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Reviewed by:
  • Film, History and Memory eds. Jennie M. Carlsten, Fearghal McGarry
  • Frans Weiser and Paul Cohen
Film, History and Memory Carlsten, Jennie M., Fearghal McGarry, eds. New York: Palgrave/MacMillan, 2015, Print

Editors Jennie Carlsten and Fearghal McGarry explain in their introduction to Film, History and Memory that the project emerged out of collaboration between historian McGarry and a documentary team using his research to make a film about an Irish republican activist. In addition to cooperating on the film, the two groups also launched an interactive website and organized an academic conference with Carlsten that included film scholars, setting the stage for the interdisciplinary nature of the current volume of essays. Building on the ground made by similar multidisciplinary projects, such as the Blackwell Companion to the Historical Film (2013), edited by historian Robert Rosenstone and film studies scholar Constantin Parvulescu, Carlsten and McGarry purposefully avoid rehearsing the familiar debates about academic distrust of the legitimacy of historical cinema and instead take as a given that that films about the past can "embody historical thinking" (2). To that end, they present several principles designed to guide future research on the subject, from recognizing that both filmmaking and viewing are collaborative processes—and suggesting broader recognition of what constitutes historical sources and stories—to advocating greater attention for emotional responses, film reception and context(s) of production.

One of the collection's most notable features is signaled by its title, for it augments theory in this burgeoning field by focusing on the role of memory as a form of social identity within evaluations of history. Additionally, the volume features a striking geographical diversity. Given the origin of the project, it is not surprising to see various chapters dedicated to questions of British and Irish cinema, yet several are also transnational in scope, and in two cases, scholars move away from Europe to examine the transmission of memory in Latin America and South Africa.

The volume's eleven chapters are not divided into sections, though the text is effectively bookended by two theoretical interventions, with the chapters in between exploring case studies through a variety of different methodologies. In Chapter One, for example, Gianluca Fantoni provides a particularly informative and concise overview of the "symbiotic if problematic relationship between historians and film" (26), chronologically tracing the question of historical representation from the beginning of cinema through its halting, uncertain acceptance into historiographical scholarship over the course of the second half of the twentieth century. Coauthored by three scholars, Chapter Two begins the series of case studies by expanding traditional definitions of "heritage film," once associated with British period pieces of the 1980s, to instead examine its current practice as a hybrid genre that has been used to markedly different ends in the Basque Country, Denmark, and Germany. As the authors convincingly argue, the continued prominence of heritage films reveals as much about national memory as it does about transnational coproduction, and such films' "economic impact cannot be measured by box-office figures alone, but also by how they foster heritage tourism, locally and regionally" (45). Chapters Three and Four respectively explore Spanish and Portuguese responses to national trauma, the former reconsidering the [End Page 59] frequent artistic preoccupation with the Spanish Civil War by examining how films that creatively use intergenerational perspectives to illustrate multiple perspectives can mediate the contradictory ways an event has been remembered at different historical moments. The latter essay by Alison Ribeiro de Menezes explores the "affective turn" in cultural studies by highlighting the strategies that two recent Portuguese documentarians use in appropriating historical footage from earlier documentaries in the dictatorship as a means of testing the limits of representation in the documentary genre.

Chapter Five once again returns to transnational comparison, as Mercedes Camino analyzes the distinct ways that filmmakers from Italy, France, Yugoslavia, and Belarus have both shaped and complicated images of resistance and collaboration relating to World War Two. In Chapter Six, Andrew Hennlich examines how a 1997 film by South African animator William Kentridge draws upon French symbolist theater and Soviet director Dziga Vertov's silent documentary Man with a Movie Camera (1929). Kentridge's purpose, however, is to interrogate the thorny...


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