MA Film Research Seminar: Cinematic City

Instructor: dr. Floris Paalman

General description of the course

Worldwide urbanisation and the proliferation of the moving image are emblematic for modern culture. Various scholars, from different disciplines, assume that these processes are interlinked. Numerous studies have been carried out regarding the metropolis in connection to fiction film and avant-garde experiments (e.g. city-symphonies). Visions upon urban life and culture have been analysed, how filmmakers have informed a.o. writers, artists, architects, and vice versa, and how cinema has provided a mode of perception. More recently, attention is also paid to different urban configurations (e.g. networks of small and medium cities, company towns, tourist destinations) and other media productions (e.g. news programmes, documentaries, industrial and educational films, commercials, television shows). Issues of city branding have been tackled (e.g. city promotion through media, stimulation of media production and creative industries, film festivals, media events etc.), and various other roles that media have played within the city, in different settings and for different groups of people. An important strand within the discourse on cinema and the city is the study of the relationship between on the one hand media and on the other architecture and urban design. It varies from analysis of space in films to the use of media as design tools, from the simulation of urban plans to media displays in public space and smart architecture. Such studies touch upon issues of time and space, image and object, as well as identity and structure.


The aim of this course is to understand the relationship between cinema and the city regarding film themes (representation), film form (aesthetics), thinking about the role of media in modern society and culture, and urban development in particular, and the place of the film industry. To that end, the course will focus on key concepts and paradigms pertaining to the cinematic city, and questions that emerge in the encounter of film studies and urban studies. The course pays attention to research of experts in the field, central debates, controversies, and cutting-edge approaches. Students are challenged to explore new ways to engage with the issues, and to critically review studies dealing with the subjects under consideration.

What to expect?

  • well-known and unknown films and genres dealing with urban issues
  • new ways to engage with cinema and the city
  • critical reviews of current research and discussions

To achieve the aims of the course, there will be a viewing of both recognised and unrecognised films and genres, next to “field trips”, and experiments to explore theoretical concepts. To prepare the experiments, which can take various forms, students are invited to keep a diary with “field notes” regarding both cinema and the city. Notes and experiments will be discussed in respect of current academic debates. While seminal texts will be studied, to provide a framework, some overlooked texts will be read as well. Moreover, students are asked to review and to present articles of their own choice, to prepare for the final assignment, which is an extensive review of a recently published book in the field. Book reviews help to set agendas and channel discussions. Criteria for reviews will be observed, and students are challenged to publish their reviews.

Selected literature

Brunsdon, Charlotte. “The Attractions of the Cinematic City.” Screen 53.3 (2012): 209-227.
Clarke, David, ed. The Cinematic City, London/New York: Routledge, 1997.
Hallam, Julia. “Film, Space and Place: Researching a City in Film.” New Review of Film and Television Studies 8.3 (2010): 277–296.
Lebas, Elizabeth. Forgotten Futures: British Municipal Cinema 1920-1980. London: Black Dog Publishing, 2011.
Paalman, Floris. Cinematic Rotterdam: The Times and Tides of a Modern City. Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2011.
Shiel, Mark and Tony Fitzmaurice, eds. Cinema and the City: Film and Urban Society in a Global Context. Oxford: Blackwell, 2001.