Develop A Virtual Archive

Proposal for developing a virtual archive - From Rosanna Maule, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada

“Women Filmmakers and Postfeminism in the Age of Multimedia Reproduction: A Virtual Archive for Women’s Cinema” is the title of a long-term research project that I am developing in collaboration with filmmaker Guylaine Dionne. The study explores the relation of women fiction filmmakers to gender-specific issues within an international context and a time frame (the 1980s-on) marked by two, parallel phenomena: the decline of feminism as a political praxis and a personal standpoint, and the emergence of digital and online media within the film industry. Our purpose is to identify the varied and competing discourses and practices associated with the contentious concept of “women’s cinema” within the borderless yet highly unequal scope of global media, trying to verify whether digital and online forms of film production and distribution offer women filmmakers a different platform for their films. In return, we intend to deploy new media technologies to disseminate information and promote critical awareness about the role of women filmmakers—paraphrasing the title of Walter Benjamin’s famous essay—“in the age of multimedia reproducibility”.

The final product will be a multimedia platform including an itinerant film- and video installation and an interactive website, which will constitute an interactive and in-progress archive on women’s contributions to filmmaking during the past three decades. This virtual archive has a twofold purpose: one the one hand, it will help disseminate the work of female film directors who have been active within the area of fiction filmmaking through alternative channels and formats of exhibition; on the other hand, it will provide an arena for reformulating the concept of women’s cinema within the new framework of digital culture.

The focus of this project is on a group of high-profiled female film directors from an international context of film production and distribution, including Suzana Amaral, Francesca Archibugi, Susanne Bier, Kathryn Bigelow, Jane Campion, Isabel Coixet, Sofia Coppola, Claire Denis, Dorris Dörrie, Clara Law, Samira Makhmalbaf, Lucrecia Martel, Mira Nair, María Novaro, to name a few. Our case studies also include less established women filmmakers, such as those whose films rarely circulate outside of their national context (a case in point, Cuban filmmakers Rebéca Chavez), as well as the youngest generation of women filmmakers, who tend to work within a multimedia context of production. In addressing these filmmakers’ work, we will ask prominent feminist film scholars who specialize in contemporary women’s cinema (such as, for instance, Kay Armatage, Alison Butler, Annette Föster, Susan Hayward, Annette Khun, Flavia Laviosa, Sandy Flitterman-Lewis, Gina Marchetti, Ivone Margulies, Patricia Mellencamp, Suzana Pick, Sarah Projansky, Brigitte Rollet, and Geneviève Sellier), as well as to film directors, curators, and programmers of international film festivals and archives (among others, Jackie Buet, director of the Creteil Film Festival, Raúl Padilla López, director of the Guadalajara’s film festival, Drake Stutesman, co-Chair of the Women’s Film Preservation Fund at NEW YORK WOMEN IN FILM AND TELEVISION (NYWIFT), Kim Tomadjoglou, AFI Collection Curator and professional preservation consultant) to answer a series of questions, and to dialogue with some of the filmmakers via video conference or video letters on topics relevant to the project’s focus.

Our virtual archive will compile clips and short films by these filmmakers, informed by on-camera commentaries, testimonies, and discussions about those clips provided by the filmmakers themselves, as well as by film scholars who have written about them, or film curators who have presented or preserved these filmmakers’ films. During the second phase of our research, we will complement this material by asking our interviewees to partake in virtual dialogues among themselves, developed through video or skype conferences, blog- and website-based chats, and video-letters.

Overall, the multimedia platform is conceived as an alternative to the networks of distribution and reception within which women’s fiction films typically circulate. For most female film directors considered in this project (with the exception of some case studies, such as Bigelow, Dörrie, or Nair) those are mainly art-house film theatres, art- or niche film festivals, film archives, and film institutions. New media technologies will allow us not only to bring to a vaster audience films by independent women filmmakers not widely circulating within theatrical and home viewing circuits of exhibition, but also to address key questions relative to women’s film historiography in non-academic networks and venues such as public libraries, social or cultural associations, and the web.
Methodologically, this research will be significantly distinct from what is normally produced within scholarly and creative contexts. In adopting digital media as methodological tools, we intend to move beyond historiographic methods and filmmaking techniques traditionally found in academic studies or documentary films about women filmmakers. This means that, although we are employing research sources, resources, and methodologies traditionally found in academic publications or documentary films, our final product is conceived as a virtual and in-progress compilation of footage, documents, and database.

Interactivity is a key component of this project. As I mention above, the itinerant installation will bring together video clips of the work by the filmmakers selected as case studies and excerpts from interviews about the role of women filmmakers in contemporary film practices with these filmmakers as well as with film scholars, film critics, and film curators. The clips and the interviews will be arranged into a vast range of thematic clusters and topics: the spectator/visitor will be able to select and watch according to her/his interest from an interactive menu of possibilities, thus constructing her/his personal archive on women’s filmmaking practices.

Interactivity is obviously the premise of the interactive website which will complement the itinerant installation. The primary function of this website is to transform the virtual archive on women’s cinema into an online tool for storing and sharing information about women’s filmmaking practices, available not just to film scholars and students, but to the vaster and growing context of digital media-based consumers and cinephiles. The website will include audiovisual material with clips and photos documenting the content and the purpose of the itinerant installation. Furthermore, it will offer a database about contemporary women’s cinema, aiming at facilitating Web-based research and collaboration.

Our intent is to pursue research parameters and criteria specific to discrete geo-cultural contexts and stressing the different articulation of gender issues within the local/global framework of transnational media. The main problems relative to the transnational dimension of our project concern global media accessibility. Our goal is to deploy the uneven distribution and availability of digital and online media as a criterion to strategize our intervention into the public sphere. Hence, our itinerant installation will target geo-cultural areas where the access to digital media is restricted because of economic, political, or ideological reasons. The relation of global media to local, subnational, and diasporic filmmaking practices are central issues for us. In this respect, we need to think gender politics in women’s filmmaking practices as inflected by, and negotiated through global and Western-dominant channels of film production and distribution, as well as cultural parameters and models of representation.

We are conscious of the regulations and the limitations that the deployment of new media entails, which include copyright restrictions, fair use of online material, management and/or monitoring of interactive online tools such as online blogs and interactive websites. Yet we still believe that multimedia tools may widen the scope of contemporary film culture, thus offering new opportunities for increasing the presence of female filmmakers in global network society?

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