The 2024 Domitor committee and the EC is happy to announce the Eighteenth International Domitor Conference: “A Long Early Cinema?” The conference will be held at the Austrian Film Museum in Vienna, Austria, from June 12–15, 2024. Mark your calendars!
The submission window has now closed; however, the original call for papers may be found at this link.
For practical conference information, including links to transportation, hotels, and city tours, please navigate to this page.
A Long Early Cinema?
When the term “early cinema” took hold in the 1980s to designate the period between 1895 and 1915, this was largely in response to a previous model of film historiography that had reduced that period to a time of “primitive precursors,” before the “golden age” of feature-length silent film in the 1920s. In the wake of the 1978 FIAF conference in Brighton, a new interest emerged in early filmmaking for its own sake, combined with a turn to the archive and new initiatives in programming and the preservation of cinema’s earliest decades. In this context, distinguishing “early cinema” from the later silent period not only ensured greater attention to the first decades of film production, but also allowed those films to stand on their own as unique forms with their own distinct visual styles, narrative strategies, exhibition conventions, and contextual links.
Of course, the distinction between “early cinema” and “silent film” was never absolute. Notable here is the role of the modernist avant-garde of the 1920s, which—according to Tom Gunning’s seminal essay on the “cinema of attractions”—found key inspiration in the non-narrative filmmaking from the pre-WWI period. Reassessing the avant-garde today is a fitting topic for this eighteenth Domitor conference, which will take place in Vienna—a longstanding European center for avant-garde activity from the fin-de-siècle to the post-WWII period and beyond—and indeed in the Austrian Film Museum, well-known for its mission of shaping and preserving the history of avant-garde film.
More broadly, the conference seeks to reinterrogate the meanings of “early cinema” today, at a time when the discipline of film history—along with archiving, festivals, and programming —is undergoing vast transformations. Without ignoring the generative impact that the early cinema paradigm outlined above had on subsequent research, there should be space to ask whether the by-now conventional split between early cinema and later silent film might have introduced its own obstacles or foreclosed other potential connections. Can the insistence on that historical separation account for more global film histories, especially the early timelines of filmmaking practices outside of North America and Europe? How does the period from the 1890s to the 1930s look from the point of view of film histories focusing on gender or race? How does attention to previously overlooked sectors of filmmaking (educational, advertising, science) alter our timelines of early cinema? And what might it mean to define “early cinema” not chronologically as a fixed period of time, but ideologically or stylistically as a set of visual, narrative, industrial, and technological practices?
In short, can we think productively of a “long early cinema”—or even “long early cinemas”—in analogy to the concept of a “long nineteenth century”? What echoes, continuities, or revivals of early cinema spill over into later periods, whether through 1920s silent cinema, the 1970s avant-gardes, or contemporary archival film spectatorship? This conference seeks papers that reflect—directly or obliquely—on this question of periodization and in this way allow us to think through the changing relevance of a historiographical approach that was foundational to the very identity of Domitor as a society for the study of “early cinema.”
Suggested topics may include (but are not limited to):
- Rethinking the category of “early cinema” in contexts beyond North America and Europe
- The translatability of “early cinema” and its varying definitions in other languages
- Reimagining film history based on spatial configurations instead of temporal periodization and what this shift means for film theory
- Revisiting the relation between avant-gardes (1920s or later) and early cinema
- Historiographies of useful cinema (scientific film, industrial film, educational film, etc.)
- New histories of animation
- The impact of early cinema practices on contemporary dichotomies between live-action and animation film
- Examining identities (representations and/or filmmakers themselves) across the “early” / “late” divide
- Intersectionality and early cinema
- Decolonial readings of early cinema historiographies
- Non-Western visual cultures and early cinema
- Geographies and spaces of early cinema outside the West
- Exhibition practices and spectators between early and late silent cinema
- Contemporary archival film spectatorship and silent film festivals
- Early cinema influences on compilation film practices and aesthetics (found footage, archival, etc.)
- The many “afterlives” of “early cinema” in the interwar period and beyond
In each of these areas, one starting point would be to ask: How well does the dichotomy between “early cinema” and later periods help us to understand the object at hand? Does that distinction enable productive lines of inquiry, or do the new objects of film-historical inquiry push against that old framework in some ways? We welcome papers that focus on specific case studies as well as those that undertake broader theoretical explorations of any of the suggested or other related topics.