries. Verma studies the cultural history and aesthetics of narrative sound media, and has special expertise in radio plays. Verma is working on two books, tentatively titled “How Sounds Think: Making Strange Radio in the Podcasting Age” and “Hiding in Plain Sound: The Radio Drama of Orson Welles.” He is Network Director for the Radio Preservation Task Force at the Library of Congress, Special Editor at the site Sounding Out!, and co-founder of the Great Lakes Association for Sound Studies (GLASS). He holds a PhD in History of Culture from the University of Chicago, where he was also Harper-Schmidt Fellow in the Society of Fellows from 2010-14.

"The Art of Scale" will be held at DePaul’s Loop Campus in the Daley Building at 14 E. Jackson Blvd., Room LL 102, using the State St. entrance located at 247 S. State.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

April 28th: Defining the Field

Please join the Chicago Film Seminar on Thursday, April 28th, 7:00PM, for a roundtable discussion, titled "Defining the Field." Bringing together scholars with diverse perspectives on the field, this workshop opens up a discussion of the evolving contours of cinema studies as it confronts new media and technologies, new methods, and new intellectual and institutional challenges. The conversation will focus broadly on the objects and approaches of cinema and media studies as they are transforming with the academic landscape.The workshop participants will include:

Gerald Butters, Aurora University

D. N. Rodowick, University of Chicago
Salomé Skvirsky, University of Chicago
Neil Verma, Northwestern University
Pam Wojcik, University of Notre Dame


Gerald R. Butters Jr. is a Professor of History at Aurora University. He is author of the following books - Beyond Blaxploitation (2016), From Sweetback to Superfly: Race and Film Audiences in Chicago's Loop, 1970-1975 (2015), Banned in Kansas: Motion Picture Censorship, 1915-1966 (2007) and Black Manhood on the Silent Screen (2002). A Fulbright scholar, Dr. Butters has lectured internationally including an address to the European Community in Luxembourg. 

D. N. Rodowick is Glen A. Lloyd Distinguished Service Professor in the Division of the Humanities at the University of Chicago. His most recent book, Philosophy’s Artful Conversation (2015), was published by Harvard University Press, completing the trilogy that began with The Virtual Life of Film (2007) and Elegy for Theory (2014). His newest book, What Philosophy Wants from Images, will be published by the University of Chicago Press in 2017. Rodowick is also a curator, and an award-winning experimental filmmaker and video artist.

Salomé Aguilera Skvirsky is Assistant Professor in the Cinema and Media Studies Department at the University of Chicago. Before joining the faculty at the University of Chicago, Skvirsky taught in Latin American and Latino Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago and in the English Department at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Her work has appeared in Cinema Journal, the Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies, and Social Identities. Currently, she is working on a book-length manuscript titled The Aesthetic of Labor: Cinema and the Process Genre.

Neil Verma is Assistant Professor in Radio/Television/Film at Northwestern University, where he is Associate Director of the MA program in Sound Arts and Industries. He is the author of Theater of the Mind: Imagination, Aesthetics and American Radio Drama (Chicago), which won the Best First Book Award from the Society for Cinema & Media Studies in 2013. He is co-editor of Anatomy of Sound: Norman Corwin and Media Authorship (California), forthcoming this Spring. Verma focuses on the intersection of sound and narrative media, and has published chapters and articles on a range of subjects from radio documentaries to film noir, from Bertolt Brecht to Game of Thrones. He is the Network Director for the Radio Preservation Task Force at the library of congress and Special Editor at Sounding Out.

Pamela Robertson Wojcik is Professor in the Department of Film, Television and Theatre at the University of Notre Dame and President Elect of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. She is author of Guilty Pleasures: Feminist Camp from Mae West to Madonna, The Apartment Plot: Urban Living in American Film and Popular Culture, 1945 to 1975, and the forthcoming Fantasies of Neglect: Imagining the Urban Child in American Film and Fiction.


Ariel Rogers is Assistant Professor in the Department of Radio/Television/Film at Northwestern University. Her research and teaching focus on movie technologies, spectatorship, and new media. She is the author of Cinematic Appeals: The Experience of New Movie Technologies (Columbia University Press, 2013) and has published articles in Cinema Journal, Film History, and montage AV (forthcoming).

The workshop will be held at DePaul’s Loop Campus in the Daley Building at 14 E. Jackson Blvd., Room LL 102, using the State St. entrance located at 247 S. State.

For more information about Chicago Film Seminar events, please visit and 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Summary: Graduate student panel on science fiction and Soviet documentary style

On February 18th, Chicago Film Seminar hosted a graduate student panel on science fiction and Soviet documentary style. Our panelists were Stephen Babish (Northwestern University) and Zdenko Mandusic (University of Chicago). A response was provided by Professor Joshua Malitsky (Indiana University).

