Interactive Spectatorships

Media Viewing Practices in the Digital Age
 

Project Blogs

The progress of this project will charted in blogs written by the project leader Dr Dario Llinares and student researcher Ellie Goodwin as well as guest contributors. Blogs will cover the theoretical underpinning, development of the research model, explore and discuss the initial outcomes, and analyse potential links to the wider context of spectatorship and digital culture.

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Social Cinema at #GAGLDN 12th July, 2013

Posted on July 18, 2013 at 8:10 AM Comments comments (0)

On Thursday the 12th of July I spoke at a social media and networking event entitled #GAGLDN hosted by www.digitalbinx.com. The event was pitched as, "celebrating social media innovation in London’s creative industries, for an evening exploring the film industry and how it engages peoples’ passion for cinema." The other three speakers on the panel alongside me were: Dan’l Hewitt - from premier youth media company and original online video destination, VICE.COM; Tiina Heinonen - Online Marketing Manager, Curzon cinemas; Emily Bishop - Marketing Manager, East London Film Festival. Gemma Phelan and Hassan Mirza, from www.digitalbinx.com, hosted the event and were very professional and welcoming to me and the other speakers.




It was really interesting for me to be invited to a non-academic event to speak about the Interactive Spectatorships project, as I was keen to see the kind of reception my work would receive in a more commercially orientated environment. I also hoped that there might be the opportunity to develop some new lines of research, which I hadn't previously envisaged. The event was hosted in a trendy bar in the heart of the city of London, called Apartment 58. This was very different from the rather formal conference and lecture theatres I am used to, and the audience was made up of a cross-section of film brands, marketers, PRs, bloggers, artists, and companies who depend on social media networking in some form or another.


 



Because my project is essentially academic I was slightly unsure what the content of my talk should be and how I would pitch it. 10 minutes is a short amount of time to articulate all the nuances of the project and it was obvious to me that the audience would not respond to overt didacticism. So I decided that I would present in as informal a way as possible, giving a very broad background into what I saw as the changing nature of cinema in the digital age before giving a brief outline of the project method. I was the last to speak of the four and each presenter gave an interesting account of how social media is increasingly influential in the marketing, distribution and viewing of films from their specific contexts.


Particularly of interest to me was the talk from Tiina Heinonen who outlined how Curzon cinemas are increasingly embracing the role of social media in creating an overarching community of film engagement through active use of Twitter to accompany the traditional notion of the paid screening. It showed that forward thinking companies do acknowledge that the processes of engagement and interactivity with film are shifting. All the talks and the questions that came after enhanced my belief that no one actually knows what the future holds for film except for the fact that audiences are increasingly open to many different modes of engagement. For me as a researcher it further questions how one defines the very sociality of cinema, are there new pleasures emerging because of the encroachment of digital technology and is this undermining, enhancing or changing the nature of what we understand as cinema?




 

When it came time to make me speech I had the feeling I often do when speaking about interactive spectatorships: that half the audience think this is a really interesting social experiment and half the audience are repulsed by the thought of allowing social media into the cinema space. This is a reaction I’m used to now and it also why I think that explaining the context of the project is as important as talking about the process itself. Judging from questions asked by the audience, all four speakers had highlighted the shifting environment in which the media and creative industries are trying to get a handle on how new forms of consumption, spectatorship and social discourse will affect the environment. Follow-up comments and discussion I had on Twitter confirmed that Interactive Spectatorships, if it does one thing, stirs up discussion and even self-reflection regarding the range and type of pleasure that cinema-lovers engage in.






 

Speaking to people afterwards there was a genuine inquisitiveness regarding the mechanics and details of the project itself, but also, even more interestingly, what the implications are of digital technology for the future of film. The conclusion I drew from this event is that although most people still have quite a clear and anchored view of what cinema is and how it should be watched, in both a spatial and cognitive sense, there is less and less of a collectively monolithic sense of this. There is a more open acknowledgement and embracing of different engagement practices and the creative sectors are increasingly coming to terms with, and using, that shift to open up new possibilities. Indeed, academic, 'film studies' understandings of cinema is arguably a way behind the curve with regards to the increasing diversity of uses and pleasures that the amalgamation between 'social' and 'cinema', in a digital context, offers.





Interactive Screening of In Bruges at Bedford College

Posted on December 19, 2012 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

By Neil Fox

 

As part of a BTEC Film Studies lesson that looked at audiences and spectatorship I showed my students the short documentary made by Falmouth University students on Dario Llinares’ research on Interactive Spectatorships and the students really wanted to try it as a way of analyzing screenings. So, for the last lesson of the term we agreed to give it a go and I worked with the media technician here at Bedford College to set up an interactive screening of Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges.


