Mapping constellations : early cinema in the Balkans, archives and cultural memory
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Is cinema ‘the most modern, technologically dependent and Western of all the arts’ (1995) as David Parkinson seems to suggest? My thesis addresses and problematizes this often evoked misconception on the art of cinema, with the aim to offset, or if not slightly shift, the dominant perspective through which early cinema history is observed, by positing the analysis through Balkan “haptical lenses”, and tracing regional cultural traditions that pre-date first cinema projections. This study examines the specific geopolitical position of the Balkan space at the beginning of twentieth century and the multi-cultural identity of the communities that influence and shape the development of cinema in the region, through the contemporary prism of archives, preservation and cultural memory. The intermingling, contamination and fusion of artistic traditions from East and West resulted in a unique regional visual culture, to which, at the end of the nineteenth century, the arrival of cinema added yet another layer of expression. In the first part of the thesis I outline the theoretical framework and historical context of the region, and provide a close analysis of visual culture in its relation to the haptic. The second part focuses on the concepts of Balkanism, semi-colonialism and the gaze, which it addresses through an analysis of selected footage and images, produced by both foreign companies and local filmmakers, throughout the region. The third part is a study of local cinema pioneers, within the context of global filmmaking at the time, through the advent of modernity and self-reflection. Finally, a close reading of texts from newspapers, journals and books at the time provides the basis for an exploration of the arrival of cinema in the Balkans and its reception by local audiences. By building on phenomenological theory and visual culture in the Balkans and transnational studies, as well as combining theoretical and empirical evidence from both fields, this thesis establishes a strong theoretical and historical basis that can inform further research on film reception studies and embodied vision.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: 2026-05-17
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Print and electronic copy restricted until 17th May 2026
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