In his paper, titled "Empty Spaces: Large-Scale Plans and Urban Dystopia in A Clockwork Orange and THX 1138,” Babish began by outlining the methodology and major claims of his dissertation project on the capacity of science fiction films of the 1970s to produce a critical architectural space through their engagement with the modernist built environment.  It then traced two case studies that analyze the way in which films from this era exploited notoriously incomplete and over-budget large-scale modernist construction projects to critique both their forms and the ideologies underlying them.  To do so, it utilized archival research into both the papers of the administrative bodies responsible for designing, constructing, and promoting these spaces and into papers (where available) of filmmakers Stanley Kubrick and George Lucas that detail their location scouting and selection processes.  The first of these, on the filming of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange in the Southeast London development of Thamesmead, examined the utopian rhetoric surrounding that multi-use neighborhood’s development, a rhetoric that was subsequently undermined by the project’s guiding bureaucratic agencies’ inability to complete or administer it.  It then looked to the still-incomplete Thamesmead’s appearance in A Clockwork Orange as a dystopian cinematic space that would influence discussions of crime and urban decay on both sides of the Atlantic for decades after the film’s release.  The second case study told a similar narrative of the filming of THX 1138 in the San Francisco Bay Area's unopened BART system, a rapid-transit system whose corporately-sponsored centralization was implicitly critiqued by George Lucas’s use of its stark and unfinished stations and computerized command center in his first feature-length film.

Mandusic’s paper, “The Documentary Style in the Soviet Cinema of the 1960s,” explored the ways in which Soviet feature-length fiction films of the time were increasingly discussed in terms of their perceived documentary qualities. What was described as the collision of fictional and factual interests was addressed with the abstract noun dokumental’nost’, and sometimes dokumentalizm. Although no uniform definition was adopted, the appeal to veracity and authenticity through dokumental’nost’ expressed a renewed engagement with the problem of referentiality and how cinema could be used to provide accurate knowledge of the world. Soviet director Andrei Mikhalkov-Konchalovskii invoked this discourse during the production of his film about contemporary life on a collective farm, The Story of Asia Kliachina, Who Loved but Did Not Marry (Istoriia Asi Kliachinoi, kotoraia liubila da ne vyshla zamuzh). Konchalovskii went on to cast non-professional actors for all but three roles in Asia Kliachina and shot his film entirely on-location in the village of Bezvodnoe, in Russia’s central Gor’kii region. The film’s production strategy was designed to augment the appearance of minimal interference from an authoring presence. Underneath the minimal artifice, Asia Kliachina interlaced the authenticity of non-professional actors and production on-location with post-production sound, cinematographic elements, and editing conventions to generate the impression of looking at and overhearing the lived experience of others. Resulting from this approach, Asia Kliachina becomes instrumental in understanding the development of documentary realism as a deliberate visual style in Soviet cinema. Focusing on Konchalovskii’s production methods and the public discourse concerned with Asia Kliachina, this paper interrogated the competing discourses over “documentary-ness” and how, in the latter half of the 1960s, this aesthetic quality was invoked to define a developing brand of realism whose attested goal was to renew cinema’s link to actual events, persons, and/or social conditions.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

February 18: Graduate student panel on science fiction and Soviet documentary style

Please join the Chicago Film Seminar on ThursdayFebruary 18th, at 6:30pm, for a graduate student panel on science fiction and Soviet documentary style. Our panelists will be Stephen Babish (Northwestern University) and Zdenko Mandušić (University of Chicago). A response will be provided by Joshua Malitsky (Indiana University). 

In his paper, “Empty Spaces: Large-Scale Plans and Urban Dystopia in A Clockwork Orange and THX 1138," Babish traces two case studies, on the filming of A Clockwork Orange in the Southeast London development of Thamesmead and the filming of THX 1138 in the San Francisco Bay Area's unopened BART system, and analyzes the way in which these films exploited notoriously incomplete and over-budget construction projects to critique both their forms and the ideologies underlying them. 

In his paper “The Documentary Style in Soviet Cinema of the 1960s,” Mandušić will interrogate the audio-visual means that informed both positive and negative ascriptions of “documentary-ness” in Soviet Cinema of the 1960s and how they informed the development of a documentary style in Andrei Konchalovskii’s early films.

Stephen Babish has recently defended his dissertation, "Concrete Futures: Science Fiction Cinema and Modernist Architecture at the Dawn of Postmodernity," under the direction of Lynn Spigel in the department of Screen Cultures at Northwestern University. His work focuses on the relationship between place and cinema, particularly on the ability of cinema to function as an architectural or urban critique through location shooting. His dissertation puts dystopian science fiction films from the 1970s into conversation with discourses of utopian futurism that informed the development and construction of their shooting locations in order to frame sci-fi cinema as integral to the Lefebvrian production of modernist architectural spaces.

