MA Film Research Seminar: Films Beyond the Theatre

Instructor: dr. Eef Masson

Although films shown in entertainment theatres have long been the primary focus of academic film history and theory writing, they constitute only part of the much wider repertoire that audiences of past decades have been confronted with. Film spectatorship also took shape in homes, classrooms, museums or town halls, where family films, educational films and information or propaganda films were projected for audiences of varying compositions. While such films have beenused as sources by scholars in other fields for quite a while – in social history, for instance – profound interest among film historians is relatively recent.

Heart and Circulation

Heart and Circulation (ERPI Classroom Films, 1937)

Home movie, Hirota coll.

[Home movie, Hirota coll.] (unknown, 1940)

 Atomic Alert

Atomic Alert (Encyclopaedia Britannica Films, 1951)






In this seminar, we shall explore this emerging field, and map the shifts in perspective that have occurred over the past few decades. In doing so, we study a number of historiographic and programmatic texts, considering in particular how research focuses (what exactly is being studied?) and methodological preferences (how is this being done?) have changed over time. In addition, we read a number of case studies that deal with specific corpora; for instance, a collection of amateur films or home movies, industrial films, or political propaganda films (categories which, we shall see, are all extremely fluid). Doing so will help us not only to understand how the abovementioned demands played out in practice, but also how each of those corpora gives rise to its own particular questions and research agenda.

In their own assignments, students will practice their interpretive skills on a chosen corpus of “non-theatricals”. In the process, they will make use of a variety of sources, comprising both secondary literature and primary materials. As a rule, information on the purposes which these films served, the circumstances in which they were presented or the practices they were part of is hard to get by. However, practitioners tend to agree that it is also crucial to their interpretation – especially from a retrospective point of view. Students will therefore be asked to locate sources that can help further their understanding of their chosen sample of films, use them in the course of analysis, and in the process, reflect on the ways in which both filmic and non-filmic sources can help “frame” the chosen historic corpus. They will also be required to generate some (initial) ideas on how various audiences can be alerted to what these sources can contribute to the films’ interpretation.

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