Introducing “Screening European Heritage”
An AHRC-funded scoping study under the “Care for the Future” strategic theme
From La Reine Margot (1994) to The King’s Speech (2010), historical dramas dominate mainstream European film production and often generate major national debates on the role of the past in contemporary national identity construction. Defined in the 1990s as “heritage films”, the makers of such films frequently work in partnership with the wider heritage industry in order to secure funding for their productions. And the films, along with the debates they generate, often shape the subsequent marketing and curatorial strategy of the heritage sites they foreground in their stories. However, there has been very little exploration of this relationship and how it reflects the complexity of contemporary public engagement with the past across Europe.
Led by the Centre for World Cinemas at the University of Leeds, in collaboration with B-Film: The Birmingham Centre for Film Studies, “Screening European Heritage” explores questions of inter-generational communication, cultural transmission and exchange. It examines the representation of Europe’s past on contemporary screens, what this says about contemporary cultural attitudes to the past and how this reflects, and can be shaped by, the policies and practice of cultural institutions now and in the future. In the process, it raises questions around the role and value of the past in cultural and societal change, investigating how history is re-imagined by the contemporary film and heritage industries and to what end, ultimately exploring the way contemporary heritage film, and its instrumentalisation of spectators’ emotional engagement with the past, reflects broader trends in the heritage industry towards the visceral exploitation of the history and thus the way film can explore the relationship between emotions and change.
- What role does European, national and regional cultural policy play in the production of heritage films and how do filmmakers negotiate such policy?
- How are heritage films consumed across and beyond Europe? Who is their audience? What are the mechanisms of their consumption and how do these mechanisms map onto those of the wider heritage industry?
- How do heritage films extend, or delimit, the possibilities of historical representation? How do their various modes of emotional engagement with history underline, or reflect tensions in, the aims of the heritage industry as a whole?
1. Build a network of European academic and non-academic partners with the necessary range of disciplinary and professional expertise to undertake the future study. This will be begun through an initial workshop, and developed over the course of the exploratory project through follow-up contact with workshop participants, interviews with other industry professionals, and a second workshop at the end of this initial phase. The development of the network will be further aided by the project’s wider communication strategy to generate debate through its interactive website and the targeted use of social media. The active engagement of non-academic stakeholders will ensure that the project’s research outputs are rooted in a nuanced, public-facing understanding of industrial practice based upon two-way knowledge exchange between industry and academia.
2. Carry out a pilot study, focusing on a small number of heritage films in order to develop a model of work that can be used in the subsequent full project. This will be published on the project’s website. It will also be used as the basis for two subsequent publications:
a. An article in which heritage film will be further theorised in the light of the pilot study’s findings and current and future research pathways will be identified and elaborated.
b. A briefing paper aimed at film and heritage industry professionals, designed to bring an international dimension to a range of national policy debates currently ongoing across Europe on the role of the film and heritage industries and the competing ways these industries communicate an understanding of Europe’s past to contemporary audiences.