Session 8 – Changing patterns of film consumption

Chair: Prof. Simeon Yates (University of Liverpool)

‘Minor’ cinema cultures from the analogue to the digital: Film consumption of Belgian-Flemish youth audiences in the 2000s and 2010s

Prof. Philippe Meers (University of Antwerp), Prof. Daniel Biltereyst (Ghent University) and Dr Aleit Veenstra (Independent)

The shift from analog to digital cinema is seen as the end of traditional cinema culture, and the beginning of the digital age of audiovisual media convergence. Scholars, with Henry Jenkins as a prominent voice, describe the switch to digital as a revolution in the audiovisual landscape. New means of access to media –a wider variety of screens and platforms beyond limits once set by time and place –characterize film consumption of contemporary audiences. They would no longer be bound – as in the analogue era -, to the availability of films in local cinemas, video stores or to what is programmed on television or stored on DVD. Other scholars such as Nick Couldry, however, are much more skeptical of convergence culture. They question that audience practices have changed fundamentally and point to structural continuities. But how does this work for ‘minor’ national cinemas?  In a first conceptual part the paper looks beyond the celebratory discourses on change, adding long-term structural contextualization.  In the empirical part, we focus on Flanders, Belgium. The Flemish cinema and film landscape has known a boost over the last decade on the level of film policy, production and international festival success, but what about the ‘national’ audiences for this cinema? Did they follow the positive trend? We wonder if the hierarchy between Hollywood and (minor) national cinemas is still in place, when contemporary audiences are seen as actively seeking, selecting, shaping, and creating individualized film experiences. And how does this affect ‘specialised’ regional or national cinema? Survey data and interviews from a large scale project Screen(ing) Audiences on film consumption of Belgian-Flemish youth in 2015 are compared to data of a quasi-identical project by the same team in 2001. Young film audience’s consumption practices from two distinct periods are thus examined, as are their discourses on Hollywood cinema and Flemish cinema. We come to the conclusion that there is a surprising continuity from the analogue to the digital. Young audiences’ still use a multilayered concept of national cinema, whereby a ‘minor’ cinema is (de-)constructed from an audience perspective. 

Philippe Meers is professor in Film and Media Studies at the University of Antwerp (Belgium), where he is deputy-director of the Visual and Digital Cultures research center (ViDi) and chairs the Center for Mexican Studies. He has published widely on historical and contemporary film culture and audiences (e.g. in Screen, and in Participations). With R. Maltby and D. Biltereyst he recently co-edited The Routledge Companion to New Cinema History (2019). 

Daniel Biltereyst is Professor in Film and Media History and director of the Cinema and Media Studies (CIMS) research center at Ghent University. Besides exploring new approaches to historical media and cinema cultures, he is engaged in work on screen culture as site of censorship, controversy, and public debate. He recently co-edited The Routledge Companion to New Cinema History (2019, with R. Maltby and Ph. Meers) and Mapping Movie Magazines (2020, Palgrave, with L. Van de Vijver).

Aleit Veenstra is a PhD in Communication Studies (University of Antwerp-Belgium), where she is a voluntary member of the research center Visual and Digital Cultures research center (ViDi). She worked on the ‘Screen(ing) Audiences’ project.  She has published widely on young film audiences in e.g. Communications; and on popular culture and consumption in Sociology Compass.

Dr Antonina Anisimovich (Independent)
Cinema-going memories in a Hastings: the role of a small cinema in the local community

This paper explores the cinema-going memories in Hastings, a small seaside town in East Sussex. The study looks at the role that independent small cinemas play in the local community. It is suggested that cinemas offer a much-needed space for public engagement and cultural identity negotiation. I also argue that memories of cinema-going play a crucial role in understanding the role of urban cultural spaces. Despite having one of the highest deprivation levels in the country, Hastings has always had a rich history of cinema-going, and still is among the few places in East Sussex and Kent that have more than one cinema. In this study I focus on the case study of Electric Palace, an independent community cinema run by local volunteers.  The importance of community cinemas is discussed through the lens of personal cinema-going memories, collected in a written form and now available on the Electric Palace website. These written memories will be analysed along with several in-depth interviews with some of the Electric Palace volunteers and supporters. I am particularly interested in the concepts of nostalgia and sense of togetherness that might emerge in such discussions. 

Antonina Anisimovich holds a PhD in Media from Edge Hill University. Antonina’s thesis focused on Eastern European cinema about the transition after the events of 1989. Her broader scope of research interests includes collective memory studies, media memory, cinema-going, post-communist nostalgia, and historical representations on screen.

Dr Peter Turner (Oxford Brookes University)
Memories of illegal underage film viewing in 1980s Britain

This paper will introduce a work-in-progress project that is investigating the memories of 1980s British audiences surrounding viewing films underage illegally due to film classifications. At this early stage in the project, I have over 200 completed questionnaires, asking participants about how/when/where underage viewers watched films rated ‘suitable for 18 years and over’. This paper will outline some of the findings regarding the diverse viewer memories of conditions of reception with particular reference to the emerging technologies of VHS players and tapes in the 1980s. I will briefly explain the methodology for the project, inspired by the work of Daniela Treveri Gennari (2015) on memories of Italian cinema-going in 1950s Rome, as well as Gennari and Silvia Dibeltulo’s (2017) work on memories of film censorship in 1950s Italy. I will present these viewer recollections against BBFC and archival media documents such as newspaper articles on ‘video nasties’ in order to highlight how audience memories of, and responses to watching films illegally compares and contrasts with official discourses around illegal film viewing, classification and censorship. In this paper, I will analyse the responses of these participants in order to:

  • Question what role illegal cinema and VHS film viewing played in the lives of the UK population in the 1980s
  • Establish the factors influencing decisions regarding illegal film viewing, practices and habits
  • Investigate recollections of film classification and censorship and how these compare to official discourses on the subject
  • Identify common elements within the diversity of audience responses 

Finally, I will discuss what the future of the project will entail: interviewing approximately 10% of the total 300 questionnaire respondents that were under the age of 18 in the 1980s and collecting further data about their experiences of watching 18 rated films or films that were banned in the UK. 

Bibliography

Barber, S. (2018) Power struggles, regulation and responsibility: reappraising the Video Recordings Act, Media History, 24(1), pp. 99-114.

Petley, J. (2011) Film and video censorship in contemporary Britain. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 

Treveri Gennari, D. and Dibeltulo, S. (2017) ‘It existed indeed … it was all over the papers’: memories of film censorship in 1950s Italy, Participations: Journal of Audience & Reception Studies, 14(1), pp. 235-248.

Treveri Gennari, D. (2015) ‘If you have seen it, you cannot forget!’: film consumption and memories of cinema-going in 1950s Rome, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 35(1), pp. 53-74.

Peter Turner is a lecturer and postgraduate subject coordinator at Oxford Brookes University where he teaches on the Film, Digital Media Production, and Media, Communications and Culture courses. He is the author of Found Footage Horror Films: A Cognitive Approach and a monograph on The Blair Witch Project as part of Auteur’s Devil’s Advocates series. He has spoken at The Society for Cognitive Studies of the Moving Image conferences in London, Helsinki and Montana and horror-focused conferences including Fear 2000 and Cine-Excess.