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Story-telling and identity through film in Spain

by YPU Admin on March 3, 2017, Comments. Tags: film, Humanities, Identity, PhD, Research, Spain, and UoM

Introduction

Hi! I’m Nikki Tomlinson and I’m in my second year of a PhD in Spanish Studies. My project involves analysing films made in Spain in the past 10 years to see what they can tell us about regional identity. Spain is made up of 17 autonomous regions, a bit like counties in England, but they are often much larger as there are not as many of them. I’m researching two autonomous communities: Andalusia, the largest region in the country, in the south of Spain; and Catalonia, in the north-east.


In Depth

The two regions of Andalusia and Catalonia have very different histories and cultures, but over the course of Spain’s history, they have often been unable to express an idea of what constitutes their own regional identity. Film is an incredibly powerful story-telling tool that can reach a huge number of people, so I use film to investigate what these stories can tell us about how each region perceives itself – and wants to be perceived – today. I do watch a lot of films for my research, but I find my project so interesting because I see it as combining several disciplines – cultural studies, politics, history, and even law and economics..!

At a time when debates surrounding national identity and what it involves are in the news on a daily basis, my topic feels exciting and relevant, and the field is certainly fast-paced! I have recently come back from fieldwork in Spain, where I have so far attended four film festivals in Andalusia and Catalonia. Film festivals play an important role in my research, as they can determine how many people see a film, or which countries those films are distributed to – often, if a film wins an award, it means that it can reach an international audience. I was able to see a huge number of recently-released films, as well as to meet filmmakers and discuss their work with them. I find it highly enjoyable seeing the changing shape of the film industry in the regions and the innovations that professionals are devising to continue making the films they want to make. I am able to keep in contact with the people I met at the events in Spain, and it’s very interesting to see people winning awards for their work. There are new developments every day, so it’s certainly a dynamic project to work on!


How I got here

I completed an integrated Masters in Modern Languages (specialising in French and Spanish) at the University of Manchester, which I loved. I then worked in a range of fields, from managing the development of a start-up business in Spain, to marketing, to teaching English as a foreign language! I had always thought that I wanted to take my studies of Spanish culture further, and while I was working in Andalusia as an English teacher, an idea for a proposal came to me. I finally bit the bullet and wrote to my previous lecturer at Manchester, explaining my idea. I put together a proposal and applied for funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. I was delighted to receive the funding, and have never looked back!

Going Further

Manchester is very lucky to have a branch of the Instituto Cervantes, a Spanish language centre with a library, dance and culture courses and lots of activities: http://manchester.cervantes.es/en/default.shtm

There are a number of Spanish film festivals around the UK throughout the year, which are great for seeing a range of films from Spain and the Spanish-speaking world. One of these is the ¡Viva! Spanish and Latin American Festival, held at Manchester’s HOME arts centre around the Easter holiday: https://homemcr.org/event/viva-spanish-latin-american-festival-2017/

For more news and information about the Catalan film and television industry: http://www.catalanfilms.cat/en/index.jsp

And for Andalusia: http://www.fundacionava.org/

 

Investigating Latin American Culture in Manchester

Introduction

My name is Nicola and I’m in the third year of a PhD in Latin American Cultural Studies. I did A-levels in Spanish, English Literature and History and went on to study Spanish at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, spending my year abroad in the north of Chile. After returning to Chile for another year to teach English, and then doing a Masters in Latin American Cultural Studies at the University of Manchester, I began my PhD which looks at how members of the British public engage with Latin American culture in the city of Manchester.


In Depth

The first thing to point out about studying Spanish (or any language) at university level is that it’s not just about the language! While your language skills are obviously important and will be developed, you will also spend lots of time studying foreign cultures and how other people around the world live and express themselves. This can involve studying literature, film, music, art, history, religion and indigenous cultures. And, in the case of Spanish, you don’t just study Spain, but also Latin America!

After doing my undergraduate degree and Masters, and living in Chile, I found myself particularly interested in how Latin America is perceived in Britain. Latin American culture, such as salsa classes, music, food and films have become popular in this country over the past couple of decades, yet Latin Americans are a relatively small immigrant population in the UK and not many people travel there, although both have started to increase in recent years. My research therefore investigates how Latin American culture is produced in the city of Manchester and how members of the public consume it.

