Establishment of the Department of Film Studies

Arguably the most significant development in terms of film culture to occur in St Andrews since the turn of the Millennium is the introduction of Film Studies to the University. While the discipline of Film Studies has existed in academia since the late-Sixties, it is by no means a feature of all University programmes and its introduction into such an historical and traditional University as St Andrews should be considered a bold move.

2004 saw the appointment of the first Chair of Film Studies, who would have the responsibility of establishing both the Department and a Centre for Film Studies; the former would provide undergraduate and postgraduate teaching and the latter would bring together and co-ordinate research on film being conducted in various departments (English, History, Modern Languages).

Appointed to the post was Professor Dina Iordanova, a Bulgarian who had an extensive academic track record in Canada, the United States and England and who was an acknowledged pioneer and expert in the field of Balkan cinema. Her first appointment was Dr. David Martin-Jones, a younger scholar who had recently earned his PhD and who specialised in Film Philosophy and World Cinemas. In the following years the department grew rapidly and within five years it counted seven full-time lecturers, three post-doctoral researchers and eighteen PhD students, making it one of the largest programmes of the kind in the UK.

From the beginning it was clear that this would be a Department of Film Studies (as opposed to Film, Television and Screen Studies, for example) and that a strong emphasis would be placed on World Cinemas and the concept of ‘transnational cinema’ – the idea that film transcends national borders and is not easily reducible to ‘British cinema’, ‘American cinema’, ‘French cinema’, or whatever. This principle was enshrined in the new Department’s first international conference, Cinema at the Periphery, held over three days in June 2006. The conference explored the role of marginal cinemas that existed across the globe on the margins of the mainstream; it resulted in a book of the same name, published by Wayne State University Press in 2010 and co-edited by Dina Iordanova, David Martin-Jones and Belén Vidal.

Since that time the Department has moved into bold new areas, establishing a major research project on the global circulation of films (Dynamics in World Cinema), setting up the Scottish Consortium for Film and Visual Studies and pioneering research into film festivals. In 2009 it also launched a publishing wing, St Andrews Film Studies, which has to date produced five books, with several more in the pipeline. In the December 2008 nationwide Research Assessment Exercise, Film Studies became the best-performing Department in the University’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities and one of the highest-ranked Film Departments in the UK – a remarkable achievement for such a young Department.

The Centre for Film Studies did not only have an impact within academia, however. Over the years it has been responsible for bringing numerous films and filmmakers to the town as well as selections from the Italian, French and Africa in Motion Film Festivals. Recently it entered into a relationship with the Byre Theatre which, it is hoped, will significantly increase the diversity of film on offer in the town.

Alex Marlow-Mann