Zdenko Mandušić is a joint-Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago in the departments of Slavic Languages and Literatures and Cinema and Media Studies. He is currently finishing his dissertation on Soviet film style of the 1950s and 1960s, which examines how new visual strategies altered the relationship between viewers and the screen. His research interests included East European national cinemas, theories of affect and spectatorship, and history of film styles.

Joshua Malitsky is Associate Professor in Cinema and Media Studies and Director of the Center for Documentary Research and Practice at Indiana University. He works on a range of topics related to documentary/nonfiction media genres, focusing his research on the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and Cuba. He is the author of Post-Revolution Nonfiction Film: Building the Soviet and Cuban Nations (Indiana University Press, 2013), He is currently engaged in two book projects: (Supra)national Geographical Imaginaries: The Birth and Growth of Yugoslav Nonfiction Film, 1944-1958 and A Companion to Documentary Film History (Wiley-Blackwell).  His work has been published in journals such as ​Cinema Journal; Journal of Visual Culture; Culture, Theory, and Critique; and Studies in Documentary Film.

The Chicago Film Seminar is held at DePaul’s Loop Campus in the Daley Building at 14 E. Jackson Blvd., Room LL 102, using the State St. entrance located at 247 S. State.

Monday, January 4, 2016

January 13: "Why Film History?: Discipline, Institution, and the Archive in Spanish Cinema Studies"

Please join the Chicago Film Seminar on Wednesday, January 13th, at 6:30pm, for an exciting roundtable discussion, titled “Why Film History?: Discipline, Institution, and the Archive in Spanish Cinema Studies.”

Roundtable participants, Professors Vicente Sánchez-Biosca and Steven Marsh, describe the event as follows:

This discussion seeks to address approaches to the cinema of Spain. While Film History as a sub-discipline of cinema and media studies is an important institutional component of almost all media and cinema studies departments, in Spain—uniquely—it is the dominant field in such departments. Indeed, Film History is so dominant that anyone – absolutely anyone – writing on film is considered to be a film historian. 

History has a particular resonance in Spain, one doubtlessly connected not only to the trauma but also to the telos of the country’s Civil War (about which Vicente Sánchez Biosca has written extensively). This discussion aims to interrogate historiography and historical discourse as they apply to film. It is envisaged that we will focus on questions of the national, on heritage, on trauma and event.   Likewise, we will address the overlap and possible aporia that emerges between history and memory, the way affect and nostalgia shape (or contradict) historical methodologies.

Vicente Sánchez-Biosca is Professor of Film Studies at the University of Valencia and has been a Visiting Professor at New York University, Princeton University, University of Paris III (Sorbonne Nouvelle), University of São Paulo, University of Montréal, among other schools. He was the editor of the journal Archivos de la Filmoteca from 1992 to 2012, and is the author of several books in film theory and history. Among them are Sombras de Weimar. Contribucíon a la historia del cine alemán 1918-1933 (Verdoux, 1990); Teoría del montaje cinematográfico (Filmoteca de la Generalitat Valenciana, 1991); NO-DO. El tiempo y la memoria (Cátedra/Filmoteca Española, 2006) and El pasado es el destino. Propaganda y cine del bando nacional en la guerra civil (both with R. Tranche, Cátedra, 2011); Cine y vanguardias artisticas. Conflictos, encuentros, fronteras (Paidós, 2004); Cine de historia, cine de memoria: La representacíon y sus límites  (Cátedra, 2006); Cine y Guerra civil española (Alianza, 2006). His current research is focused on the production and circulation of images of atrocity in twentieth and twenty-first century cinema, photography, illustrated press, and other media.

Steven Marsh is an associate professor of Spanish Film and Cultural Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is co-editor of Gender and Spanish Cinema (Berg 2004) and author of Popular Film Under Franco: Comedy and the Weakening of the State. He is one of the co-authors on the international collaborative project Cinema and the Mediation of Everyday Life: An Oral History of Filmgoing in 1940s and 1950s Spain. He recently edited a special issue of the Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies on Spanish film and spectrality. He is currently finalizing a new monograph provisionally titled Spanish Cinema, a Counter-History: Cosmopolitanism, Experimentation, Militancy. He is on the editorial board and one of the founding editors of the Journal of Hispanic Cinemas and he is a member of the editorial collective of the Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies.    

The Chicago Film Seminar is held at DePaul’s Loop Campus in the Daley Building at 14 E. Jackson Blvd., Room LL 102, using the State St. entrance located at 247 S. State.