New White Rose Studentship Network: European Film, European Heritage, European Identity

The Centre for World Cinemas at Leeds, in collaboration with ‘Theatre, Film and Television’ at York and the Sheffield Centre for Research in Film has been awarded a White Rose Studentship Network: European Film, European Heritage, European Identity

Three PhD Students, co-supervised across Leeds, Sheffield and York, will explore the role played by European institutions in the production of European historical dramas, examining three interrelated sets of questions:

  • 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?
  • 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.
  • How are historical dramas distributed and consumed across and beyond Europe? Who is their audience and what are the mechanisms of their consumption?  To what extent do films circulate beyond their country of origin and how does this circulation reflect common understandings of the ‘European project’?

Thomas 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), to Italy cinema’s obsessive return to the 1970s 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 part funded), 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.

Given the importance of historical dramas within European film culture, unsurprisingly, they also 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 audience 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 six academic supervisors come from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds with strongly cognate interests (Paul Cooke, European film and film policy, Alan O’Leary, European film historical film debates and popular culture, Jonathan Raynor, national identity, film and history, David Forrest, British historical drama, Andrew Higson, heritage cinema, national and transnational cinema, Duncan Petrie, national and regional cinema, film development). This project builds on previous and current collaboration between York and Leeds and the focus in all three WR institutions on drawing together interdisciplinary strength in film studies. The White Rose has one of the largest interdisciplinary groupings of scholars working on film and media in the country. The project will also be firmly embedded within an international network of academic and non-academic partners, providing excellent opportunities for the graduate students involved to gain both international and relevant professional experience.

For further information, contact me as project leader,