- The Beyond Babel Multilingual Film Festival
the evident proliferation of film festivals, particularly since the 1990s, and their increasing impact on film production and circulation has drawn the attention of a growing number of film scholars. As Thomas Elsaesser notes in European Cinema: Face to Face with Hollywood, the shift toward studying the film festival as an institution and a cultural event is the “missing link” in film studies (83). Film festival research has focused on different areas. For instance, the methodology for the study of film festivals gravitates more toward interdisciplinary approaches (anthropology, cultural studies, film history, etc.) (de Valck et al.). From the perspective of film historiography, scholars have studied the evolution of international film festivals (de Valck; de Valck et al.). The “spatial logics” of the festival circuit have been discussed in relation to the local specificity (city) and national and global discourses (Stringer 138; Iordanova, The Film Festival Reader; Iordanova, “The Film Festival as an Industry Node”; Iordanova and Rhyne).
Other film festival scholarship works have explored ideological matters such as the role of film festivals in promoting political agendas and engaging in identity building (Iordanova and Cheung). Indeed, festivals are spaces of mediation that can stimulate discussions on a wide range of issues, including aesthetic, economic, political, and social aspects. They can function “as a place for the establishment and maintenance of cross-cultural-looking relations” (Stringer 134). While the work around film festival studies has focused mainly on the analysis of the significance, value, and curational work of international festivals (such as Cannes, San Sebastian, and Sundance), there are fewer studies focused on small-scale festivals, particularly those organized by universities.1 I seek to contribute to filling the gap in the research and literature in this interdisciplinary field by considering more specifically how the organization of film festivals can bridge communities and university constituencies.
The focus of this article is the Beyond Babel Film Festival, a small multilingual film festival launched in 2015 as part of the Manchester Metropolitan University Humanities in Public (HiP) Festival. This discussion presents the festival’s principal aims and the challenges of curating a multilingual film program. The research questions I deal with in this article are twofold: (1) how a university film festival based on screening multilingual films can attract a wider and more diverse audience and (2) how the educational strand of such a project can enhance the critical appreciation of film, encourage and support language learning, and heighten the appreciation of other cultures.
First, this article introduces briefly the origin of the festival as part of the public programming [End Page 33] at Manchester Metropolitan University (UK). Because this type of event revolves around public engagement and scholarly research, the article examines the conceptual and practical frameworks surrounding the role of university (film) festivals in the local and regional creative economy. The second section locates the research presented in this article in an interdisciplinary space related to film, languages, and festivals (language, applied linguistics, film festival, critical event, and citizenship studies) and cultural and educational practices linked to the promotion of media and language literacies. The following section outlines the evaluative approaches used during the development of the festival. The final part of this study examines the preliminary findings and summarizes some of the broader themes and traits and ideas that have emerged from the questionnaires, interviews, and observational data. The article’s conclusion weighs the value of small-scale film festivals aimed at connecting higher education and communities and fostering curiosity about films, cultures, and languages.
The Origin and Aims of Beyond Babel (a Multilingual Film Festival)
Manchester is located in the northwest of England, and it is the sixth-largest city in the United Kingdom with an estimated population of over 541,300 in 2016 (A20 1086–2016 Manchester Population). It is the main city of Greater Manchester metropolitan county, an area with a population of more than 2.55 million. After London and Edinburgh, Manchester is the third-largest economy in the United Kingdom. In 2014, the government signed the historical devolution deal known as “Northern Powerhouse,” starting an ongoing process to give the region power and further freedom...