My research focuses in particular on the annual ¡Viva! Spanish and Latin American Film Festival at the Cornerhouse cinema. I analyse how the film festival is produced, the reasons why they choose some films over others, why they choose particular images to publicise the festival. By interviewing members of the audience, I can find out whether these choices influence the way members of the audience envisage Latin America, or if there are other factors to be considered, such as how the media portrays Latin America. My research also investigates what attracts British people to Latin American culture, especially whether it stems from a cosmopolitan concern to understand others around the world, something particular to Latin American culture and/or disenchantment with contemporary British culture and society.


Going Further

See what you think of the ¡Viva! film festival at their website: http://www.cornerhouse.org/viva2014?no-redir

For information on studying Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies at the University of Manchester: http://www.alc.manchester.ac.uk/subjects/splas

For more information on Latin Americans in the UK, you might like to read this report on the Latin American community in London: http://www.geog.qmul.ac.uk/docs/research/latinamerican/48637.pdf


 

You might be a cyborg!

Introduction

My name is Scott Midson and I'm in the third year of a PhD in Religions & Theology (R&T). In my research, I look at how technology changes the way that we think about ourselves. More specifically, I explore the idea of ‘creation’, which is an important religious idea, and ask what it means to re-create ourselves or to create things like robots.


In depth

I didn't always know I was going to be studying robots and religion, though! Going back a few years, I came to university (at Manchester) with an interest in the sociology of religion. I didn't study religion at A-Level but was given a place on the ‘BA Religions & Theology (Religion & Society)’ programme because of my interest in the subject. Here, I looked more and more at ideas about technology and how new media technologies influence our beliefs. I then took a year out and did some travelling, but when I returned to the department as a postgraduate, I came across a very interesting essay by Donna Haraway called ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’, and I loved it so much that I ended up writing a PhD thesis on it!

In the essay, cyborgs are used as metaphors for the ways that we interact with technology and how we cannot separate ourselves from the technologies that we use everyday. Think about the technologies you use everyday: could you live without your computer, for example? Or your mobile phone? Or what if you had no access to a clock – how would this affect you and society? We are cyborgs, the argument goes, because we live so closely with our technologies.

But not everybody likes the idea that we are cyborgs. For some people, there is a limit to how much we should embrace technology – think here of dangerous robot-like cyborgs in ‘The Terminator’ or ‘Star Trek’. Or, imagine that a new technology becomes available that would surgically implant your phone in your body. Would you want it? Would it be any different to always having your phone with you in your pocket?

A lot of people fear invasive technologies like this, and a big part of my research is finding out why. This is where I link what I study to religion: in Christian theology, humans are described as created in the ‘image of God’. Although what the ‘image of God’ means is unclear, there seems to be a link between the ‘natural’ state of humans (i.e. when they were created by God) and the use of ‘unnatural’ technologies. I thus question religious ideas about the ‘natural’ human and the ‘image of God’ in order to look at how we can use the cyborg metaphor better and not fear it so much.

Going further

One of the best things about what I study is how frequently these themes and topics appear in popular culture. Most sci-fi films and books make reference to how technology changes the human, and you’d be surprised at how many of them involve religious and theological ideas in some way! If you’re interested in this topic, then a good place to start exploring further is to ask how technology is portrayed next time you watch a (sci-fi) film.

 Other useful sources to get you started are:

Charlie Brooker’s TV miniseries ‘Black Mirror’ (http://www.channel4.com/programmes/black-mirror/) – all episodes are available online (but many do contain some shocking images and offensive language)

I keep a research blog where I post intermittently on films, programmes, and even billboards that catch my attention (http://scadhu.blogspot.co.uk) (I also tweet some stuff about my research - @scadhu)

This ‘cyborg anthropology’ site (http://cyborganthropology.com/Main_Page) gives a fairly good and accessible overview of the metaphor of the cyborg

If you’re interested more generally in the sort of stuff we get up to in Religions & Theology at Manchester (we don’t all want to be priests or vicars!), then check out this page (http://www.alc.manchester.ac.uk/subjects/religionstheology/). Alternatively, the Lincoln Theological Institute (LTI) page (http://religionandcivilsociety.com/lti/) shows some of the more specific work that some people in the department do. The LTI is a think-tank that does its own projects but is connected to the University of Manchester R&T department.