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PhD students launch grant-funded film festival

We talk to the team about News From Home and the power of film for exploring socio-political issues around the world.

Photo of the organising team
The organising team (left to right): Chantal Bertalanffy, Richard Elliott, François Giraud, and Eszter Simor. Image © Jacob Forsyth-Davies.

Four PhD students from across the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC) have come together to launch a new film festival called News From Home.

The team comprises Chantal Bertalanffy (Japanese Studies), Richard Elliott (English Literature), François Giraud (French Studies) and Eszter Simor (Film Studies), all based within different subject areas at LLC.

Funded by the School through an LLC Student Led Initiative Grant, and by alumni and friends of the University of Edinburgh through a Student Experience Grant, the festival involves four screenings over four weeks, with associated talks, interviews and Q&As.

In this feature, the team tell us about how and why they set up the festival, and what it’s added to their study experience.

Exploring the local in the context of the global

“The idea for the film festival arose from our desire to demonstrate the richness of the medium of film as a resource for understanding socio-political issues within another culture. The four organising members come from different parts of the world and we felt that a great way of sharing some of the issues facing our respective cultures - Japanese, French, Hungarian, and Irish – would be to screen films that portray these issues in a powerful way.”

“In our choice of films, we were particularly interested in exploring the local in the context of the global. As we discussed this theme, three key questions arose: Which elements of culture are especially important to marginalized communities and why?; How do individuals within these communities negotiate perceived threats to their cultural identity?; How has globalisation led to the fragmentation of identity in these communities?”.

Placing each film in its cultural and political context

News from Home poster

“We decided that one of the ways that we could help our audience engage with these questions would be by placing each film in its cultural and political context. Therefore, we came up with the idea of having a pre-screening introduction and a mixture of post-screening talks, interviews, and Q&As specifically aimed at helping viewers better understanding the relationship between each film’s narrative and the culture in which it takes place. For example, the post-screening talk for our first film, Shinya Tsukamoto’s ‘Kotoko’ (2011), explored the film’s engagement with the cultural and political fallout of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.”

“We were very keen for our festival to be open to as wide an audience as possible, and not just be limited to attendees from within the University. To help us make it available to the public, we successfully applied for two grants (a Student Led Initiative Grant, and a Student Experience Grant) which enabled us to purchase the rights to screen the films to the public for free. These grants also allowed us to have a drinks reception after each screening so that the audience had a further opportunity to discuss the issues raised by the films.”

Research that matters

“One of the great things about the festival so far has been seeing how the same types of issues affect individuals leading very different lives in very different cultural settings. Thus, the loneliness and disaffection with his situation that a middle-aged Irish dairy farmer encounters in ‘Pilgrim Hill’ (2013), is shared by a young Parisian woman trying out different identities in ‘Jeune Femme’ (2017).”

“Our Q&A sessions have brought out similar issues in many other cultural contexts. Indeed, the lively discussion following each screening has been really encouraging as a demonstration of just how deeply the issues that we explore in our research matter to people. We hope that the festival will continue and expand in future years and that new audiences will have the opportunity to engage with fantastic films from all over the world.”

The final film in the Festival, ‘On Body and Soul’, screens at 6pm on Thursday 29th November in the Screening Room (G.04) at 50 George Square, with an introduction by Dr David Sorfa (Programme Director of our postgraduate programmes in Film Studies), and a post-screening discussion with Eszter Simor and, by Skype, director Ildikó Enyedi.

Book your free ticket on Eventbrite

Are you interested in studying for a PhD in literatures, languages and cultures?

As one of the largest and most diverse Schools in the University of Edinburgh, our research environment is the ideal place to challenge yourself and share your ideas with others. We currently offer 18 PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) programmes across our subject areas.

Find out more about PhD study

Related links

Listen to an interview with Chantal and Eszter on the Edinburgh Film Podcast

Find out more about Student Experience Grants