The screening was chosen because we had looked at modern crime films for genre studies, and it fits into the allotted lesson time frame as unlike universities we have to deliver screenings in class time. I also thought it would be something the students would enjoy but would also enable them to look at one or two key themes throughout. I watched the film in advance and prepped some prompts, focusing on the idea of the visual portrayal of status and dominance. It’s a simple piece of film grammar analysis but felt appropriate for the level and the fact this was a first time experiment.


The screening, which involved Dario from Falmouth University seemed to be a great success. The majority of students agreed it was a much more effective way of analyzing texts, indeed the only ones who didn’t were those who failed to watch the film in advance. I had provided a file of the film for all students in advance and the vast majority had watched it. The lecturer prompts were helpful to create a rhythm and focus for students as the screening progressed and I was impressed at the comments, which mainly were rooted in the areas of study undertaken in class.


It was also good for getting students who were less confident verbally in class, to engage with the ideas. One student in particular contributed more to this screening than any other lesson to date. It requires preparation and resources that are limited in an FE environment but it’s well worth the time and effort, because it allows visual learners the chance to address questions and comments to a text as it is playing, and the twitter feed creates a unique record of learning that is vital in an OFSTED driven ‘learning and teaching age’.


It is definitely something I will integrate into the teaching structure here and for key future teaching, either at FE or HE level. The students, who are far more visual than textual nowadays, really enjoyed it, and the results were encouraging, far more than screening a film and handing out a worksheet.


3rd Pilot Screening: Moon

Posted on June 26, 2012 at 10:10 AM Comments comments (0)

In this blog I want to discusses the third pilot screening of the interactive spectators project which took place on the 16th of May. With this final screening there was a deliberate intention to broaden the potential audience beyond specifically film students. This was essentially for two reasons: first I wanted to collect data and reactions from as wide a group of participants as possible and analyse how a greater demographic range (academic staff, students and non-academics) of respondents in one single screening would react to the twitter stream. Secondly, it was always the intention to organise a distinctive ‘public event’ through which to expand the possibilities of using the system. The screening was advertised both inside and outside the university using twitter and Facebook with the added incentive of a drinks reception afterwards. I wanted to get some immediate feedback particularly from staff members regarding their impressions how the system worked. Furthermore, a group of level one students filmed whole event itself for a short documentary which be used on the website.


After previous feedback it was obvious that the two-screen arrangement, used in the previous screening, preserved the cinematic integrity of the experience. This was even more important as the film being shown was the retro sci-fi Moon (Jones, 2009) a visually striking film that would benefit greatly from the full capacity of sound and image that the auditorium provides. I had canvassed various opinions about the type of film that would be both broadly popular and potentially lend itself to an interesting twitter debate. Indeed, understanding the types of film that would suit the interactive system is an aspect of the analysis that I will discuss as part of the final research analysis. Moon was considered a good choice because it is not too narratively complex and is quite slowly paced, perhaps giving time for audience members to tweet, but it is also thematically and aesthetically complex providing scope for an in-depth and wide ranging commentary. The nostalgic futurism of the films’ tone also (somewhat tangentially) parallelled the interplay between old and new medias, which this project interrogates.


The selection of Moon became even more apposite when I contacted, Gavin Rothery (@GavRov) who was the artistic director and visual effects supervisor on the film, and he agreed to contribute to the event. I invited Gavin to Falmouth in order to participate in a Q&A but the short notice meant this was impossible to schedule. Instead he agreed to give an introduction to the film on Skype, and then provide a commentary and respond to audience questions, via twitter, throughout the screening. The specific contribution of someone attached to the film undoubtedly engendered another level of interactive possibility that I had previously considered in a circumspect way, but never fully realised its potential. Director commentaries (on DVDs), webchats, liveblogs and special events in which filmmakers reflect or discuss their own films are, of course, nothing new. However, the development of an organic, audience-led discussion, using twitter as a virtual forum, not only for ‘traditional’ film criticism but a mode of reciprocal film deconstruction between audience and filmmaker, has thus become another strand of this project.


Setting up the technology to provide a smooth transition between the Skype interview, the twitter feed and the screening itself provided the main logistical problem. Two laptop computers were required to run the Skype and Twitter in conjunction, along with the main system for playing and projecting the Blu-ray. Thankfully, there were no technological issues and the integration of systems worked perfectly throughout. In fact, I could not have envisaged how well the combination of the Skype introduction from Gavin, followed his participation in the twitter stream, would work. I began, as with previous screenings, by outlining a little background to the project and explaining how the twitter interaction works. Then, there were a few anxious moments as I Skype-called Gavin and a few seconds went by until he answered. But then he appeared on the screen. Having never used Skype with a live audience I didn’t know how the interview would come across; talking to someone who is sat in their own home environment, yet who is addressing a cinema audience (see images blow). There was sense of intimacy imbued by having someone speak from private space projected onto the big screen, which was further enhanced by the enthusiasm and detail with which Gavin spoke.




