To commemorate the 200th anniversary of the return of Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, the only French territory in North America, to France, French at Stirling’s Professor Bill Marshall has been invited to give a talk on ‘Islands and Archipelagos: The Spaces of Saint-Pierre et Miquelon’at NYU on 5 April. Bill will be speaking alongside NYU Professor Eugène Nicole who will be reading from his most recent publication Le Silence des cartes.
During his visit, Bill will also be chairing a panel on ‘Perspectives on Quebec Global Cinema’ at the annual Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in Atlanta. An interview with Bill on recent shifts in Quebec Global Cinema was published in the Canadian Film Studies journal Synoptique and can be accessed here
Next month, Bill will be giving the annual Christianson lecture at Bristol University on ‘French Atlantic Cities in Translation’ and participating in a panel on Quebec cinema at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in Atlanta. In April, he’ll be giving a talk on Saint-Pierre et Miquelon at New York University, as well as a seminar at Edinburgh University in their ‘Diasporic Trajectories’ series.
And as though all that weren’t enough, Bill’s latest publication – a chapter entitled ‘Buildering, Urban Interventions and Public Sculpture’ – is now out in Christoph Lindner and Shirley Jordan’s edited collection Cities Interrupted. Visual Culture and Urban Space.
Since graduating with a BA Hons in French in 2014, Jana Kautska has kept in touch with French at Stirling and we’re really pleased to be able to post this article by her about life as a student of French at Stirling and what can happen next:
“Scotland enchanted me during my first visit in 1996 and I have been in close touch with this country ever since. I wanted to discover more. I wanted to get closer to its inhabitants and I was hoping to be able to experience the real way of life there rather than visiting it only as an accompanying Tour Leader (the non-elegant sort of all-in-one coach guide/interpreter/translator ready to sort every single problem that popped up on the long journey from the Czech Republic to the U.K.). My clients were mostly teachers and students travelling to Scotland in order to enhance their language, cultural, historical and political knowledge. Malheureusement, while crossing several borders before reaching our final destination the chic France stood in our way. Whenever I tried to open up a conversation the response from the French part was one and the same: “Parlez-vous anglais?” Clearly it was either time to quit my attempts at French altogether or “Il fallait recommencer mes études de nouveau.” So I did. This is how une idée to study French in Scotland est née.
Stirling was my preferred choice because I found the university grounds very compact and I liked the fact that even the neighbouring village of Bridge of Allan or the town of Stirling were within walking distance. This connection was very important to me because of the train stations which enabled links with the cities of Glasgow or Edinburgh and their airports so easy to reach. De plus, the beautiful lake in the middle of the campus and the majestic Dumyat hill and its ‘friends’ took my breath away and they still do whenever I revisit the campus. This could be a perfect temporary home for a while I thought. The bonus was that the University Accommodation Services offered a family type of accommodation which I needed to secure for my small family of three and what´s more there was also a Playgroup run by the Department of Psychology on offer. What a bonus! I must admit that the university web and printed brochures contributed to my decision. The place seemed to be modern and dynamic; the library was on the spot, shops, bank, MacRobert cultural centre with cinema and theatre all in one.
What made me accept the offer from the Stirling University? First and foremost it was the possibility to dive into the desired French Studies. I found the combined degrees as well as the variety of modules possible to study quite amazing. I initially opted to study French in combination with Psychology but I ended up studying French only. This allowed me to sign up for linguistics, religion and cinema modules, as well as allowing me to undertake the semester abroad required by the French department which was one of the principal reasons for me to accept the offer. I was fully aware of the importance of study abroad. I knew that my spoken French and understanding of the real spoken language would not progress as desired without an immersion in French language and culture. The semester abroad was absolutely crucial. It was the fastest way to improve my comprehension as well as conversation.
I was granted the degree of Bachelor of Arts with Honours in French in 2014 and I thoroughly enjoyed every single module I took. Indeed, there are several modules I will never forget. At the beginning of my studies these were for instance Language and Society together with Foundation of Language presented by Andrew Smith. These were such good fun. Or for example Religion, Ethics and Society totally surprised me with its content as it was so amazingly linked to the current affairs in the world. The topics of Orientalism and Edward Said were so interesting to look into not only in connection with the issue of veil so often discussed in the press all over Europe that time. Post-War European Cinema, Transnational Identities, Québec Cinema and Introduction to African Literature and Cinema all on offer by the French Department are still my number ones though. These brought a completely different dimension into my life friendship-wise as well as on the internal level of thinking. For instance, I can still hear the beautiful soundtrack to a very moving film Mon oncle Antoine to name at least one. Thanks to an essay question related to this film Québec became so close to me although so distant in reality. On personal level these modules brought some very firm friendships into my life with francophone students from Africa and Switzerland who chose Stirling University as their exchange partner university and with whom I have been in contact ever since.
