nl en

Contemporary Theories of Film


Admission requirements

BA degree


After years of so-called ‘Grand Theory’ in the 1970s and early 1980s – with a cocktail of semiotics, psychoanalysis, and ideology criticism (think of Metz, Baudry, Comolli, Mulvey) – film studies took a few different ‘post-theoretical’ turns from the mid-1980s onwards. One can think of a rise in prominence of cognitive and empiricist research; media archaeology; the field of film philosophy; and the reflections on film’s materiality in the era of digitization. These turns tie in with some noteworthy shifts: from cinema and its questions of medium specificity to the cinematic as event; from index as a trace (in the analogue era) to index as a sign (in the age of digital reproduction); from the film viewer as a theoretical construct to theories of affect; and cinema’s position in relation to and within the world.

In this course we will delve into some of the consequences of these shifts with close readings of assigned texts and seminar discussions. In considering cinema as representation and experience, the first three weeks, led by Julian Ross, will explore the relationship between cinema and the world, and the place of the world within cinema. We will examine boredom and sleep as resistance against the 24/7 hyperactivity of contemporary life (Jean Ma, Elena Gorfinkel) and discuss cinema’s exploration of ecology and our relations with non-humans, such as animals (Donna Haraway) and spirits (May Adadol Ingawanij).

In weeks 4-6, led by Stijn De Cauwer, we explore the potential of affect theory for analyzing ecocinema. We will explore the tension between film analysis based on affects and film analysis based on meaning, as well as the debates surrounding the term “ecocinema.” We will discuss films about “rural wildness” in terms of affective economies (Sarah Ahmed), critically explore various strategies adopted in ecocinema (David Ingram) and unpack the theories of Lauren Berlant on Post-Fordist affect and cinema.

Weeks 7-9, led by Julian Ross, we will continue our exploration into ecology and environmental humanities by addressing the elemental turn in film studies. Ecocriticism has brought about a reconceptualisation of nature, which encourages us to no longer see nature as far away from humans, but something we’re entangled with in a complex ecology. A return to the classical elements provides us with a foundation upon which we can reexamine our interactive relationship with the environment (Tiago de Luca): in exploring earth, we will examine the material origins of film (Nadia Bozak) and media (Jussi Parikka) and analyse cinematic representations of land and mountains (Leo Goldsmith); in discussing fire, we will look at the figure of the volcano (Jessica Mulvogue). Lastly, we will hold a session on incomplete films.

In weeks 10-12, led by Stijn de Cauwer, we will critically explore debates surrounding cinema and visualizing the Anthropocene, with a specific focus on decolonizing the Anthropocene. We will also discuss intersectional approaches to environmental cinema with the work of John Akomfrah as case study. Finally, we will watch the film The Velvet Queen and discuss it in the light of the various approaches we have seen in the previous weeks.

Course objectives

Upon completion of this course the student:

  • will be familiar with the key concerns in contemporary studies of film;

  • will be capable to providing close readings of complex film theoretical texts independently;

  • will able to summarise key arguments from complex film theoretical texts, so as to be able to situate, evaluate and reflect on them based on these close readings;

  • will be able to put these skills to the task of writing a critical reflection on a case by choice from the perspective of one of these key concerns.


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

Seminar. Class attendance is mandatory.

Assessment method


Two essays of equal weight. Word count 3000 words (margins 10%). For deadlines see Brightspace.


Both essays account for 50% of the final grade.


In the case of a fail you are entitled to rewrite the essays.

Inspection and feedback

How and when a paper review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the paper results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the paper results, an paper review will have to be organised.

Reading list

Selection of Articles. As most readings are excerpts from selected books, they are often too long to be placed on Brightspace for copyright reasons. Therefore, hardcopy’s will be made available at a designated library shelve at the UB. Articles must be read and brought to class, either printed or digitally. And bear in mind: some of these sources can only be downloaded if you login via the UB Library.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.
General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website.

Registration À la carte education, Contract teaching and Exchange

For the registration of exchange students contact Humanities International Office. À la carte education and Contract teaching not applicable.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Arsenaal.