Sightlines: Filmmaking in the Academy
Issue 1, 2015
Screen Cultures Research Lab, School of Media & Communication, RMIT University
Leo Berkeley & Smiljana Glisovic, RMIT University
The Sightlines event, part film festival and part conference, was held in Melbourne in November 2014 and had two main purposes. One was to showcase the breadth and quality of filmmaking that occurs in the university sector. The other was to contribute to the development of screen production as an academic research discipline. This occurred through a range of discussion sessions, both formal and informal, and the decision that after the event an audiovisual journal would be established that participating films could be published in, following a peer review process that would evaluate their quality as research. This initial issue of the Sightlines audiovisual journal is the outcome of that process. It is something of a pilot and we see the future of this journal as creating a site where important and necessary discussions can occur about the relationship between screen production and research.
There are both pragmatic institutional reasons and disciplinary identity reasons for films made by academics to be recognized as research. Screen production has been a popular and successful teaching activity in the higher education sector for many years but its long-term viability as an academic discipline may be limited without the development of a related research sector. On a pragmatic level, filmmaker/academics interested in research can struggle to get time to devote to this activity without recognized means of publishing their research, research that usually takes the form of a creative screen work or screenplay. The shortage of appropriate research publication outlets leads to the situation where individuals cannot point to a publication track record as evidence of the quality of their work, evidence that academics in most other disciplines take for granted. But for this broader institutional recognition to occur, it is also incumbent on the discipline to articulate a coherent and convincing basis on which the creative practice of filmmaking can be considered as research, a basis that can be accepted amongst the practitioners within this academic community.
Films made by academics can and do find outlets in festivals, on television and through other public screenings. However, it is clear that there are many worthwhile films made as part of a creative research practice that struggle to find suitable publication and exhibition outlets. Some may argue that this reflects a failure or shortcoming on the part of the filmmaker, that the work is not up to scratch as a creative work. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that films made in a research context can be informed by different objectives, produced under different circumstances and to some extent should be evaluated on different criteria to those produced for public exhibition. There is overlap but the specific qualities of the research components need to be recognised.
The task of analysing and theorizing how the practice of screen production can be considered as a research practice has been undertaken by a number of people in the past, although it is perhaps surprising that the published discussion of this issue is not as extensive as in related design and creative arts disciplines. People who have written with insight about the knowledge created through the practice of screen production include MacDougall (1998), Geuens (2000), Bell (2006), Dovey (2007), Gibson (2010), Wood (2012) and Kerrigan (2013). However, we believe there is a need for the intellectual foundations of this research discipline to be more thoroughly and clearly articulated. In this process, we do not regard it as likely or desirable that one approach will prevail. However, it is important that the debates and arguments are thoroughly aired and that as many members of the discipline participate as possible. We hope that Sightlines may be able to contribute to this occurring.
Sightlines is by no means the first journal devoted to the publication of peer-reviewed screen works. The Journal of Artistic Research, Screenworks and Audiovisual Thinking are three precedents we have looked at closely in considering the approach we want to take. Like text-based academic journals, we see peer review as the best way to ensure the quality of the published research. We also feel that the discipline at this stage in its development needs an approach to peer review that exposes the research evaluation process to the wider peer community, an approach taken by The Journal of Artistic Research and one we feel is a model worth following.
The process of peer review is one that cannot simply be transferred without modification from text-based publishing to screen production practice. The anonymity of the ‘author’, the ability to modify the creative work in response to peer review feedback and even the criteria under which the research should be evaluated are all contested issues. For example, there are financial and logistical obstacles to removing a filmmaker’s name from the credits, as there are to reworking a film after it has been completed in response to peer feedback. The approach we have taken is one that uses peer review in a deliberately open manner, to encourage a wide exchange of views and ideas with the objective of developing shared understandings of screen production research within the academic discipline. Central issues relevant to a research practice undertaken through moving images and sounds, such as the role of written text in the process, are still much debated and we support this debate continuing on the Sightlines site.
The films that are being published as part of this first edition of the Sightlines journal reflect the diversity of work that showcased at the event. They include dramas and documentaries, film and television, and screen work with both an experimental and mainstream focus. The films have all been reviewed by two peers and in most cases what has been published alongside the films is a filmmaker’s research statement, the two peer reviews and an optional response to the reviews from the filmmaker. The reviewers are also given the option to remain anonymous or not.
We are hoping this spirit of open discussion within the community of filmmaker/academics will contribute to an evolving exploration of what it means to make a film in a research context, whether that is in extending the boundaries of what is possible in screen-based creative practice or in applying audiovisual techniques to multidisciplinary research questions and topics.
Related discussions of these issues:
A range of participants at the Sightlines event was asked to respond to three questions:
- Do you think academic filmmaking needs written text to count as research?
- What do you think the relationship should be between the screen industry and
- How do you think academic filmmaking could be funded?
These responses were filmed and edited by Nicholas Hansen and can be seen here
An article in The Conversation written by Leo Berkeley was published prior to the Sightlines event and can be seen here.
Three of the key Sightlines organisers have written a journal article that will shortly be published in Studies in Australasian Cinema:
Glisovic, S., Batty, C., and Berkeley, L. (forthcoming). The Problem of Peer Review in Screen Production: Exploring Issues and Proposing Solutions. Studies in Australasian Cinema, 9 (3).
Editorial Reference List
Audiovisual Thinking (n/d). Available at: http://www.audiovisualthinking.org/ [accessed 14 September 2015].
Bell, D. (2006). Creative film and media practice as research: In pursuit of that obscure object of knowledge. Journal of Media Practice, 7(2), 85-100
Dovey, J. (2007). Screen media practice research and peer review. Journal of Media Practice, 8(1).
Geuens, J. P. (2000). Film Production Theory: Albany State University of New York Press.
Gibson, R. (2010). The known world. TEXT: Journal of writing and writing courses, special issue 8, iterative and practice-led research: current status, future plans’, 1-11. Available at: http://www.textjournal.com.au/speciss/issue8/content.htm [accessed April 7 2015]. Journal for Artistic Research (n/d). Available at: http://www.jar-online.net/ [accessed May 7 2015]
Kerrigan, S. (2013). Accommodating creative documentary practice within a revised systems model of creativity, Journal of Media Practice, 14(2) 111-127.
MacDougall, D. (1998). Transcultural Cinema. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Screenworks. (n/d). Available at: http://jmpscreenworks.com [accessed December 15 2014].
Wood, M., & Brown, S. (2012). Film-based creative-arts enquiry: qualitative researchers as auteurs. Qualitative Research Journal, 12(1), 130-147.
Issue 1, 2015
The guidelines for peer review sent to reviewers are available here.
My Mother’s Village – Aaron BurtonGlobus Hystericus – Tim Howe & Nick CopeThe Sister – Kath DooleyHow many ways to say you? – Bettina FrankhamEating Cultures – Holly GiesmanMother’s Day – Andrew O’KeefeBest Intentions TV Pilot – Marilyn Tofler & Jeremy Stanford