And so this is how in 2010 I begun to live my dream LIVE thanks to the offer from the University of Stirling. I chose to study French here because I believed that there would be a different approach to studying a foreign language in Great Britain to the one carried out at the universities in the Czech Republic where I originally come from. I was right and I would not change a thing. Studies at Stirling were dynamic, modern, non-rigid and absolutely up-to-date in every sense. Language teaching in Stirling exceeded my expectations. I really liked the approach of having a lot on offer on one hand but having also a choice which helped me to cope with the immense load of work at the exam period or reading weeks. It is entirely up to each individual to explore what one wishes to find out and how deep into the topic s/he wants to go. I find this very democratic. There was no compulsory drill, no repetition, no memorizing as is often the case at the universities on the continent (France included as I learned through my personal experience).
The professionalism of the professors at Stirling is amazing and the flexibility of studies matched my needs perfectly. The expertise the professors possess is absolutely enormous. It is so nice to read a book written by someone who is actually giving lectures or seminars. Everybody is so supportive. For instance such a little thing as the French language café run by the Language Assistant, Bernadette Corbett (now retired). How useful and helpful this was! Thank you Bernadette! Or what an opportunity to get on board of a train and explore an Interpreting Event in Edinburgh Heriot Watt University together with other students and language tutor Jean-Michel Des Jacques. To witness student peers at another university how they sweat while training their conference interpreting skills at real inbuilt booths/cabins the partner university uses for teaching purposes was more than interesting.
And of course joining the Erasmus programme together with my daughter (then just 4) needs no comment. It was the most challenging of all assignments I had to fulfil but the very best and cleverest request the French department had on offer. If only I was a bit younger and British I would have joined my peers and gone for the English Teaching Assistantship programme supported by the University of Stirling and the British Council. All my friends who joined came back linguistically very well equipped to fulfil their final 4th year of their studies. They were also more than ready to face the real life challenges on the current job market.
And what have I gone on to do with my French since graduating? My decision to accept the offer made by the University of Stirling has changed my life completely. Although I do not use French as a ‘working language’ when interpreting (my free-lance job) I found it extremely useful when working as an ESOL Home Tutor and Classroom Volunteer for Community based ESOL at the Edinburgh College. One woman there, an elementary student from Morocco, arrived in my classroom speaking no English whatsoever. Luckily she knew some French. You can imagine the sparkles in her eyes when I offered French translation to several key English words in order to comfort her and break the ice a bit. We even managed to joke! She says a big “HELLO” to me whenever I meet her in the streets and has no more fear to try her English skills with me. What a success thanks to French! To my amazement last spring time my volunteering work was appreciated by my nomination to Inspiring Volunteering Achievement Awards 2015 by the Edinburgh College. It was such an interesting experience for me to participate at this community event.
I can honestly declare that my language studies at the University of Stirling opened the door to my voluntary English teaching in Britain. This is quite an achievement for me as a non-native English speaker I must admit and teaching refugees and asylum seekers has been the most rewarding job I have ever done. My degree also made it possible for me to join several interpretation agencies and work free-lance. My French degree was fully recognized by one of the leading ones on the market and if I agreed I would be included on the list of the interpreters having French on offer! What a stress! Quelle horreur! I am convinced that I still have a lot to learn so I prefer to be modest for the time being and offer just English/Czech/Slovak and vice versa as my working languages. In my point of view learning any language is a life-long learning process which is one never-ending story I have decided to live LIVE.”
Thanks to Jana and we look forward to following the next stages of her career post-Stirling!
It’s always good to get a chance to find out what our students end up doing after they graduate, and particularly interesting to get updates several years down the line. Paul graduated back in 2011 and wrote a blog article for us two years ago about his experiences since finishing his studies at Stirling. Since then, though, Paul’s career has taken off in a rather unexpected direction as he explains here:
“I studied for a BA Hons in French and Spanish between 2007 and 2011 at Stirling University. I chose Stirling to study French for a number of reasons including the close knit student community I witnessed on the open day as well as the flexibility and variety of modules available for the cultural elements of the course. When I started university, I had very little idea about what career path I wanted to follow post-graduation and I felt Stirling offered me the best chance to develop an understanding of the language and culture in a variety of different ways.
