‘Producing the Post-National Popular: The Expanding Imagination of Mainstream French Films and Television Series’ is an AHRC-funded international network funded spring 2019-spring 2023. It combined diverse research perspectives on the recent and growing phenomenon of mainstream French films’ and television series’ transnational popularity, as evidenced by films such as Amelie, The Transporter series, La Vie en rose, The Artist and Untouchable or television shows including Spiral, Call My Agent!, Lupin, The Tunnel and Versailles.
A major impetus of the project was to redress the balance of research on European screen and other products and cultures, currently heavily skewed in favour of ‘art’ over popular cultural artefacts and trends. In cinema in particular, European identity has been equated with high art at least since the 1960s New Wave, when France’s internationally visible and influential auteurist filmmaking and criticism helped legitimise and shape the discipline of Film Studies. This project sought to widen the spectrum of French cultural identities which the nation’s audiovisual output can be seen to reflect and construct by understanding these within a contemporary landscape that is not merely national but European. To this end, it drew on research being carried out in a variety of international contexts, with particular emphasis on France itself but also the UK and the USA, where relevant films and TV series have tended to be markedly popular. This is because recognising mainstream domestic products as widely seen not only at home but also abroad expands how we understand their scope of influence, notably by recognising their capacity to shape external views of the French nation in new ways.
Beyond considering the production, circulation and reception of films and television series, the network also aimed to reflect critically on practices for studying these in different national contexts. For instance, the late and still incomplete appropriation of ‘anglophone’ Cultural Studies methodologies in France can be seen to have contributed to the neglect of mainstream texts there. Outside France, meanwhile, practical difficulties sourcing critical materials such as reviews and the absence of linguistic competence are obvious factors in their under-privileging. This network sought to unearth what other contingent factors may be limiting research into an area demanding scholarly attention, with a view to moving beyond these.
The project thus combined cultural criticism, attendant to narratives’ status as mediators of the social (for instance, national and transnational identities and attitudes towards these, including as they intersect with other identity categories), with aesthetic analysis, paying particular attention to how issues of ideology are linked to the forms adopted by cultural narratives. This required drawing on varied specialist expertise, from visual and discourse analysis - including of contextual material - to quantitative analysis of market trends, alongside specific linguistic competencies and familiarity with socio-linguistic paradigms. One of the project's principal goals was to promote dialogue across these various disciplines and/or areas of knowledge. This and other aims were served principally by a series of events for schools and expert introductions at Stoke Screen in Coventry (2019-20), Study Days online April 2021 and September 2021 and an international conference at Warwick in Venice (Spring 2022), as well as various conference panels.
Key outputs of the project are the Open Access (OA) book Is it French? Popular Postnational Screen Fiction from France (Harrod and Moine, eds., Palgrave 2024) and a Special Issue of French Screen Studies entitled 'Global Gallicisms' (24.2, publishing April/May 2024 with articles appearing online in advance, as they are ready). See also other relevant OA articles here.
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