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University hosts European cinema conference

By : Eric Coker

Film scholars and filmmakers from North America and Europe gathered at Binghamton University from July 9-12 for the Annual Conference of the European Cinema Research Forum (ECRF).

The ECRF, formed in 2000 and led by Graeme Harper of Bangor University in the United Kingdom and Owen Evans of Swansea University in the United Kingdom, alternates its conference location between a U.K. and a U.S. site. The 2008 conference was in Dublin, while Ohio State University hosted the 2007 conference.

The Binghamton conference was the brainchild of Ingeborg Majer-O’Sickey, associate professor of German and Russian Studies, who attended the 2007 event.

“I was so impressed,” she said. “I really loved the atmosphere. I thought it was great to get to know each other. I went ahead and threw our name in the hat (for 2009). The fact that we got this is clearly an honor.”

Harper and Evans helped Majer-O’Sickey and Brian Wall, assistant professor of cinema, develop the conference topic, “European Cinema — Experiment, Mainstream and Praxis.” But Majer-O’Sickey and Wall already had an emphasis for the format: “intimacy and collegiality.”

“We didn’t want to enforce an arbitrary hierarchy between the stars and the hoi polloi that can sometimes be a little alienating,” Wall said. “Even though we have prestigious presenters, we tried to structure the program so we could have an experience together.”

Majer-O’Sickey added that “underlying the concept was also that we would bring together film directors with film scholars so that praxis and theory could be put into dialogue.”

That meant roundtables, panels and Q&A sessions over three days. The weekend also featured screenings of works from international filmmakers such as Jochen Hick of Germany, Maryline Monthieux of France and Seyhan Derin of Turkey and Germany, along with films from Cinema Department Chair Ariana Gerstein, Undergraduate Director Vincent Grenier and Monteith McCollum, an award-winning independent filmmaker from central New York.

Binghamton professors also were given equal prominence in the panel discussions. In the morning session on July 10, Donald Loewen, associate professor of German and Russian Studies, discussed financing in Russian cinema and the effect that multiplexes have had on Russian filmmaking. That segued into talks from Hick and Derin about the importance of film funding in Europe, particularly Germany.

The conference, sponsored by the Harpur College Dean’s Office, Binghamton University Foundation, the departments of Cinema, German and Russian Studies, and Comparative Literature with support from the German Academic Exchange, featured nine Binghamton professors.

Donald Nieman, dean of Harpur College of Arts and Sciences, praised the international reputation of the Cinema Department and all of the scholarly film work that is done in Harpur on an “important art form and expression of popular culture.”

“Conferences like this — small, intimate conferences where people have the opportunity to interact, talk about issues and build collaboration — are the heart of the academy,” Nieman said during welcoming remarks on July 10.

Majer-O’Sickey, who is teaching a course this summer related to the conference, appreciated the distance many participants came to discuss cinema.

“When you see this combined knowledge, it’s astonishing that they would say, ‘I’m going to take three days out of my life to go to upstate New York to talk about ideas having to do with European cinema,’” she said. “I’m just humbled they would do that.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08