I followed the normal path of language and grammar modules throughout my four years in addition to a number of modules focusing on the literature, cinema and current affairs of francophone countries. I really enjoyed modules focusing on French cinema, particularly a module called ‘Screening the City’, where I was able to develop my analytical skills which has undoubtedly helped me in my postgraduate career. I’m still a keen viewer of French films and TV shows and take great pride in the fact I was able to watch an entire series of Les Revenants without subtitles.
One of the main highlights for any language student and I myself am no different is the opportunity to study abroad. As part of the ERASMUS programme, I chose to go to the University of Nancy 2 (I believe it is now part of the University of Lorraine) and spent six months studying modules alongside French students and other students on the ERASMUS programme. It was a memorable experience where I was able to travel across France, Belgium and Luxembourg during the weekends and I regularly keep in contact with the other French ERASMUS students I met during my time there.
I spent the first four years after graduating doing various roles within the recruitment industry where I was able to use my French skills to work with internationally based clients and candidates for a number of different roles. I also spent a brief amount of time working in the Welfare to Work sector where I provide interview training to non-English speakers across the Glasgow area.
About a year ago, I made a bit of a career change and have subsequently found a role as a Financial Crime Analyst in a large consultancy firm based in London where I get the opportunity to travel and work with financial services companies all over. My first project as part of this role involved travelling between London and Paris on a weekly basis as part of an international sanctions investigation and had the opportunity to brush up on my French language skills. It has certainly not been the kind of career I had originally envisioned for myself but something which I find both challenging and extremely rewarding.”
Thanks to Paul for this update and we look forward to following the next stages of his career!
Great research seminar coming up this week as we kick off the second half of our Spring semester. Guy Austin (Newcastle University) will be giving a paper as part of the regular Literature and Languages series entitled ‘Trauma in Recent Algerian Documentary Cinema: Telling Stories of Civil Conflict’, examining the representation in recent Algerian documentary cinema of trauma generated by the so-called civil war or “black decade” that Algeria experienced in the 1990s. Taking as case studies the films Algérie la vie quand même(Sahraoui, 1998), Aliénations (Bensmaïl 2004) and Lettre à ma soeur(Djahnine, 2008), the analysis will address the means whereby the themes of loss, depression and trauma are represented.
More French and Francophone seminars in the weeks ahead.
Looking forward to semester starting again next week after our break and, in particular, to setting to work on the dossier on ‘Film and Childhood’ we’re editing for the undergraduate film journal Film Matters. Students from Literature and Languages, but also from many other parts of the University, will be contributing to the dossier, writing articles on films as diverse as Etre et avoir, Atonement, Interstellar and La Vita è bella.
We’re really pleased, too, to have the support of our honorary graduate from last year, film director, curator and author Mark Cousins. As well as his work with Tilda Swinton on the 8 ½ Foundation, Mark has also curated a series of films on childhood (screening again this year at Edinburgh’s Filmhouse Cinema) and has directed two films about children (A Story of Children and Film and The First Movie). Mark will be coming to Stirling on 5 March to talk to the dossier’s authors about cinema and childhood. In the meantime, you can read his great article on teaching film here!
And we will, of course, keep you updated with progress on the dossier via the French at Stirling blog.
Great seminar yesterday, in the weekly (more or less!) Literature and Languages series, given by Nikolaj Lübecker of St John’s College Oxford on ‘The Feel-Bad Comedy: Bruno Dumont’s P’tit Quinquin (2014).’ Nikolaj’s book on feel-bad cinema will be out with Edinburgh University Press later this year and includes analysis of key films by directors including Dumont, Lars von Trier, Michael Haneke and Gus Van Sant. You can hear a talk by Nikolaj on this subject here.
More French and Francophone-themed talks coming up in the series over coming weeks from Guy Austin (on Algerian documentary cinema), Tom Conley (in Stirling as the inaugural Society for French Studies Visiting Fellow) and our own Fiona Barclay (on melancholy, depression and the colonizing of the pieds-noirs) and current PhD student Mauro di Lullo (on Blanchot).