 

After around 20 minutes of questions we began the screening of Moon with Gavin continuing to make comments and answer questions using the twitter forum. The stream thus took a different form than the previous pilot screenings focusing much more around specific questions to Gavin (from the audience) and the many anecdotes about the making of the film he outlined. It was much less centred on the audience’s own critique of the film from an academic perspective. Furthermore, about halfway through the screening, the director of the film, Duncan Jones (@ManMadeMoon) entered into the debate having obviously seen the discussion in twitter. This had not been prearranged and shows how the system induces multiple, unforeseen levels of interaction and communication.




After the screening the consensus was that this event had offered a new dimension to the interactive possibilities than the previous screenings had allowed. There still were criticisms which centred are distraction from the narrative and the difficulty of following the film and tweeting simultaneously. Nearly everyone agreed the addition of the filmmaker’s comments undoubtedly enhanced the enjoyment and usefulness of the screening. There was, however, a suggestion that the discussion had been quite specialised, focusing very heavily on the technical aspects of film and, at times, requiring a quite specific knowledge of science fiction. This could have left certain members of the audience ostracised and perhaps feeling they couldn’t contribute to such a discussion. Overall my primary evaluations of this final screening that will be explored in further analysis is threefold: 1) the system doesn’t automatically cut through all the barriers to interaction that participants may feel 2) the system has a range of applications and uses depending on the film, audience and how a specific screening is set up 3) the stream produced can be shaped to a certain degree but its organic development and unpredictability is a key aspect of its potential value.




Pilot Screening 2 - Jackie Brown

Posted on May 25, 2012 at 6:15 PM Comments comments (0)

In this, slightly belated, blog I’m going to write about my initial impressions from the second pilot screening of the interactive spectatorships project. The first screening of Catfish raised as many new questions as it answered regarding the logistical set-up of the project, its value as a pedagogic tool, and wider conceptual implications of trying to marry old and new media in this way. Taking place on Wednesday the 9th of May this screening was made up of an audience primarily consisting of level 2 film students and the film shown was Quinton Tarantino’s Jackie Brown (1997). This was chosen because it provided a thematic intersection between two optional modules – Women and Film; Black Cinema – which students have been completing this semester. Attendance was lower than the first screening even after a lot of advertising and encouragement to attend. Judging from both screenings it seems that the marrying of twitter and film is a fundamentally attractive prospect on its own terms. However, a combination of looming deadlines, the fact the screening was not a compulsory part of a unit, and the general apathy towards screenings that I have described in earlier blogs, are all arguably contributory factors to the low attendance.


The most significant alteration I had made for this screening was the spatial set-up of the screens themselves. It was always the intention to try different configurations and in this instance a portable screen and projector were set up at the right hand side of the main screen (see images below). This provided new logistical problems in terms of the positioning of the screen, the depth of field in relation to the main screen, the size of the text, positioning of the second projector and broadband connection etc. We also decided to change the screen design using an app called Janetter rather than the classic twitter software. This allowed us to have a dark background with white (and different coloured) text, and use a different typeface, giving a much clearer view from the back of the auditorium. Also this app was much faster in registering tweeted comments (using the classic twitter app in the first screening there was an approximate 40 second delay).




 

The consensus was that this configuration of was much better for several reasons. Firstly, it allowed us to use the full specification of the cinema screen purely for the film. The blu-ray of Jackie Brown projected through the cinema’s system obviously gave a superior picture and sound quality. The cinematic experience was, therefore, much less compromised by not having to run the film through a separate laptop DVD drive. Secondly, having the twitter feed on a separate screen was significantly less distracting. There had been a concern that audience members would have had to adjust their attention more acutely with two separate screens. In fact the very spatial separation of twitter seemed to make it easier to adjust one’s attention instantaneously from film to feed, and back again. The general feeling from written feedback was that this was a better system for facilitating audience interaction, although logistically it requires much more organisation to set up, which could be a factor if trying to regularly embed the system into teaching.




The stream itself I felt reached a higher critical level, which was perhaps indicative of the difference between level 1 and 2 students. However, within this screening I had decided to try and shape the online debate to reflect more clearly the themes of race and gender within the film thus linking directly to the level 2 modules that the students had been studying. The first screening was more or less unstructured and one of the outcomes was that the comment stream was quite random, lacking a clear focus on conceptual issues intrinsic to the film. For Jackie Brown I prepared by storing a number of questions in my smartphone, which could then be tweeted at relevant times. This direct shaping of the debate, added to the fact that the film did relate to the issues that students had already gained knowledge, created a much more theoretically sophisicated debate. Humourous and random tweets did appear but these were more of an aside to the central virtual discussion. In thinking about embedding interactive screenings into teaching practice these pilot screenings have undoubtedly revealed that quite a high level of structuring is required to ensure pedagogic value.


