Embracing ambiguity – BAFTSS shortlisting for Teaching Fellow in Film Studies
We talk to Hoi Lun Law about being BAFTTS-shortlisted for Best First Monograph and how our students can engage with ambiguity and film criticism.
Hoi Lun Law, Teaching Fellow in Film Studies, has been shortlisted for the Best First Monograph award by the British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies (BAFTSS) for his book Ambiguity and Film Criticism: Reasonable Doubt (Palgrave MacMillan, 2021).
Part of the Palgrave Close Readings in Film and Television book series, the monograph addresses challenging issues in film analysis such as “overreading”, the possibility of critical speculation, and the much-debated divide between “surface” and “deeper” meanings.
Asked why it’s important to explore ambiguity, Hoi Lun reflected “Just observe how our conversation about films tends to revolve around what they mean and how frequently our aesthetic judgement pivots upon whether we value a film’s suspension or openness of meaning. Curiously, despite the ubiquity of the concept, ambiguity remains understudied, as though its implications are straightforward, obvious. But are we really using the term in the most precise and illuminating ways?”
“It is intuitive to use the word ‘ambiguity’ - in line with its standard dictionary definitions - to refer to what bears multiple meanings. But what bears multiple meanings, if we think about it, doesn’t always feel ambiguous. So what makes a film ambiguous besides - or perhaps instead of - its equivocality? I believe that an exploration of this question not only deepens our understanding of individual films but also offers ample opportunities to reflect on film interpretation and evaluation – on the nature and possibilities of film criticism”.
Hoi Lun joined Film Studies in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC) in February 2022, and teaches on our postgraduate courses in Research Methods in Film Studies, Film Adaptation, Film-Philosophy and Cinema Auteurs.
Asked how his teaching intersects with the themes in his shortlisted book, he says “It would be fun to run a course on ambiguity and film criticism in the future! In my current teaching, ambiguity is something I encourage students to look out for and attend to.”
“It is by taking into account the uncertainty, nuances, and complication of a film that we can start to truly appreciate its meaning and achievement. This will be explored further in a new course called Film Criticism and Metacriticism, which I’m putting together for the next academic year. Most importantly, this course probes how film criticism works with film theory and film-philosophy.”
Outside the classroom
Home of the annual Edinburgh International Film Festival, Edinburgh is also a year-round hub of screen activity and culture and has many cinemas and screening venues.
Reflecting on how students can explore the themes of his book outside the classroom, Hoi Lun says “if ambiguity, as I’ve suggested, puts into sharp relief pertinent issues in our understanding of movies, then every screening is a potential encounter with it!”
“One productive way to engage with the intersections of ambiguity and film criticism is of course to write about ambiguity in movies. The recently launched student magazine at the University, The Film Dispatch, offers such an opportunity”.
Students across the University are also able to engage with multiple themes in film through the Edinburgh Film Podcast, the Edinburgh Film Seminar series and Edinburgh Screen Conversations.
We are incredibly proud of our staff and students in Film Studies who are producing such exciting work in the fields of film theory, film-philosophy and film history. I think that these wonderful achievements show that cinema continues to be a crucial art form in the present time and that all forms of the moving image - television, social and music videos, the visual fine arts and more - are part of the culture and future of film and its academic study.