A thousand imbeciles together in the dark

A call for papers has gone out for the 3rd Edinburgh International Film Audiences Conference, which will take place 26-27 March 2009 at the Filmhouse, Lothian Road, Edinburgh. Taking its cue from a line by Billy Wilder, the conference takes as its theme “Is the audience ever wrong? Exploring the worlds of film audiences.”

The conference is interested in all kinds of empirical research into film audiences, from any time period and any country. This is area of ever-increasing importance in film studies generally, as evidenced by a body such as the HOMER Project which is dedicated to research into cinema audiences, and particularly silent cinema, as demonstrated by such online projects as Cinema Context and the London Project, and publications from Richard Abel, Melvyn Stokes et al (some of these were listed in a recent post on The Birth of a Nation)

Here’s the full call:

“An audience is never wrong. An individual member of it may be an imbecile, but a thousand imbeciles together in the dark – that is critical genius.” Billy Wilder made this comment about audiences but just how much do we know about what film audiences think and how often are they credited with being geniuses or more often seen as imbeciles? Empirical research into film audiences is a small but developing field and this conference continues its aim of providing a space where those involved or interested in this area can come together to share research findings and discuss future ideas. Whilst the conference will appeal primarily to academics it is not confined to them. Previous conferences have had contributions from those directly involved in the film industry and this is to be welcomed. We are very pleased to announce that the opening and closing speakers have been confirmed. The opening speaker is Professor Ian Christie, from the School of Art, Film and Visual Media, Birkbeck, University of London. He is Vice President of Europa Cinemas, an EU funded organisation which supports exhibitors throughout Europe who show European films, and a Trustee of the Independent Film Parliament. He is also a regular reviewer and broadcaster on film matters. The closing speaker is Dr Sean Perkins. He has been Research Executive at the UK Film Council since 2001. His research interests include UK and global theatrical markets, the UK video and online markets, film on television and film audiences. He has managed research projects on the impact of local cinema and a qualitative study of avid cinemagoers.

There is only one criterion for proposed papers: they should be concerned with empirical research into film audiences. The audiences can be anywhere in the world and for any genre of film. They can be historical pieces of work that explore the construction of film audiences through governmental policy or pieces that look at the construction of fans via archival material. We are happy to receive abstracts from students and new researchers as well as established researchers no matter what their background is.

The conference takes place over two days in the heart of Edinburgh. One of the main attractions for participants is that we only run single track sessions – no more difficult decisions about who to go and listen to or the awful experience of presenting to just a couple of people whilst everyone else has gone to hear the famous speaker! Everyone is guaranteed a decent audience plus 30 minutes to present their paper followed by 15 minutes of questions – and we are very proud of our reputation regarding time-keeping.

Abstracts of no more than 300 words should be submitted as virus-free MS Word or rtf attachments, to Dr Ailsa Hollinshead no later than 31st August 2008. Abstracts will be reviewed by external referees and all contributors will be notified of the outcome by 30th September 2008. Copies of the conference paper will have to be with Dr Hollinshead by mid January 2009. There will be a bursary for the best student paper, which can include undergraduates as well as postgraduates (subject to proof of status). Successful candidates will be expected to book a place within one month of their paper being accepted. Costs and application forms can be obtained from the conference website.

More information is available on the conference website, including abstracts from last year’s conference.