Students that I talked to afterwards did suggest that they felt generally there would be benefits in using the system in order to try to improve critical viewing. Issues of ‘distraction’ from the narrative were again raised and there was also a sense that the system would work better if this was a second or third viewing of the film. The quite complex nature of Jackie Brown’s narrative had two effects. Some students felt that it was simply too difficult to follow the narrative and the twitter feed simultaneously. However, another student pointed out, correctly, that the tweets tended to stop when more concentrated viewing was required narratively. A more frequent stream of tweets then resumed at moments that seem to require less attention. This suggests again that viewers are able to alter their level of interaction with the twitter stream and the film as they see fit. It also points to the general assertion that audience concentration throughout a film does not function at a continuously even level. Perhaps the most positive thing was that many students in the screening did say that the interactive system did force them into a more active viewing mindset, giving them a more complex and nuanced ability to read the film. Students also agreed it could definitely help subsequent seminar discussion. I did feel that the overall consensus was more positive than the first screening. Again the screening highlighted further issues to think about as I organised the final screening in the initial series of three.

My next post will discuss this!

To view the twitter stream for Jackie Brown link here.

Pilot Screening 1 - Student response

Posted on May 12, 2012 at 4:40 AM Comments comments (3)


After being part of the organisation process for the first interactive screening of Catfish (2010) at University College Falmouth, I have had several of my own personal discoveries about the project. After immersing myself in the participant questionnaires, and having in-depth discussions with fellow students, perhaps the most interesting discovery is how a way has been found to overload even a digitally immersed student’s mind.  Many times respondants used the word ‘distracting’. After reading and discussing further into the reasons why, many said it was not necessarily the concept, but because of the way this first screening was set up, visually and spatially. The main negative feedback was similar to this comment: ‘distracted from the experience of the movie’. Paradoxically, this may even be viewed as positive as it could be interpreted as making the viewer become less emotionally/passively involved, but more intelligently/critically involved. The film at first seemed perfect when Dario suggested screening Catfish due to the narrative centring on social networking itself. However, for many students the film itself added to the ‘distraction’ because Catfish demands a greater attention to the theme social networking itself, but this, paradoxically, had a negative effect on enjoyment and the 'quality' of the tweets posted.


There were more academic and serious tweets from students. This was often in response to a lecturer’s tweeted question. However with this came many comedic and rather 'pointless' comments. Many responses on questionnaires suggested that some tweets: ‘undermine the tension of the film and changed the meaning’. Another concern was how the film was visually presented. The projected screen (see Dario’s previous blog for picture) was, for many viewers, surprisingly too much of a constant reminder  of the computer screen. Initially we thought that it may be easier for viewers to watch both if the twitter feed and film were on the same screen. However, many comments such as, ‘The screen is irritating’ and even a suggestion of ‘extra screen for twitter’ highlights that a different configuation may be better. The latest screening of Jackie Brown did have a separate screen and initial judgement suggests this spatial arrangement received a much more positive response.


The first screening definitely did not only provide critical suggestions however. Positive and valuable information was gathered through verbal and written responses about how the system could be applied to learning in the future. My personal experience was mostly positive. I found the twitter feed developed my understanding of the narrative and I believe if it can be structured coherently into teaching practice, the system could become efficient in broadening my interpretations of the film’s stylistic qualities. It definitely brought excitement to the experience and ensures engagement even from the people who did not tweet. One respondent wrote: ‘It kept everybody really engaged with the film and wondering what others in the room thought. Especially good for people who are usually shy’. The system did allow people to immediately put forward their ideas, connecting viewer's comments in a kind of dialogue, and perhaps for some, produced a more relaxed environment than a seminar.


The questionnaires filled in before and after allowed an interesting insight into how level 1 film students, who were the target audience, view university screenings at the moment. The responses to the question on the 'before' questionnaire; ‘How would you assess yourself as a film watcher?’ confirmed previous concerns that students do not watch films, especially the specific films for our course, in a critical way. One of the questions posed before the screening asked: How do you see yourself as a film watcher? The choice of responses was: critical, engaged, passive, ambivalent. No first year students put solely that they were a ‘critical’ viewer and only two put it along with circling another option of ‘engaged’. This viewing experience aiming to address the problem of 'critical viewing' did seem to have an impact with the main positive response highlighting how the screening became more interactive and interesting. Changing the type of film, and the arrangement of the visual presentation, should bring about an ideal structure that can enhance the potential of the concept. With new and improved interactive screenings coming in the next few weeks this project is definitely on to something good!