As Stefanie explains, ‘Mohamed Amin is the first-time director of Adios Carmen, one of the gems of Moroccan cinema which will be screened at Africa in Motion this year. He is originally from Morocco, and now lives and works in Belgium. His films show a real affinity for children, and it looks like that is continuing in future projects. Merlin Pitois is distribution and communications manager for Ali n’ Productions & Zaza Films Distribution in Casablanca. Ali N’ is fast becoming one of the major production forces on the Moroccan filmmaking scene, and an important player on the world cinema distribution platform. Merlin worked closely together with Hicham Lasri, the director of They are the Dogs. When I spoke with these two young men, forces of nature on the Moroccan cinema scene, they discussed their respective films, and both also talked about hidden post-colonial histories in Morocco, such as the Spanish presence in the Rif area (the north of the country) and the terror of the 1980s under King Hassan II.’
Stefanie Van de Peer: Both films deal to a certain degree with memory and memory loss, and the failure of history to treat the colonial and postcolonial past with respect. Why do you think some of these issues are ignored or forgotten, and what made you want to address them?
Mohamed Amin: Memory is central to my work. I see it as a way to build bridges between the past and the present. This history of 1970s or 1980s in the Rif, and in Morocco more widely, is difficult, traumatic. But for me, stories and memory often connect to childhood. And perhaps children often represent our memories in film. My films are told from the point of view of children. Adios Carmen is the story of my own childhood. The story of Adios Carmen starts from my encounter with Carmen, a Spanish exile in Morocco, who was my neighbour when I was little. She worked as an usher in a small movie theater in the village. When my mother migrated to Belgium in the late sixties, it was Carmen who took me under her wing and, in a way, brought me up. With this story, I wanted to tell my first movie experience and the impression it left on me. My love for cinema and the desire to make films has been there since my childhood. So it is a romantic, nostalgic story, but also one that does not avoid talking about the tense relations between Morocco and Spain.
Merlin Pitois: Films like They are the Dogs, which deal with difficult aspects of our politics and history, sadly only reach a very small number and a particular type of people, who actively take the time to go and see this kind of film and think about its subjects. This is the slightly more pessimistic side of film distribution: Moroccan films are known by the ‘professionals’ through film festivals, but most films will never be released commercially, so the memory loss continues. Unfortunately, also, audiences in Western countries have very little interest in watching films from the ‘real Morocco’ – I mean films that really deal with the issues in our society and real Moroccan people. There are films about Morocco that are not from Morocco, which manage to get a great interest abroad only because they show the exotic side of Morocco, with its deserts, camels and “thé à la menthe”… a continued colonialist and orientalist view of our country.
SVdP: I would like to know more about the era in which the films are set: not many films deal with the Spanish presence in Morocco, or with Hassan II’s reign of terror. Are they taboo subjects? Why do they not get more attention in Moroccan cinema?
MA: I think it is the decade-long marginalization of the Rif region that ensured that the rest of Morocco is not interested in this region. This also explains the fact that cultural products rarely come out of the region, even though its specificity and its history should inspire tremendous works of art. It is this region that experienced the most intense period of Spanish colonisation from the 19th century until the 1950s, and it is also in The Rif that the most active resistance to their presence was enacted. Although local stories deal with this history, because of Morocco’s general ignorance regarding the Rif, its history is neglected. Touring this film, I have noticed how Moroccans do not know the area and its history, but how interested many now are, and proud and delighted to discover it, its language and culture, as a piece that fits in Morocco’s puzzle.
By including Carmen as a central character, I also wanted to address the topic of migration in Spanish Morocco after independence. It gets little attention, yet it was real and has many similarities with the current wave of migrations between Morocco and Europe. It is and has always been a reciprocal migration. First it manifested itself in one direction and then twenty years later, in the other: first, the Spaniards fled the Spanish civil war, later they fled the Franco regime, and yet later, Moroccans fled oppression and poverty. Through this story, we can also make the connection with many other migration stories, wherever they happen in the world. Children are often the victims, and we have to remember that these journeys cause physical and mental anguish. I wanted to show that it is never something simple or trivial, or even happy. People are leaving because they experience problems, follow a dream or because they have no choice. It is human.
MP: That is really interesting of you to mention this, and I agree with Mohamed. The freedom of speech and art is a rare gift. While Morocco is one of the most stable political regimes of Africa and the Middle East these days, freedom of speech and art is pretty limited. So, people manage to find ways to question the system and society indirectly. Of course, one can be a bit more confrontational with the king and his government nowadays, but under Hassan II, it was unthinkable to produce a film like They are the Dogs. People went to jail for less. So there were absolutely no films at all about Hassan II’s time and society while he was alive. There were films being made of course, but they never dealt with politics or society in a critical sense.
