Talking about Film
While filmmakers attend festivals to show their work, network and see old friends, film scholars have their own, similar venues; namely, academic conferences. Instead of submitting films, scholars submit proposals to present papers or host workshops; these are either accepted or rejected. Scholars whose proposals are selected not only have more impetus to attend the conference, they also will be able to add the presentation to their CV and activities list for the year. More significantly, though, these presentations often serve as early drafts of book chapters or essays to be published later. As a result, conferences play a vital role in helping shape one’s work in conversation with a broader community. Here are several of the essential conferences for American film and media scholars.
Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference
Founded in 1959, the Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) is a membership organization of film scholars and historians dedicated to sharing and promoting the study of film and media with its annual conference, as well as a peer-reviewed publication, The Journal of Cinema and Media Studies, a long list of working groups and an array of awards. The SCMS conference takes place annually—usually in March—in a different city each year, convening scholars to discuss the histories, theories and teaching practices related to cinema and other media with panel presentations, lectures, workshops, roundtable discussions and parties. For graduate students, presenting a paper at SCMS is kind of a rite of passage; for more seasoned scholars, the conference is an opportunity to share new work and connect with colleagues. The highlight for me has been seeing brilliant scholars in action; I fondly remember Thomas Elsaesser, for example, standing up in the back of the room to take issue with a particular point with incredible precision and grace. SCMS also boasts a stellar book fair featuring all the major and small presses related to film scholarship. This March, the conference moved online and included panels such as “Media Politics and Truth Claims in the Age of #FakeNews” and “New Hollywood, New Takes: From the Nightmare to the Negotiation.” SCMS distributes its call for proposals in August, and participation requires active membership. If you want an overview of what scholars are saying in any given year, SCMS is the place to go.
University Film and Video Association Conference
The University Film and Video Association (UFVA) began as the University Film Producer’s Association in 1947 and hosts an annual conference in late July or early August. While SCMS is generally geared toward historians and theorists, with UFVA, I appreciate the attention to how and why we might better teach specific skills and concepts; the conference vibe is friendly and hands-on. Last year’s conference was virtual because of the pandemic and featured an opening keynote presented by Michael Wesch from Kansas State University, who discussed online education; a closing keynote by producer Ted Hope; and more than 130 sessions that included screenings, workshops, panels and presentations. Sample sessions included a workshop on how to teach the principles of fair use; a master class on producing documentaries, presented by Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar; and techniques for building a great TV-writing curriculum. UFVA also publishes The Journal of Film and Video, a scholarly publication covering history, theory, criticism and aesthetics. UFVA is accepting proposals through April 1 for this year’s virtual conference, which will take place from July 27 to 30, 2021.
Feminist media scholars created Console-ing Passions in 1989 and hosted their first conference event at the University of Iowa in 1992. The founding group’s goal was to broaden the discussion of television, focusing specifically on gender and sexuality. Smaller and more intimate than either SCMS or UFVA, the conference has helped foster feminist analysis within TV studies. While there is no upcoming conference scheduled, the group remains active and, in February 2021, co-sponsored the EDIT Media online roundtable: “Anti-Racist Film + Media Pedagogy.” Watch for future conference plans post-pandemic.
Visible Evidence gathers scholars and filmmakers to focus specifically on documentary film and nonfiction media culture, covering the gamut of documentary practices in a conference hosted in a different city each year. The 27th iteration of the conference will take place in Frankfurt, Germany, December 15–18, 2021. The 2019 conference, hosted by the University of Southern California, was unusually large and included panels titled “Documentary Experimentalism,” “A Cinema of Slow Violence” and “Documentary Activism and Pedagogy.” Like Console-ing Passions, Visible Evidence tends to be a smaller scale conference than SCMS or UFVA. The conference also recently introduced a 45-minute conversation format, which brings together three people from different backgrounds who share their papers, films or projects ahead of time and use the conference venue for a rich discussion. This year’s call for proposals deadline was in late March.
Society for Animation Studies
Founded in 1987, the Society for Animation Studies (SAS) hosted its first conference in 1989 at the University of California, Los Angeles, and has continued to bring together animation scholars and filmmakers each year. The SAS conference is notable for its interdisciplinarity, with a great mix of technical, creative, industrial, scholarly and artistic emphases mingling well. This year’s theme is “Animate Energies,” which acknowledges the ways in which animation brings the inanimate to life but also opens up to multiple interpretations of “energies” as forces, powers and resources. Ordinarily, the SAS conference moves from city to city and features a rich array of screenings, lectures and panel presentations. In 2021, SAS will take place online (June 14–18, 2021). SAS is also home to the peer-reviewed scholarly journal Animation Studies.