Any comments to do with the blog or screenings would be very welcome.

First Pilot Screening: Initial thoughts.

Posted on May 7, 2012 at 7:35 AM Comments comments (2)

Last Wednesday (2nd May, 2012) was the first screening for the interactive spectatorships project. This started an investigation and analysis of film and social media that will continue for at least the rest of the year. The information and feedback gained from this first screening I have yet to barely even glance at, however, the very process of organising and experiencing the first in a series of pilot screenings has given me a great deal of food for thought concerning the logistical aspects of the project, its possibilities as a pedagogic tool, and the very effect of social media on the concept of the ‘audience’. This blog is a summary of those initial thoughts.


In planning this project the notion of fusing a film screening with a live twitter feed did not strike me as a particularly problematic or sophisticated technical aim. But in testing I realised the dynamics of space (the positioning of the screens, their size, orientation, colour and tone), and how this would affect audience interaction, would be a fundamental consideration. For this first event the twitter feed was run adjacent to the film, all on the same screen, with tweets scrolling from the top down on the left side. Twitter took up approximately one quarter of the total screen size and was run on the classic app view for Macbook pro (see image below). The film was played on Mac’s DVD player and magnified through the cinema’s projector via a VGA connection. Technically, it was simple to marry the twitter and film together in this way however, the desktop window and running time were visible throughout serving as a constant reminder of the computerised mediation.




The potential distraction of the digital windows may have been more acute if the film being shown was a ‘traditional’, fictional film. Because we screened the 2010 ‘documentary’ Catfish (Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman), which is specifically about social networking and uses the aesthetics of Facebook throughout, the film and twitter interface seemed to sit together quite well. Understanding the effect of different spatial dynamics will have to be factor when assessing the model generally. In future screenings we have the intention to use a completely separate screen for the twitter feed, allowing the full 16:9 aspect ratio to be used for the film. This could have an entirely different effect on audience experience.


We had prepared a two-part questionnaire which respondants answered before and after the screening. Part one consisted of general questions regarding the film going habits of the participants, the second asked about the reactions, positive and negative to the interactive process. The questionnaire was quite specifically designed for (level 1) film students but I’m not sure at this point whether further screenings will have a standardised questionnaire that would be suitable for all audiences. Feedback was taken anonymously using a numbering system to match up the data collected before and after the screening. The total number of respondents was 45.


For this screening I wanted to set out the fewest guidelines possible in order to let the process develop organically. However, I felt it was important to remind respondants that they were in an academic environment stressing that this should contextualise the kind of tweets they send. Having researched various attempts to use twitter with students there is always the potential for a discourse to emerge that that was offensive, banal, overly comedic or unrelated to the film in question. However the overall tone and level of tweets that would emerge from a specifically students audience was always a central question of the project. Using the search facility of the twitter app we could ensure that the screen only relayed tweets that carried the event’s hashtag (UCFCatfish). I impressed upon the audience that a colleague and myself would be tweeting questions as the film ran and that comments using that hashtag should relate to the film and/or to other people’s comments about the film. This inevitably raised a level of amusement with the possibility of these ‘rules’ being broken.


Admittedly, I was somewhat trepidatious as the film began not really knowing what would emerge from the largely Level 1 undergraduate audience. Generally, however I felt that the level of comment, debate and discussion was good and on the whole reflected the academic context I was attempting to achieve. Without going go into a detailed analysis of the comments here (a transcript of all comments can be found at this link) there were certain interesting developments that became apparent out of the screening that will undoubtedly inform the project as it moves forward. Firstly, tweeting in a public arena when tweets are revealed immediately to the audience on the screen alters the dynamic of using twitter. I think the best way to understand this is to suggest that it solidifies the connection between those tweeting and the tweets they write. All social media imbues a certain anonymity (even if a users real name is given) which somewhat disassociates an author with their statements, the impact their statements have on others, and how statements reflect back on the author. With everyone tweeting in the communal space of the cinema auditorium I sensed a much greater awareness that tweets are representative of a person. This meant that whether a comment is clever, insightful, humourous, immature, banal, rude or offensive, its connection to an identity in the room lends a weight to the tweet that it wouldn’t have if everyone were in their own private space.


Such a significant shift itself has various smaller knock-on effects. For example, it took some time for the audience to work up the confidence to make regular statements. Indeed one tweeter admitted their discomfort. The public display of comments thus seemed to imbue a level of perceived judgement that, again, would not be felt with private tweeting. Many people didn't get over this barrier at all and did not tweet anything throughout. It is perhaps a concern that students who are naturally gregarious and expressive will be the ones who use the system and those who are shy or lack confidence to talk in public would not be helped by this method. Also I felt some of the respondents dismissed the system from the start. Perhaps one possible reason being the unability to free himself or herself from a traditional film spectatorship position (which is perfectly understandable). Cleary this model of film watching will not be for everyone.


