Adventures in film ― research through the camera lens
Insights from the Postdoc Takeover Week, 27 - 31 March
Postdoctoral researchers from The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH) are taking over our Insights blog this week – sharing advice and tips on the things that matter most to today’s researchers.
Lecturer in German at the University of Oxford, Alex Lloyd, shares her tips on experimenting with amateur film-making as a way to both better understand your material, and promote your research.
I’m an early-career academic working in German Studies at the University of Oxford. One of my research interests is contemporary cinema and for the past couple of years I’ve been experimenting with amateur film-making as a way to better understand my material, and to get my research out there on YouTube and iTunesU. I did some training, armed myself with the departmental camera, and set off.
I’ve worked with authors, academics, translators, and local children, producing short films about research, poetry, language learning, and the Humanities. I started out with a really short piece and then tried my hand at a more documentary-style format:
- Leaping from the Edge of the World – Ulrike Draesner in Oxford explores the work of prize-winning German writer Ulrike Draesner.
- Singing the Reformation documents a knowledge-exchange project between a local ensemble, the Oxford Bach Soloists, and academics (including me) at Oxford.
I’m currently working on a piece about the Japanese-German writer Yoko Tawada and just completed a short film about creative multilingualism with a colleague and pupils at a local primary school, as part of the research project Storming Utopia. Working with children fed directly into my research and sparked ideas for exciting future projects.
What’s the value in using film?
If you want to look at things differently, try looking at them through the lens of a camera. Making a two-minute film about your research or a fundamental question in your discipline forces you to condense your ideas, to make them accessible to a broad audience, and to think about how you put them across. It’s the ultimate elevator pitch, forcing you to focus on what really matters. It can also give you access to people and places you wouldn’t otherwise get.
The ‘I’ Word
We know, especially in the humanities, that we need to demonstrate the impact of our research. Having your work in a forum where anyone can access it online means that you can spread the word, but also monitor its reach. People can engage on multiple platforms too, and you can document reactions and responses.
Isn’t film-making complicated, expensive, and time consuming?
It absolutely can be, but it doesn’t need to be. Our department invested in a great (and relatively inexpensive) set of kit which is really easy to use. For those with smart phones, however, make use of what you have. There’s lots of free editing software on the web and film-making can be a great collaborative project with other researchers, students, and non-academics.
Film-making needn’t be complicated or arduous, it can be a fantastic way to engage with a wide audience, and can make you think about research in new, unexpected ways.
Alex Lloyd is Lecturer in German at the University of Oxford. She works on cultural memories of childhood under Nazism in contemporary literature and film, and has published articles on contemporary women’s writing, child figures in cinema, and the material culture of youth. She is also co-convenor of the Oxford Song Network, an interdisciplinary project exploring the interaction of music and words in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century European song tradition. Follow Alex on Twitter @alvlloyd.