From novels to new media and cinema to community engagement, the University’s Department of Film and Creative Writing, established in 2014, is home to award-winning academics and students.
The Department has excellent collaborative relationships with professional partners in film, television, and theatre, and students take on a practical approach to their work with films, poetry performances and screenplays. The department
also works closely with B-Film, an interdisciplinary, international research centre at the University that collaborates with universities and institutions across the world on research, screenings, and publications.
Old Joe met Michele Aaron, a Senior Lecturer in Film Studies, to find out more about her research and community projects.
Film is a mass cultural influencer; you have millions of people around the world all watching the same film. That’s obviously very important and fascinates me. My undergraduate degree was in English literature and I think there is a definite crossover between the stage and the screen.
The underlying theme of all my work is the representation of difficult topics in mainstream and documentary film. Death is of course a part of living and we’re shown images of death all the time but are never shown how to deal with it sensibly. Mainstream cinema represents death in clearly defined parameters and imposes a ‘Hollywood glamour’ that shows it as beautiful and meaningful. There is generally a lack of pain and a disassociation from the body in a Hollywood death.
Definitely; for all of my criticism death in film can offer a therapeutic process. When people are grieving sharing that experience through the cinema can be a cathartic experience. I am also running a project in a hospice exploring how digital technologies can transform connections between people. We are working with terminally ill patients to make their own films using handheld cameras and smart phones. As demographics of Western countries become older I am pleased to see that there is a growth in end-of-life studies across health care and academia.
I’m involved in community projects and collaborating directly with filmmakers. One such project is SSAVI (Schools’ Social Action Video Initiative), which allows me to work with local school children who perhaps wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to go to university. We work with pupils to make their own films that they then get to edit on campus. I also run Screening Rights, a research campaign that encourages the production, promotion and discussion of films looking at human adversity. We recently held the first Screening Rights Film Festival with three days of social justice films at the Midland Arts Centre (mac) plus special talks from directors, and panel discussions. These activities are great for Birmingham but desperately need more support. My research has always been demanding but at least, in my experience, the most enthusiastic and exciting individuals are those who choose to work on the most difficult topics.
Michele is leading the Digital Storytelling: Filmmaking for the Web MOOC, running in conjunction with the BBC. Find out more about this and the University’s other MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) at www.birmingham.ac.uk/moocs
This feature was originally published in 'Old Joe', the University of Birmingham Alumni magazine