Another thing that became self-evident is that for this to have any pedagogic value it has to be quite rigidly structured. If my colleague and I had not been tweeting our own questions and comments, or if we had even left the students in the auditorium by themselves, I doubt that forum would have produced much in the way of constructive criticism. It is clear social media is understood by a majority of students as a fundamentally informal tool for sharing personal, abstract and often frivolous information and thus trying to bridge the gap to the more formal environment of a film screening is the main difficulty. Indeed, one cannot control tweeting about the event using alternate hashtags, direct messages or other social media, and indeed one would not want to. It is the layers of dissemination that make applications such as twitter such an important part of digital culture.


One of the clear positive outcomes was how the shifts in narrative and theme throughout the film corrolated with the level and depth of the twitter discussion. When the film was humourous and lighthearted the audience's tweets reflected this but when the film because more serious the debate intesified and some very interesting questions and statement were made. Clearly there is a lot more to come from this project which is the most encouraging thing for me. I am looking forward to the next screening (Jackie Brown – Wednesday, 9th of May, 5pm). A very different film with a different audience, which I’m sure will bring up further issues to reflect upon.

Students out of Sync with Film Screenings?

Posted on April 10, 2012 at 6:50 PM Comments comments (0)

After a 90 minute lecture followed by a ten-minute break, my fellow film students and I settle down to watch a feature length film. With complete concentration we are expected to process and analyse the ‘important’ aspects of the film, our thoughts invited to become part the basis for discussion in seminars, which can occur on the same day or up to a week later. This is the 'standard' format of film studies delivery. However, a film screening, in reality, does not lend itself to being an active learning environment. Unfortunately, I believe very few students treat the screening as part of the academic process to the extent that our lecturers expect or wish. Some students don’t even watch the film leaving after the lecture, some just sit through it with little attention, and I have never seen any students take notes. The atmosphere is very relaxed; students are comfortable enough to talk, eat and even sleep. Furthermore, many students spend much of the time on their laptops or other portable devices. Social media such as Facebook is a common sight during screenings alongside Google. What I have yet to discover is whether some students use the internet to research the film as they watch it.


So why are we as film enthusiasts and students unable to use the screenings in a more scholarly way? There are many possible reasons. Firstly, I believe most students have been passive watchers of only mainstream films before university. They therefore struggle with the sudden expectation to stop simply ‘enjoying’ films as a form of escape. Watching independent or foreign films is perhaps difficult for some, as is the very process of analysing them throughout. It is a difficult transition to make. Secondly, many students seem to prefer to watch films at home on a small television screen or computer screen where they can download a film at a later time and watch in a more comfortable environment. This may be due to the fact that there is more flexibility on portable devices - such as ability to pause and fast-forward - therefore editing your film experience whilst also able to browse online or have a break. I think this, for students of my generation, outweighs the negatives of smaller picture size and lower quality of sound, especially with the improvements in sound and picture technology on small screens. The fact that many people my age do not or cannot enjoy watching a film without being able to multi task shows a dramatic change in our ability to concentrate solely on something. Thirdly, the readiness of such technology actually renders it unnecessary to take our own notes on the film. The Internet provides a wealth of information that can tell us about the key aspects of most films. This perhaps even negates possible interaction between students in person after the film to discuss and develop ideas because technology means we can find answers or voice our opinions straight away.


So why do we still go to the cinema still at all? Perhaps this is because of the excitement of watching the latest releases. On the other hand, thanks to the Internet, illegal downloading of pirate films means people can view even new films can be watch fairly easily at home. The perceived limitations of film screening may actually make students think that time spent watching in a cinema auditorium is either boring or even has negative effect on their expectation or understanding of the actual film. Film screenings are perhaps almost out of sync with us as an audience who live in the digital world. The solution is not to cut screenings as it is vital to becoming an active film viewer and many students just wouldn’t end up watching the film before seminars. Neither is the answer to ban media during lectures or screenings, it is too late to ask everyone to reject media, it is part of every other aspect of our lives. Using social media during screenings could have the potential to address some of these issues. It suits the appetite for instantaneous interaction and could provide a method of documenting comments for further discussion during seminars. It could also facilitate more active spectatorship helping students with more critical methods of analysis. The introduction of twitter into screenings does present some contradictory problems. The balance between engaging with the twitter feed and screen cause an unsettling level of distraction. However, I believe screenings need to change somehow. They are not at this moment as valuable a use of time as they could be for the majority of students, and neither do the screenings seem to fit in with the contemporary student’s mindset.