And that’s what They are the dogs does so successfully: it proposes a vision of Moroccan society treated with humour and dealing with its problems indirectly. This indirectness can be seen as a way to avoid ‘censorship’ (which in Morocco should be called ‘self-censorship’), but it is also a way to avoid dealing with the problems directly. In doing so, the audience will be more responsible to forge its own opinions rather than the film telling the people what to think. I think this is the strength of our film: not to propose a black and white vision of Moroccan society, or telling the audience who are the good guys and who are the bad guys: but proposing a true and interesting vision of an intricate system that everyone is part of, and accepting it critically.
SVdP: Last question: what are your plans now, after Adios Carmen and after They are the Dogs? Are you working on a new film? What do you think of the future of Moroccan cinema?
MA: I am currently working on a film project that tells stories of crossed destinies of Moroccan immigrants in Belgium. The film is about dreams, disappointments and a decline in the values that used to unite them. I am also working with a friend on a project that deals with political violence in the 1970s and 1980s in Morocco. Because I am interested in matters related to memory, I will necessarily also be working with children again.
MP: Luckily, there are very interesting people doing a lot to develop Moroccan cinema further. Nabil Ayouch for example, the producer of They are the dogs, Nourredine Lakhmari, Fawzi Bensaïdi, Leïla Kilani… These are great directors and producers, and they are ‘modern’ and ambitious. They combine their commercial skills with their ability to create a truly rewarding, artistic Moroccan cinema. In addition to these producers, the CCM (Moroccan Cinematographic Centre) is developing its support, both financially and with infrastructure, and represents hope for a lot of young Moroccan filmmakers. Things are evolving positively here, that is undeniable, but it is all happening rather slowly. The film industry is building its foundations. I really hope that the next generation will be audacious, inventive and successful enough to build a great new industry. There really is a lot of talent in Morocco, people who are just waiting for an opportunity to build themselves up.
If you want to read more about Moroccan cinema, Stefanie has published widely on this topic and on Arabic cinema more generally including a chapter on Leila Kilani’s film Our Forbidden Places in Art and Trauma in Africa (co-edited by Stefanie and Lizelle Bisschoff) and a blog entry on researching North African Women in cinema. More recently, she has been turning her attention to animation from countries of the Middle East and has written a great article on the topic for the Animation Studies blog. Another of our former PhD students, Jamal Bahmad, now at the University of Marburg, has also published widely on contemporary Moroccan cinema.
The programme for this year’s fantastic Africa in Motion film festival (founded by Lizelle Bisschoff, one of our former PhD students) has just been launched and looks as diverse and interesting as ever.
This year, there’s a programme of films in both Edinburgh and in Glasgow, and Stirling will be hosting a masterclass by Rwandan film-maker Eric Kabera at the MacRobert on Wed 5 November. As well as films from Senegal, South Africa, Angola, Burkina Faso and many other countries, the festival’s programme includes an exhibition of classic African film posters, an African storytelling event (both at Edinburgh’s Filmhouse), and an exhibition of posters and graphic art by South African designer/illustrator/photographer/art director, Modise BlackDice at Summerhall in Edinburgh. Check out the programme here.
You might also be interested in David Murphy and Lizelle Bisschoff’s edited collection Africa’s Lost Classics which will get its official launch at the festival and which our honorary graduate Mark Cousins has described as ‘a winning product of the centrifugal imagination’.
Tom Conley, Abbot Lawrence Lowell Professor of Visual and Environmental Studies and of Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard University, will be visiting Stirling in Spring 2015 as the Inaugural Visiting Fellow of the Society for French Studies. He will first give the annual Malcolm Bowie Lecture at the IMLR in London before giving a guest SFS lecture at the University Stirling where he will also lead a postgraduate workshop.
Professor Conley’s work engages with literary and visual culture from the early modern to the contemporary period and his many publications include Cartographic Cinema (University of Minnesota Press, 2007), and The Self-Made Map: Cartographic Writing in Early Modern France (University of Minnesota Press, 1996). His workshops during the Fellowship will focus in particular on cartography and translation.
More details of dates and venues for his Prof. Conley’s lectures and workshops closer to the time.