2021 – A2: Infrastructures of Circulation: Rarities, Contestations & Peripheries

Chair: Virginia Crisp

Rare Exports: Informal Infrastructures of Transnational Television Circulation and Only-Click TV
James Rendell (University of South Wales)

Abstract: Whilst the COVID-19 global pandemic has seen subscriptions to SVOD services such as Netflix drastically increase (Hazleton 2020), others are unable to consume television through formal routes. Unsurprisingly, then, during the same period the pirating of media has also greatly increased (Cuthbertson 2020). Questioning and revising the ‘TV everywhere’ doctrine (Faltesek 2011), this paper analyses why some audiences cannot and/or will not use legitimate official distribution channels for television consumption and how this is remedied via informal infrastructures of transmedia circulation (Evans 2011:44). Beginning with myriad barriers that impede audiences from viewing TV, including: cost, distribution rights, dissemination infrastructure, geoblocking, and differing international release dates, the paper introduces the concept of Only-Click TV; content that has at one point been aired via formal broadcast or stream, but through spatial and temporal shifting vis-à-vis online/digital media becomes available purely by informal means. Using North American examples, the paper then considers how Only-Click TV ‘allows viewers to transcend their local broadcasters’ delivery schedules’ (Gray 2008:90). As such, the model facilitates transcultural ‘just-in-time’ fandom (Hills 2002) and, over delayed traditional broadcast, creates affective intensity for fans who would otherwise be unable to partake in such rhythmic fan talk. The paper then examines case studies from Japan, Mexico, and Russia and how Only-Click TV creates transnational secondary audiences for media outside these regions and provides access to bygone television. Thus, Only-Click TV also fosters archival potential and can imbue content with cult value that audiences, in turn, can translate into subcultural capital (Rendell 2021). In doing so, Only-Click TV also engenders digi-gratis (Booth 2016) where user-led distribution and in some cases user-created extra-textual features, such as subtitles, facilitate and maintain online communities. Consequently, the paper highlights how ‘[t]he circuits through which texts move are of paramount importance to the processes of reception’ (Lobato 2007:114).

Bio: Dr James Rendell is a Lecturer in Creative Industries at the University of South Wales. His works predominantly focuses on screen media audiences’ meaning-making practices, digital media technologies, participatory cultures, and transnational media ecologies. His research has been published in Transformative Works and Cultures, Participations: Journal of Audience and Reception Studies, East Asian Journal of Popular Culture, Convergence: The International Journal of Research Into New Media Technologies, and Global TV Horror (University of Wales Press). He has forthcoming work in New Review of Film and Television Studies, The Soundtrack, and The Television Genre Book (BFI), and his forthcoming monograph Transmedia Terrors in Post-TV Horror: Digital Distribution, Abject Spectrums and Participatory Culture is to be published with Amsterdam University Press.

(Non-?)traditional Film Distribution Practices in Ukraine
Kateryna Sivak (Birmingham City University)

Abstract: The geographic context undoubtedly plays a defining role in the way a specific media economy is structured. It is particularly evident from studies into the informal media practices around the world (e.g., Mattelart, 2012; Lim, 2019). They demonstrate that the unique for each country set of regulations, their enforcement, broader cultural, economic, political, and social issues significantly affect the range of distribution channels and their status, i.e., the degree of formality (Lobato and Thomas, 2015), within an economy. In this regard, Ukraine provides an intriguing context to explore a distinct variety of modern film distribution practices, which, whilst being widespread and mostly legitimate in Ukraine, are either considered marginal within the traditional, generally Western perspectives on film distribution or completely absent from such discussions. In this paper, I draw on my ongoing virtual ethnographic research into the diverse “extra-formal” activities aimed at providing Ukrainian audiences with access to film and TV content. I discuss some of the most common ways of screen media distribution in Ukraine, e.g., so-called “online cinemas”, and how the nature of such practices is related to the complex, constantly changing conditions of a specific place that is Ukraine. The latter include, inter alia, a rapidly increasing demand for the Ukrainian dubbing of audiovisual content, and often controversial changes in media regulation. I find an issue with applying the notions of ‘formal/informal’, ‘traditional’, ‘mainstream’ to some of the film distribution activities in the context of Ukraine. I argue that this, in turn, suggests that exploring smaller, lesser-known within the dominant Western research media markets may not only broaden our understanding of the diverse audiovisual practices worldwide but can potentially highlight the need to at least partly rethink existing approaches to the concepts of ‘formality’ and ‘mainstream’ in the context of media distribution.