Ellie Goodwin

The 'problem' of the screening

Posted on March 29, 2012 at 6:00 PM Comments comments (0)

Why don’t film students attend screenings and when they do what form of spectatorship are they expected to adopt? Perhaps these questions hold an implicit generalisation about the practice of certain students, which of course doesn’t apply to all. But as a film studies lecturer in higher education one is always reassessing the organisation and delivery of film in light of every changing attitudes to spectatorship and the very culture of cinema. The raison d’être of the screening, and its position in the structure of a module, may seem rather obvious. A lecture is given followed by an indicative screening at which students watch through the prism of specific critical/contextual tools. In subsequent seminars students synthesise their ideas about the film with core readings for the week, which become the basis for an open forum of discussion and debate. Sounds logical and relatively easy and is perhaps the most used pedagogic blueprint. This standard structure, however, comes up against a range of difficulties when the significance of the screening, as a key part of the learning process, is misunderstood or perhaps summarily rejected. This may be an underlying issues which affects the attendance of screenings and their usefulness as part of the overall learning process.But there are many other contributory factors.


Assessing the viewing practices of students has always been an interesting by-product of teaching film. While acknowledging the dangers of falling into overt generalisation, I am always struck by both the lack of cinematic vocabulary and the unwillingness (or inability) of many students to engage with films that are not very narrowly defined as mainstream. Perhaps it is indicative of the total saturation of Hollywood movies; the cultivation of a homogenous teen market means that anything outside a very limited purview is treated with disdain. Arguably the huge dissemination of television broadcasting on multiple digital platforms has created a generation of televisual spectators. Also emergence of computer game suggests an era of interactive audiences. But this activity is perhaps only superficial, fostering a greater level of distraction rather than critical thinking. The availability of high quality, low cost technology for viewing at home (or anywhere) perhaps makes the small screen intrinsically preferable to the large screen. DVD, and now Internet streaming, arguably make sitting in (an often uncomfortable) cinema something of a chore. It seems there is a fundamental rejection of the value of the ‘cinematic experience’. Is the notion that watching in an auditorium on a big screen is quintessential to the concept of film now somewhat archaic?


But there is also an issue with regards to ‘how’ students watch a film. The ethos of film studies is predicated on what might be termed engaged critical spectatorship. This is something I reiterate time and again. Yet I am often surprised how so few students take notes on the film as they watch it. Few arrive at seminars with a set of ideas that were triggered by the film; they often wait for prompting as to what are the salient points they should be concerned with. At times I feel such a high level of ingrained passivity that is difficult to break through. Tellingly one of the most revealing comments I have heard regularly from students is, “you have ruined watching films for me because I can’t watch now without analysing everything”. When I have heard this I feel as though I have done my job properly. However, the very fact that an analytical mindset is lamented suggests that escapism and apathy is seen as preferable to a forensic critical spectatorship that interrogates film on multiple levels.


Undoubtedly one can postulate the influence that social media has in atomising spectatorship requires a reasonably long period of uninterrupted concentration. There is an established scientific and media discourse which suggests that human attention spans are being shortened by the technological matrix of immediacy. But even if this is true does this inhibit the ability to learn? Certainly within lectures, screenings and seminars the use of laptops, tablets and mobiles is already reaching the point of ubiquity. Of course it is doubtful that all these devices are always being employed for educational purposes in this context. However, I have found myself telling students to stop texting when in fact they are going through the reading or searching for relevant information using their phone. Whether one likes it or not digital technology and social media is here to stay and will be increasingly prevalent in the education environment. The development of the research model for this project will seek to explore these questions, and postulate the possibility of social media as a pedagogic tool for enhancing the critical abilities of the students through a greater level of engagement with film screenings. 

Social media and learning: Student perspective

Posted on March 22, 2012 at 11:15 AM Comments comments (2)

Being part of a research project into the potential of social media, especially twitter, founded a new interest in how my generation lives. The fact that I, and most my peers, use social media sites every day to document our lives is a slightly scary phenomenon. However, I found the concept intriguing that this social media take over could actually be used as a positive part of our education. That instead of it being taboo to be on Twitter during a lecture or screening it could be actively developed and encouraged as part of the learning experience. My initial research, aided by Dario, helped me understand the potential of Twitter, which is already being used widely in conferences through ‘backchat forums’. Thus the concept that it should be used within film screenings to aid engagement seems very plausible. I know from personal experience that some student film screenings are hard to connect with on an emotional level. With older films and foreign films students perhaps do not have the context or knowledge of certain themes and ideas, or the film in question may seem very distanced from our culture and interests. This, I am sad to admit, can make it difficult to remain connected throughout the screening and therefore also hinder my ability talk about the film it in seminars.

