Film theory and film analysis; French cinema; contemporary alternative cinema (fiction and non-fiction); autobiographical cinema; essay films, experimental cinema; moving image-based art; interplay between theory and practice.
Born in Germany of Franco-German parents, I studied in Berlin and Paris where I received my Ph.D. in ﬁlm studies from the Université de Paris 3. Prior to my appointment at the University of Chicago, I have been Lecturer in the department of Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard. And before coming to the USA, I have been Maître de conferences and the head of the film and theater studies department at the Université Rennes 2, where I also directed a research program devoted to French non-fiction short films in the 1950s and 1960s. The production of short films in this period was particularly fertile (4500 short films produced between 1945 and 1960), with a prevalence of non-fiction film over fiction. At this time the terms “short film” and “documentary” were virtually synonymous. This work was so inventive and ambitious—hallmark filmmakers such as Georges Franju, Alain Resnais, Chris Marker and Agnès Varda all produced important short films at this time—that the period is often referred to as the “golden age of the French school of short films.”
While living in France, I was also the co-editor and manager of the bilingual journal of theory on image and sound, Iris, and worked in cinema-related areas in order to bridge my commitment to the criticism and promotion of alternative cinema; or in other words to seek to overcome the split between creative practice and theory. I served for fifteen years as the French correspondent preselecting the French entries for the International Forum of New Cinema at the Berlin Film Festival, and worked for three years as the director of programming for ACID (Agence du Cinéma Indépendant pour sa Diffusion), a film-makers’ association dedicated to promoting the distribution of independent film. During my studies, I also worked as a translator; I subtitled more than 30 French art films and documentaries, and translated with Margrit Tröhler, Christian Metz’s “The Imaginary Signifier” into German. More recently I started to be more interested in the uses of moving images in contemporary art, and curated two shows for the Sert Gallery of the Carpenter Center of the Visual Arts (Harvard, Cambridge): “Les Veuves de Noirmoutier” Agnès Varda's first video installation exhibition in the United States (2009), and “Mark Lewis: Three Cinematic Works” (2011).
My current research and publications are focused primarily on autobiographical and alternative film practices. My forthcoming book, Joseph Morder – le filmateur, is devoted to one of the most prolific, filmmakers working in France today, but who still waits to be fully discovered outside of France. Morder has been making films for over 40 years, and has directed at present some 900 films in Super 8, 16mm, 35 mm, video, and even with a cellphone camera. His oeuvre represents a unique body of films, since it comprises a particularly rich variety of autobiographical films. To my knowledge, no other filmmaker has utilized so many forms of personal filmmaking: genuine and fake diaries; portraits of family members and friends; an autobiographical film recounting the painful story of his Jewish family and his childhood in Ecuador; autofictions combining non-fiction with reenactments; fictions adopting the form of a filmed journal or a filmed letter; and autobiographical found-footage films about his early years in South America and his arrival in France. Morder is also one of the very few filmmakers, who, even after becoming a professional filmmaker making “real movies” on standard formats, never gave up using amateur formats, but has continuously explored the possibilities of Super 8 or other non-standard gauges in short and feature length fiction and nonfiction work, then released on 16mm or 35mm.
Film still from Joseph Morder’s autofiction Memoirs of a Tropical Jew (1986).
My second book, Framing the I: Film and Autobiography, undertakes a historical and critical examination of personal, autobiographical filmmaking. In contrast to literature and art history, where the self-portrait and autobiography are well-established genres, and where a wide range of seminal studies have been published, research on autobiographical cinema is not yet well developed. Although extensive publications can be found on individual films and filmmakers, there are very few books on this subject. Framing the I focuses on the four main forms of personal filmmaking: diary, autobiography, self-portrait, and autofiction. My research includes a growing list of over two hundred filmmakers who have made at least one autobiographical film, ranging from sometimes less known but important experimental or documentary filmmakers, like Jonas Mekas, Joseph Morder, Ed Pincus, Ross McElwee, David Perlov, Su Friedrich, Anne Robertson, Corinne Cantrill, or Gina Kim, to well established auteurist directors such as Agnès Varda, Chantal Akerman, Federico Fellini, Jean-Luc Godard, or Nanni Moretti.
Books, and Work as Editor
Joseph Morder – le filmateur (prospective date of publication: 2016).
Le Court métrage documentaire français de 1945 à 1968. Créations et créateurs. (Ed. with Philippe Pilard). Presses Universitaires de Rennes. 2009.
Le Court métrage documentaire français de 1945 à 1968. De l’âge d’or aux contrebandiers. (Ed. with François Thomas) Presses Universitaires de Rennes. 2005.
“Le Personnage au cinéma/The Filmic Character” (with Margrit Tröhler, Anne Goliot-Lété, Claire Dupré la Tour and Marie-Françoise Grange). Iris 24 (1997).
“Cinéma, souvenir, film/Memory in Cinema and Films” (with Claire Dupré la Tour, Anne Goliot-Lété and Margrit Tröhler). Iris 19 (1995).
“Spectateurs et publics de cinéma/Movie Spectators and Audiences” (with Claire Dupré la Tour, Anne Goliot-Lété and Margrit Tröhler). Iris 17 (1994).
Articles, and Chapters in Books
“‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ or Morder’s Amateur Toolkit.” In Saving Private Reels. Eds. Barry Monahan, Laura Rascaroli, Gwenda Young. Continuum. London. (forthcoming 2013).
“Autobiography, (re)enactment, and the performative self-portrait in Varda’s Les Plages d’Agnès,”Studies in European Cinema (forthcoming 2013).
