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“Sites of Cinema” takes a new approach to the question of cinema at the moment when cinema is said to be in decline, even in some accounts said to be facing its “death.” At this moment, when are focused on a convergence of moving image forms into a single delivery system we take up divergence over convergence, a divergence. Alternative to André Bazin’s question “What is Cinema?” “Sites of Cinema” will ask “Where is Cinema?” Where has it been seen to be and where will it be spaced in the future—as theoretical construct, national culture, material object, artistic work, social practice and space of exhibition. Cinema has moved and is still moving—from theatrical stages to museum walls, in and on buildings as well as within historical nations and regions of the world. “Sites of Cinema” signals our interest in site-specific cinemas plural but also cinema as a total apparatus—the “cinema of the mind” for the mass audience.

Professor Nico Baumbach

Professor Jane Gaines

Kaylee DeFreitas

Meeting Schedule

10/07/2021 Online Meeting
7:00 PM
Black on Both Sides: Film, Media, and the Art of Blackness
Michael Boyce Gillespie, City College, CUNY


Focusing on recent works, new curatorial practices, and a concentration on visual historiography and collectivity, Gillespie will present new research and propositions for understanding black visual and expressive culture. The talk will expand on the work of film blackness by considering a continued conceptual insistence on the study of black film and media with attention to form and content.

Respondent: Paula J. Massood, Brooklyn College, CUNY

10/21/2021 Online Meeting
7:00 PM
Hysterical Laughter in the Throat of Capitalist Film Modernity
Maggie Hennefeld, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities


Women laughed their heads off at the movies. “Laugh? Why, you’ll have to tie them to the seats so that they won’t roll all over the house in fits of convulsive laughter,” declared The Moving Picture World in 1912. This paper explores the raucous social potentials and ruthless capitalist incentives for women’s hysterical explosion into laughing modernity. Working comparatively between early film historiography and feminist/anti-capitalist affect theory, I pursue the head-on collision between laughter and hysteria—commoditized enjoyment and spectacle-based madness—as female Medusan revelers and gaslit “clownist” hysterics assumed the same convulsive bodies. Their unholy conjoinment, I argue, sheds light on the present-day crises of neoliberal enjoyment and dystopian carnival via the archives of hysterical movie laughter.

Respondent: Claudia Breger, Columbia University

02/24/2022 Online Meeting
5:00 PM
Prediction Machines
Lee Grieveson, University College, London


"Prediction Machines” explores histories of the construction and use of new forms of informational and mediated control by elite groups to secure new political and economic realities. It is a contribution to a political history of “the digital,” as a modality of a specific praxis of control, and to a history of the present written with the “backward-directed glance of the historian.”

Respondent: Rob King, Columbia University

04/07/2022 Online Meeting
5:00 PM
This Person Does Not Exist: Empathy and Abstraction from Film Theory to A.I.
Abe Geil, University of Amsterdam (Netherlands)


Empathy names a terrain of contestation. There are nearly as many “against empathy” tracts today as there are lamentations of its purported absence. Within recent film theory, the term figures significantly in two opposing models of spectatorship: cognitive narratology with its attention to how fiction films cue degrees of “character alignment”; and phenomenological approaches that argue for a more direct embodied relation of “kinaesthetic empathy” with film form. Often presenting as a curious afterlife of Willhem Worringer’s influential Abstraction and Empathy (1908), the debates that animate these film-theoretical uses empathy are overdetermined by the mutations the concept has undergone since its origins as Einfühlung in 19th century German aesthetics. What was initially a concept for the aesthetic experience of objects became about a moral relation to other people; what first described an unconscious projection of self into things came to designate the conscious effort to restrain the self in order to see another’s perspective. This history of inversion haunts the discourse of empathy with the threat of reduction: of people to things, of other to self, of heterogeneity to sameness.

This talk enters into this terrain by returning to the conflict between two “classical” film theorists—Béla Balázs and Sergei Eisenstein—whose writings have been variously recruited as early heralds of “cinempathy” today. Shifting away from their canonical debate over cinematic specificity (“forgotten scissors”), I recast the deeper difference between Balázs and Eisenstein as about the metaphysics of form. To consider some implications for our own media moment, the talk turns to two contemporary sites of faciality where empathy and the problematic of reduction are at stake: the use of the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) in neuroscientific experiments on “mirror neurons”; and the use of AI to produce computational photographs of new faces out of existing facial databases ( A basic question this talk aims to pose is what picture of empathy emerges when we suspend the critical taboo on reductionism?

Respondent: Brian Price, University of Toronto (Canada)