 I very much want to appreciate and understand such films on an intellectual level as a student, and if I was able to discuss the themes and other factors of the film on Twitter during the screening it may make it more enriching and enhance the learning experience. One has to acknowledge that my generation especially is becoming more impatient, we want everything instantly whether it’s an answer to a question through Google or to voice our opinion. Social media sites can give us this and having the technology at our fingertips during the screening, whether it is through smart phones, tablets or laptops, may be a way to counter this impatience. Also waiting for the seminar after the film screening to voice and discuss our opinions is often too long, by that time interest may have waned or specific details may have been forgotten. Also Twitter has the possibility of helping to involve those who do not attend screenings as it could create a range of instantaneous responses through peer discussion, which can also be reflected on later in seminars as it becomes documented. It is this potential that I will be researching on this project. I soon will be running a pilot screening asking level 1 students to participate and give feedback about the experience. In the mean time I will be blogging and tweeting regularly and any thoughts or questions on the project would be most welcome.

@GoodwinEllie

[email protected]

Some initial context and questions

Posted on March 19, 2012 at 11:45 AM Comments comments (2)

What does it mean to be film spectator in the digital age? It is undoubtedly the case that ‘traditional’ notions of communal viewing are being challenged by the encroachment of technologies into both the physical and cognitive space of the cinema auditorium. The increasing ubiquity of the smartphone (nearly one in three adult now use them) allows the text, the email, the tweet, the facebook update and the information search, to be made at any time and from any location. The notion of a ‘digital culture’ thus emerges from the processes and feelings of being constantly plugged-in to a social and informational communications network. Interactions in the digital environment therefore become not a specific outcome of specialized economic or cultural behavior but intrinsic to the very nature of contemporary experience. Questions therefore arise regarding the integrity of the darkened space of the cinema auditorium; will it remain an almost sacred arena for a specific type of unadulterated consumption? Or is there going to increasing tension between new media and old which will define what the cinema experience is to become?

The implications of this unbridled move into a ‘digital culture’ are at the forefront of many spheres of theoretical and sociological enquiry. One can perhaps make the general assertion that there has emerged a dichotomy between dystopian and utopian outlooks regarding the effects of new media technologies. On the positive side suggestions that we are entering era of widening participation - both in terms of cultural creativity and political citizenship – are often linked to new media. The breaking down of institutional hierarchies in the production of art, news, entertainment and knowledge derives from a bottom-up rather than top down flow of information and production. An idealised era of political engagement and globalised connectivity, in which citizens of a netropolis share thoughts, ideas and solutions, could eventually break down archaic barriers of national, ethnic, racial, religious and gender identities. In this context the local and global exist in a paradoxical, yet mutually beneficial symbiosis. Yet the negative implications are arguably just as acute. Ironically the proliferation of communication possibilities may have made us more individualized and atomized; generation of agoraphobes who struggle with real world interactions. Also the ubiquity of surveillance technology not only facilities more state control but arguably encourages a superficial obsession with the self. The banality of the average status update encapsulates contemporary subjectivity. With knowledge only a click away the epistemological basis that has underpinned historical, analytical and philosophical dialectics is becoming less secure. Rather than creating engaged students of a changing world does digital culture serve to obliterate critical thought. The issues that I touch upon here are just the tip of an expansive iceberg.

When reduced down to fundamentals perhaps the key of digital technologies on our lives revolves around concept of interactivity. The relationship between producer and consumer has changed as has how 'the audience' is constructed and defined. The question that underpins this project asks what happens when the practices of digital culture clash with traditional forms of media experience in which the mode of interaction is seemingly well established? It would not be too simplistic to suggest that the effect of digital communication on cinematic spectatorship has thus far been largely anecdotal and almost invariably posited as negative. I would argue that there still exists a rather antiquated understanding of the cinema audience that conforms to a modernist binary of active user or passive consumer. In film studies pedagogic practice there is often the explicit evocation that the former is to be strived for while the latter critiqued. However, this understanding of ‘activity’ in watching frowns upon the use of digital communications technologies which interrupts the ‘pure’ practice of film viewing. A paradox thus emerges in which the film studies student is expected to be a critically active viewer, dissecting in-depth the form and content of films, while forsaking their everyday (and often intrinsic) use of a range of media tools and practices that fundamentally structure their experience and identity. The aim of this project is to explore a model of spectatorship seeks to reclaim social media (specifically twitter) as a relevant and useful tool for pedagogic practice within a film studies environment. In writing this blog I intend to both outline the development of the project in functional terms suggesting the possibilities for enhanced methods of learning and teaching but also interrogate the many theoretical issues by research into the concept of film spectatorship in the digital age. With this in mind I intend this website to be an open forum for the discussion of ideas and a hub for the aggregation of resources. Any questions and/or comments would therefore be extremely welcome.


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