Bio: Kateryna Sivak is a second-year postgraduate researcher at School of Media, Birmingham City University. Her PhD research project focuses on the entrepreneurial aspect of the varying informal media practices related to film distribution in Ukraine. Kateryna’s research interests include film piracy, informal screen media economies, new ways of film and TV distribution, and unconventional forms of entrepreneurship in the media industry. She is currently a co-editor of “Makings”, a journal on the cultural and creative industries.

Contested Spaces: Filming and Distributing Iuventa (2018)
Alessio Baldini & Rachel Johnson (University of Leeds)

Abstract: In this paper, we will explore how documentary filmmaking and distribution engage critically with off-screen spaces. As a case study, we will draw on Iuventa (2018) by Italian documentarist Michele Cinque. In the first section, we will look at the artistic and moral challenges posed by filming locations at sea and on land when and where nation states exercise their ‘right to exclude’ (Fine, 2013). Shot at the peak of Europe’s ‘migration crisis’, Iuventa follows members of the German NGO Jugend Rettet (‘Youth Saves’) as they embark on their first search-and-rescue mission in the Central Mediterranean, visit Italy’s refugee camps, and finally head back to their headquarters in Berlin while facing trial for smuggling migrants into Italy. Our main claim will be that documentary filmmaking can challenge the ‘distribution of the sensible’ (Rancière 2004) that props up the polity by making those spaces of exclusion visible. In the second section, we examine the film’s “activist distribution strategy” and the critical engagement with off-screen spaces that it instantiates. Pulling out of prestigious, “A” list film festivals such as Venice, Iuventa’s distribution strategy has favoured specialised, smaller-scale sites of exhibition: human rights film festivals, activist events and special screenings at educational institutions (universities and schools). The film’s online circulation, however, has largely taken place through Amazon Prime, appearing to contradict the small-scale, activist ethos of its exhibition. We consider how these different facets of Iuventa’s circulation enacts and invites a critical engagement with off-screen space (physical and virtual), providing insights into the circulation infrastructures of documentary filmmaking, the power dynamics and moral implications of the film’s circulation as well as its production. Throughout the paper, we will show how the geography and politics of spaces besides the screen are integral to the documentary as a genre of cinematic art.

Bio(s): Alessio Baldini (PhD, University of Siena) is Lecturer in Italian Culture at the University of Leeds. His main research interests revolve around the interplay between aesthetic and moral value in the narrative arts (literature and film), and the function of narrative arts in shaping and contesting social and national imaginaries. Rachel Johnson (PhD, University of Leeds) is an Associate Lecturer and Postdoctoral Fellow in Film Studies at the University of Leeds. Her research focuses on the circulation of migration cinema, with a special emphasis on film festivals’ construction of counter-hegemonic discourses about migration.

Peripheries and Borders: Geographies of Memory in four New Towns
Angela English (Birmingham City)

Abstract: This paper proposal focuses on aspects of my research that deal in local specificities and individual experiences in peripheral communities. My research into practice with fragmented local archive film took place in real and metaphorical borders/ hinterlands on the geographical edges of London and was concerned with how audience engagement with archive film might demonstrate cultural value for public history and identity. I will focus on the ‘New Towns: Our Town’ project. The New Towns movement is one of South East England’s most significant shared stories and at the time of its inception post World War 2 it generated considerable interest with progress being captured on film. Consequently there exists a large but rarely seen collection of local archive film. The project sought to increase access to this material, to explore the unique social history and heritage of these towns and to allow modern day residents to reclaim, celebrate and contribute to this heritage. The history of the New Towns movement and particularly the archive film that records this history is under documented and had been neglected. Through screenings and training sessions with volunteers in four New Towns on the periphery of London- Hemel Hempstead, Crawley, Stevenage and Harlow- I interrogated creative ways of using local archive film with community audiences. This included exploring issues of accessibility, identity and audience perceptions/expectations and how to discover local microhistories through archive film. Part of the paper will take the form of a case study of audience reception in one of the New Towns, Stevenage. The case study explores Stevenage through two local films with emphasis on radical interventions and innovative audience and reception work. This paper addresses the following conference themes: sites of promotion and consumption; infrastructures of circulation.

Bio: Angela English was awarded her PhD from Birmingham City University in July 2020 for a research project entitled ‘On the periphery: archive film, public history and memory in places and spaces on the borders of London’. Her research focuses on how film archives might play a role in public history practice and audience engagement. She previously had a long career working in arts and education, the film archive sector and as a lecturer in adult and further education. From 2000-2003 she was Head of the Education Projects Development Unit at the British Film Institute, working at the National Film Theatre. From 2006-2015 she was the Research and Development Officer for the London Screen Study Collection at Birkbeck College, University of London where she was also an Associate Lecturer in Film and Media.