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Moving Pictures: Cinematic Rhetoric and Social Movement

Workshop Leaders:

Kristen Hoerl, Butler University
Claire Sisco King, Vanderbilt University

Motion pictures not only appear to move in front of their spectators, but they also aim, through their form and content, to move their spectators themselves. Cinematic rhetoric operates at multiple registers—including the linguistic, the visual, and the aural—and, as such, has unique affordances for affecting beliefs, stirring feelings, and animating bodily responses. This capacity to affect audiences is one reason that the cinema has become a significant site for public memory about social injustices and the movements that arise in response. This workshop considers the relationship between the cinema’s rhetorical and affective affordances and its facility for engendering activism. Does the cinema’s capacity to move its audiences make it an effective agent of social change, or does the cinema’s capacity to generate affective responses actually limit its capacity to promote political action? In other words, films may move us to believe and to feel, but do they move us to act?

To answer these questions, the members of the workshop will engage a long-standing debate within rhetoric and critical media studies about the relationship between cinema and counterhegemonic struggle against injustice and inequality. We aim to contribute to this conversation, offering a range of perspectives on the efficacy of cinema as a counterhegemonic resource for public memory work and social justice advocacy. Of particular importance will be attention to the formal and stylistic elements of the cinematic medium as integral to its capacity to move audiences, considering film in relation to and contradistinction from other mediums and forms of visual rhetoric.

This workshop is open to veterans of these debates and those newly invested in these questions. Prior to the workshop, participants will be asked to do assigned readings from a variety of fields, including film/media studies, critical race studies, intersectional feminism, and rhetoric, to screen a small number of selected films, and to write short (3-page) position papers. We also hope to screen a film in Indiana University’s state of the art cinema.

Questions should be directed to Claire Sisco King, claire.s.king@vanderbilt.edu.


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