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  • Teaching Institutional Analysis to Fourth-Year Cinema and Media Studies Majors
  • John McCullough (bio)

In the past ten years, one strand of my research has focused on institutional analyses of Canadian film and television in the context of global Hollywood. This has led to three areas of analysis: labor and regional media industries, discourses and practices that resist Hollywood, and aesthetic effects associated with global Hollywood. I have had the good fortune of teaching this material in a fourth-year seminar course titled "Canadian Cinema: Production, Distribution, Exhibition, Marketing, and Criticism," and the comments that follow reflect some of the successful results.

Students in the course are typically in the final year of their BA Honors degree in Cinema and Media Studies in the Faculty of Fine Arts, so the first challenge is to engage humanities-trained students in knowledge and methodology that is traditionally the domain of the social sciences, specifically Communication Studies. While social sciences typically approach Canadian cinema from the perspective of political economy and cultural policy, I have augmented this approach by attending to the types of aesthetic work and creative strategies developed by cultural producers working in the shadow of Hollywood. Because the students aspire to be producers, writers, curators, and programmers (as well as graduate students), I feel that it is necessary to provide, along with an intellectually rigorous investigation of the material, opportunities to imagine viable careers within Canadian and global media industries.

I have designed the course to include a review of primary literature in the field coupled with case-study analyses of Canadian cinema. The case-study assignments are often inspired by the assigned readings, but just as often they reflect the students' own interests and career aspirations. Thus, on the one hand, the students master the core intellectual material in the field, but unlike their cohorts in Communication Studies, they do so with an eye to cultural and aesthetic concerns; and on the other hand, they apply this knowledge to case studies that allow them to grapple with the often contradictory realities of working within Canadian film and television culture.

One typical case study is the work of a student who was a History major with a minor in Cinema and Media Studies and who chose to look at [End Page 89] the Toronto-based animation company Nelvana, whose founders were alumni of our school. He discovered that while their creative success was a result of a strong tradition of animation in the region and in the nation (including the National Film Board of Canada), their business success came from integration into a large Canadian media conglomerate, Corus Entertainment, which now plays a major role in global software and animation development. A related example is a case study inspired by an assigned reading's reference to Moviefone as an instance of the intensified role of promotion in contemporary movie culture. Looking into the background of the company, the student found that the move to conglomeration was, like the Nelvana case, also a chapter in Moviefone's history, which seemed to substantiate for the seminar the role of entrepreneurial speculation in contemporary global media economies. In both cases students remarked on the significance of product and service innovation, economies of scale, and US market dominance.

My final example comes from a student who did a case study of the almost unheard of practice of rural independent exhibition. Looking for a counterexample to Hollywood domination of Canadian film exhibition, the student found the Highlands Cinema in Kinmount, Ontario, where, as their tagline goes, you "remember not only the movie, but the theatre." Indeed, the owners had built a variety of additions to their home until they had constructed a rabbit warren of five theaters and a small museum. For Canadian students, this stood out as an act of cultural resistance that inspired them to imagine places for themselves in local cinema culture.

As is evident from these brief examples, the students learned to integrate theory with practical knowledge and quickly understood how minor national cultures tend to synergize with globalized media industries. By the end of the course there was a sense among students that they understood not only the context of...


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