“La Miroitière – à propos des films et installations personnels d’Agnès Varda.” In Agnès Varda : le cinema et au-delà. Eds. Anthony Fiant, Roxane Hamery and Eric Thouvenel. Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2009. 177-185.
“Convergences et divergences : du documentaire de qualité à l’essai cinématographique.” In Le Court métrage documentaire français de 1945 à 1968. Créations et créateurs. Eds. Dominique Bluher and Philippe Pilard. Presses Universitaires de Rennes 2009. 149-163.
“Ross McElwee’s Voice. / La voz de Ross McElwee.” In Landscape of the Self: The Cinema of Ross McElwee. / Paisajes yo: El Cine de Ross McElwee. Eds. Efrén Cuevas and Alberto N. Garcia. Madrid: Ediciones Internacionales Universitarias, 2007. 135-49.
“Perlov, Mekas, Morder, Lehman et les autres : à la recherche d’imprédictibles frémissements du quotidien. / Perlov, Mekas, Morder, Lehman, and the others: in Search of the Unpredictable Quiverings of Daily Life.” In David Perlov (1930-2003). Diary. Eds. Mira Perlov and Pip Chodorov. Paris: Re-Voir, 2007.
· Portuguese translation in David Perlov: Epifanias Do Cottidiano / Epiphanies of the Everyday. Eds. Ilana Feldman and Patricia Mourao. San Paulo. Center da Cultura Judaica, 2011. 89-97.
“Les Journaux filmés de Joseph Morder,” La Licorne 72 (September 2005): 177-194.
“Wesh wesh, qu’est-ce qui se passe ? Le cinéma hip-hop, relève du cinéma beur et du cinéma de banlieue.” In Cinéma et engagement. Eds. Martin O'Shaughnessy and Graeme Hayes. Paris: L'Harmattan, 2005. 271-285.
“Joseph filmeur, Joseph conteur,” Pointligneplan (February 2004).
“Hip-Hop Cinema in France,” Camera Obscura 46 (2001): 77-97.
“Joseph Morder. Présences et absences du ‘Je’,” Cinémathèque 18 (2000): 74-83.
“Histoire de raconter. Décentrement, élision et fragmentation dans Nénette et Boni, La Vie de Jésus,Fin août, début septembre et Peau neuve,” Iris 29 (2000): 11-24.
· English translation in Cinematic 3 (2005): 43-47.
“Französische Ansätze zur Analyse der Figur im Film (André Gardies, Marc Vernet, Nicole Brenez).” InDer Körper im Bild: Schauspielen-Darstellen-Erscheinen. Eds. Heinz-B. Heller and Karl Prümm. Marburg: Schriften der Gesellschaft für Film-und Fernsehwissenschaft, 1999. 61-70.
“La Mort de Molière: un film postmoderne et rhizomatique,” Protée 27/1 (1999): 53-56.
· English translation in Assaph 14 (1999): 101-107.
“Au commencement fut le dispositif.” In Le Cinéma au tournant du siècle / Cinema at the Turn of the Century. Eds. Claire Dupré la Tour, André Gaudreault and Roberta Pearson. Québec/Lausanne: Nota bene/Payot, 1998. 179-185.
· German translation in Film und Kritik 2 (1995): 66-70.
“Filmtheorie: Christian Metz und die Filmsemiologie: Sensibilisierung für die Konstruktion der Filme,”Filmbulletin 2 (April/May 1990): 47-50.
· Dutch translation in Versus 3 (1991): 7-14.
“Personal Enunciation – Presences of Absences.” In Margrit Tröhler (ed.). The Semiological Paradigm and Christian Metz's ‘Cinematographic’ Thought. Amsterdam University Press, (prospective date of publication: 2015).
“‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ or Morder’s Amateur Toolkit.” In Saving Private Reels. Eds. Barry Monahan, Laura Rascaroli, Gwenda Young. London: Continuum, 2014. 207-222.
“Autobiography, (re-)enactment, and the performative self-portrait in Varda’s Les Plages d’Agnès/The Beaches of Agnès (2008).” Studies in European Cinema 10/1 (2013): 59-69.
“Joseph Morder, the “Filmateur.” In Saving Private Reels. Eds. Barry Monahan, Laura Rascaroli, Gwenda Young. Continuum. London. (forthcoming 2013).
“L’interview de Joseph, épisode 1.” In Le Je à l’écran. Eds. Jean-Pierre Esquenazi and André Gardies. Paris: Editions L'Harmattan. 2006. 201-219.
Interview with Christian Metz. “Ich habe nie gedacht, daß die Semiologie die Massen begeistern würde” (with Margrit Tröhler). In Filmbulletin 2 (April/May 1990): 51-55.
· Dutch translation in Versus 3 (1991): 15-26.
German translation of Christian Metz’s “Le signifiant imaginaire” (with Margrit Tröhler). In Der imaginäre Signifikant. Münster: Nodus Verlag, 2000. 13-72.
Subtitles for over 30 French art films and documentaries, including: Little Senegal, On connaît la chanson, La Vie de Jésus, Généalogies d'un crime, Demain et encore demain. Journal 1995, Afriques: comment ça va avec la douleur, Encore, Chacun cherche son chat, En avoir ou pas, Oublie-moi, Citizen Langlois, La petite amie d'Antonio, L'Annonce faite à Marie. (From 1990 to 2001)
Creation, translation and editing of German texts for French films for the Catalogue of theInternationales Forum des jungen Films, Berlin Film Festival. (From 1989 to 1992).