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Venue: Birkbeck 43 Gordon Square

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Every two years Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image (BIMI) organises a research workshop with colleagues from University of Pittsburgh. The theme for this year’s three-day BIMI-Pittsburgh Research workshop is collections, collectors and collecting, as they relate to Film and Media Studies and to neighbouring disciplines that explore visual and digital culture broadly conceived.


Programme for WEDNESDAY 10 MAY (day 1 of 3)


10:30-11:00 INTRODUCTION

Welcome and introduction (Michael Temple, David Pettersen)


11:00-12:30 SESSION ONE

Adam Lowenstein (Pittsburgh): “Ape and Essence: On Film, Collecting, and History”


Simone Wesner (Birkbeck): “Collecting Threaded Journeys”

Discussants: Roger Luckhurst (Birkbeck), Stacey Abbott (independent researcher), Sophie Hope (Birkbeck)


12:30-13:30 LUNCH BREAK


13:30-15:00 SESSION TWO

Rahul Kumar (Pittsburgh): “Collectors, Researchers and ‘Rogue Archives’: Indian Cinema and Piracy as Research Methodology”


Emma Sandon (Birkbeck): “Introduction to the June Givanni PanAfrican Cinema Archive”

Discussants: Janet McCabe (Birkbeck), Nikolaus Perneckzy (Queen Mary, London)



Visit exhibition at RAVEN ROW: “PerAnkh: the June Givanni PanAfrican Cinema Archive” (



ABSTRACTS/OUTLINES for Wednesday 10 May (day 1 of 3)


Adam Lowenstein: Ape and Essence: On Film, Collecting, and History

My voyage to the world of film scholarship began with an intensive residency on the planet of the apes. I was not aware of it at the time, but my teenage obsession with collecting all things connected to the Planet of the Apes film series (1968-1973) now feels like my first foray into the sort of research project that would characterize my professional career as an academic film scholar.  Back then, I tracked down everything from movie posters and film stills to trading cards and comic books, with soundtrack albums, model kits, and action figures in between.  If it had something, anything to do with Planet of the Apes, I had to have it.

   Today, I recognize the traces of such obsessive tendencies in my passionate attachment to my subjects of research.  When I study the horror film or surrealist cinema, for example, I no longer feel the need to collect the things attached to the films.  But I do feel powerfully driven to immerse myself as completely as possible in their cinematic worlds.  I still want to dwell in those realms of experience that blur the line between film and life.  For me, the collecting impulse survives in my “sensory surround” approach to research and teaching:  devoting my energy to extending the cinematic encounter beyond the confines of the screening and into the experiential arenas of history, thought, feeling, and self-reckoning.  You might say that as a film scholar and as a spectator (as well as a scholar of film spectatorship), I am always returning to the planet of the apes – or perhaps I never really left.

   My presentation will constitute the opening of my collection, what Walter Benjamin calls “unpacking my library”:  exploring the ways in which my Planet of the Apes collection has shaped who I am, not only as a film scholar but as a person always struggling to understand the impact of the past on the present. The mystery of how personal history and public history intertwine, how horror and trauma move between registers of internal and external, has its roots for me in my Planet of the Apes collection and that collection’s relation to my experience of the cinematic itself.


Simone Wesner, “Collecting Threaded Journeys”

In contemporary research, the affordances of media format create the conditions and possibilities for collection. Increasingly, representations of cultural materials are captured in digital format foregrounding preservation and instant access and communication. Collecting as practice depends on people. Makers/researchers/collectors direct the collecting process but leave the materials to speak for themselves. 

   This discussion introduces research experience as gathered in the Dataweave project that investigates the product life cycle of hand-woven materials. In the form of a participatory database Dataweave records information digitally about growing plant fibres and animal fleeces and how the thread emerges in spinning. It demonstrates how weavers turn thread into garments and captures its subsequent journey. The collective efforts of all participants make them visible as makers, users and collectors, providing provenance for the materials. DATAWEAVE tells the stories of the woven materials while harbouring cultural values that otherwise remain hidden along the way.

   Exploring the interface of traditional/digital craft culture, I am inviting participates to discuss how the digital as a common space is negotiated between makers/collectors/researchers and specifically what role researchers play when a material’s journey is captured in data and when digital technology is constituted through traditional cultures of making. To what extent is research expertise and identity established and negotiated in collecting data? What are researchers’ selection criteria and goals that drive research focused collection practices? Come and join the discussion and try out spinning your own threaded journey!


Rahul Kumar: “Collectors, Researchers and ‘Rogue Archives’: Indian Cinema and Piracy as Research Methodology”

In this project, I plan to explore my own position as an academic collector and an academic fan (or ‘acafan’ as Henry Jenkins puts it) and my relationship to the digitized collection of film magazines at the National Film Archive of India (NFAI). I argue that one of the important methodologies of research on Indian cinema is pirating the Archive. This piracy manifests in the outward flow of digitized materials like magazines and other paratexts from the NFAI (characterized by bureaucratic gatekeeping) into the cyberspace (characterized by open access).

   For the last few years, I have been engaged in collecting all the pirated digital paratexts in one place. I collect them, catalog them, upload them up on the cloud, and then circulate the link to this cloud storage among the community of Indian film researchers. This web of circulation of the digitized paratexts is underscored by an inaccessible archive that leads to the formation of an underground network of film scholars, like myself, who have also turned into collectors. I’ve also been a part of a social media platform for private film magazine collectors called “Vintage Film and Magazines” which was originally meant for this community of collectors to come together, but gradually it turned into an online archive, although a very chaotic one, where photos, stories, articles and pages from old magazines were shared regularly. Now it also doubles up as a discursive public sphere where the collectors engage in cinephilic discourses on Indian cinema.

   Through this project, I would like to argue that the subcultural knowledge that academic collectors possess critically informs the work they do as film scholars and because of a hostile archive like the NFAI, the community of private collectors becomes indispensable for the research on Indian cinema. I will also engage with the ethics of piracy as a way of encountering the official archive in order to create an unofficial or a ‘rogue archive’ (Abigail De Kosnik, 2016) like “Vintage Film and Magazines.”


Emma Sandon: “Introduction to the June Givanni PanAfrican Cinema Archive”

The June Givanni PanAfrican Cinema Archive (JGPACA) holds a unique collection of artefacts and archival material, which has at its core the interest of Pan-African cinema and its relationship with Black British cinema and culture.

   JGPACA has been established as a ‘living archive’, evolving around the work of film curator and archivist June Givanni, who has been collating and sharing this material since the 1980s. A key figure in the Black British independent cinema movement, she was involved in the landmark Third Eye Festival of Third World Cinema with the Greater London Council (GLC) in 1983, later establishing the African-Caribbean Film Unit at the British Film Institute (BFI) in 1992. At the BFI, she also co-initiated the Black Film Bulletin and played a key role in the historic Africa ’95 conference, marking the presence of African filmmaking in the centenary of cinema.

   To date, JGPACA holds more than 10,000 items – including over 700 feature films, television programmes, short films, and documentaries, as well as audio recordings, photographs, posters, manuscripts, magazines, books, and documents – connecting African film with the film cultures of diaspora communities in the Americas, the Caribbean and Europe. 


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