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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

Carlos Gutierrez Aza

All seminars will meet over Zoom for the 2020-2021 academic year. Meeting links provided upon RSVP. Meeting dates and times are subject to change. 

Meeting Schedule

09/25/2020 Online Meeting
2:00 PM
Here and Now: Queer Radical Changes through the Lens of Buddhism
Victor Fan, Kings College London (England, UK)


On March 31, 2020, I was asked by Queer Asia, a London-based cultural and research group, to be in their summer panel to discuss queer politics and radical changes. This opportunity inspired me to rethink how a Buddhist understanding of media can help us address two questions: (1) How can we initiate radical changes when politics and humanity seem to be beyond reparation? (2) Why is it important to think about the cinema at this moment and what can it do in the process of reparation?

Based on my forthcoming book Illuminating Reality (University of Minnesota Press), my presentation will address these two questions by using Zen Buddhism’s understanding of technicity-consciousness and the concept of here and now, and by establishing a conversation between these notions with Brian Massumi’s idea of ontopower. I am especially interested in examining how contemporary independent Chinese and Sinophone queer filmmakers mobilize similar thoughts and strategies as modes of political activism.

Respondent: Ronald Gregg, Columbia University

10/23/2020 Online Meeting
12:00 PM
Panel Discussion of 'Bombay Hustle: Making Movies in a Colonial City' by Debashree Mukherjee (Columbia University Press, 2020)
Jennifer M. Bean, University of Washington

Nitin Govil, University of Southern California

Debashree Mukherjee, Columbia University


From starry-eyed fans with dreams of fame to cotton entrepreneurs turned movie moguls, the Bombay film industry has historically energized a range of practices and practitioners, playing a crucial and compelling role in the life of modern India. Bombay Hustle presents an ambitious history of Indian cinema as a history of material practice, bringing new insights to studies of media, modernity, and the late colonial city. Drawing on original archival research, Mukherjee develops the concept of a “cine-ecology” to study the bodies, technologies, and environments that collectively shaped the production and circulation of cinematic meaning during the talkie transition of the 1920s-1940s. She examines diverse sites of film production -- finance, pre-production paperwork, casting, screenwriting, acting, stunts --- to show how speculative excitement jostled against desires for scientific management in an industry premised on the struggle between contingency and control. The book thus brings into view a range of marginalized film workers, their labor and experiences; forgotten film studios, their technical practices and aesthetic visions; and overlooked connections between media practices, geographical particularities, and historical exigencies.

12/04/2020 Online Meeting
12:00 PM
Seeing Films by Electricity
Doron Galili, Stockholm University (Sweden)


Current popular and scholarly debates about the eroding distinctions between cinema, television, and audiovisual streaming open up new opportunities to historically reconsider received notions of medium specificity. Drawing on the research that informed Doron Galili’s recent book Seeing by Electricity ( which traces the history of television from the initial ideas regarding moving images transmission in the 1870s until the launch of broadcast services in the 1930s, this talk considers early ideas, experiments, and narratives about transmitting motion picture films by television. Though it may be seen as a modern-era instance of “remediation,” the possibility of transmitting film electrically has been entertained since the earliest days of cinema and became a practice as soon as the first prototypes of television technology appeared. Revisiting the earliest speculations about the absorption of film by television, the first adaptation of a feature-film for television broadcast, and historical narratives that considered television as an inevitable perfection of cinema – and vice versa - Galili argues that the boundaries between different manifestations of moving image media were in fact never ontologically settled.

Respondent: Noam Elcott, Columbia University

01/28/2021 Online Meeting
7:00 PM
Star Surveillance: The British Intelligence Center at Cinecittà
Noa Steimatsky, Independent Scholar


In the immediate postwar period top Nazi officers captured in Italy were imprisoned, interrogated, and surveilled in a British intelligence center set up in Cinecittà. Dressing rooms formerly serving divas of the Fascist film industry were retrofitted to hold these particular “stars,” and to covertly record their conversations with the most advanced technologies. These prisoners – some were mass killers, and all were implicated in the criminal regime that had bloodied the European continent – were, for their part, now frantically re-scripting and rehearsing roles that they would present to the world. How did the workings of the intelligence center – its material and technological conditions, the scenographic and dramaturgical devices it harnessed – reciprocate with the unique setting of the movie studio? How does their convergence compel us to think in new ways about the permeability of cinema and history, of media and politics, of the manufactured irreality of the studio and the atrocious reality of occupation, violence, and death?

Respondent: Brian Jacobson, California Institute of Technology

02/18/2021 Online Meeting
7:00 PM
Lukács and Marxist Film Theory in the Present
Philip Rosen, Brown University


Marxism has often informed and inflected canonical discourses in the history of film theory, extending from the inventive Soviet film culture of the 1920s right up through critical accounts of our current period of global and regional multi-media formations within which contemporary cinema now operates. As philosopher, cultural critic, political activist, and aesthetician, Georg Lukács on was one of the most consequential and also controversial Marxist thinkers of the twentieth century. But has rarely been a significant reference for film theory. In fact, when Lukács has been invoked in this connection, it was not always in a positive sense. In some ways, this is not surprising. His most noted aesthetic and critical writings centered on literature rather than visual or sonic forms, and his writings on cinema were very sparse within his prodigious written output. More recently his early (1913) essay on cinema has garnered significant attention, but this was written before he turned to Marxism, and aspects of his philosophy and aesthetic theories cut against many leading developments in film and media theory since the 1960s.

Nevertheless, certain terms and concepts he developed, such as reification, alienation, and realism, have often reappeared in key texts of Marxist film and media theory. This presentation will reconsider the nature and utility of Lukácsian concepts and his later writing on cinema in relation to the history of Marxist-inflected critique and film theory, partly from the perspective of contemporary media context.

Respondent: Jane Gaines, Columbia University

03/25/2021 Online Meeting
7:00 PM
meeting postponed