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School of Languages, Linguistics and Film

MA Film: Theory

Read about the MA in Film as well as how to apply

You will consider key aspects of film analysis, theory, history and practice. You'll learn practical filmmaking skills, as well as gain excellent research expertise, that could provide a pathway to a PhD.

  • Take part in some of the most pressing debates about film today
  • Teaching by respected filmmakers and internationally renowned academics
  • Excellent facilities and a first-class London location


What you will study

This MA places you at the cutting-edge of film studies. You'll explore a range of different approaches to the study of film, including genre and textual analysis, audience studies, and media archaeology. You'll consider some of the most significant issues in film today: how does film affect our bodies? Why is film so drawn to urban, cosmopolitan and diasporic cultures? 

You'll also explore the international language of film, examining shot composition, editing and sound, as well as considering a range of film theorists and philosophers from Giorgio Agamben to Vivian Sobchack. You'll be taught by experienced filmmakers and by leading academics. Our workshops will help you develop your particular approach to researching and writing about film. 

You’ll also be studying film in one of the great cinematic capitals of the world: London was the location of most British studios and it remains the centre of the UK film industry. We’re a short tube ride away from the British Film Institute (BFI), the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) and the film archives at the Imperial War Museum.

For all students wishing to take any practice modules or pathways there will be a non-assessed foundational technical module in the first semester. This is a pre-requisite for anyone wishing to take any practice modules in any of the two semesters.

The department is a hub of cutting-edge theoretical research, and home to the Centre for Film and Ethics and a Film Philosophy Cluster, which put on regular events, reading groups and salons, which you will be welcome to participate in. You will also have the opportunity to develop your personal research interests, with the possible view of progressing to PhD level.


Compulsory Modules

Film Studies 1

The first part of the Film Studies course provides an in-depth foundation in the discipline and its nuances. It examines the many ways in which a century of cinema has shaped our experience of space, time and reality. We analyse the spatio-temporal world of the film as a language organized through shot composition, mise-en-scène, art direction, production design, editing , sound, on screen and off screen space, deployed to different effect across film forms and national contexts. Of all the modern arts, it is perhaps film that has been the most concerned with the many qualities of time. Central to the temporality of film are critical issues of whether film constructs or reveals the world, conveys or distorts ‘real time’, emancipates alternative identities, acts as interpretive interface between life and death, and whether indeed it suggests or condemns the possibility of a shared collective time.  We then consider various perspectives on film’s relationship with the world through ethics, actuality, nonfiction filmmaking and iconic images.

Film Studies 2

The second part of the Film Studies course continues to delve into some of the most pressing and current questions of the discipline, while also being accessible to students who did not take the first part. We begin by looking at alternative filmic practices, from structural film’s exploration of the elements of the medium to contemporary amateur practices. Cinema possesses the potential to deploy strategies to break binary representations: mainstream and marginal, human and non-human, self and other, dominant and dispossessed. We therefore look at the relationship of film and the nonhuman, explored through problematizing the notion of ‘landscape’, iconic images of the nonhuman, and film’s relationship with animals through the notion of vegan cinema. Approaching film as a recording device arguably foregrounds the ethical dimensions of the medium if it is thought of as type of witnessing. Finally, we consider the way cinema is shaped by as well as shapes history, moves through transnational spaces as well as becomes embedded in certain national contexts, and engage in decolonial perspectives on cinema.


Elective Modules 

Feminist Film Philosophy

Feminist Film Philosophy examines the relationships between feminist thinkers and film from a variety of perspectives. Tracing the history of women's critical writing about film in terms of aesthetics, ethics, politics and filmmaking, the module develops a sustained engagement between women and conceptual, philosophical questions prompted by film. This will range from Maya Deren and Virginia Woolf, to Luce Irigaray and Iris Murdoch; Kathleen Collins and Sally Potter, to bell hooks and Audre Lorde. The module will draw on a range of filmmakers , feminisms and philosophers in order to explore the various ways in which philosophy and film can be brought together to create a distinctive strand of feminist film philosophy.

Production Design: History, Theory and Craft

This module examines the creative practice of production design in cinema, specifically in relation to architectural construction and set design. It takes a historical approach to design

as an industrial practice shaped by technology, artistic and design movements, and the discipline of architecture. It proposes critical approaches founded in theory and practice to find ways of analysing film decor and identifying how it contributes to our understanding of film texts. The artistic and technical challenges posed by film design will be examined though close case study work and the completion of a 4,000 word essay.

Film Archaeology

The origins of cinema, key moments of transformation and recent challenges to its form in the wake of digital technologies are the subjects examined in this module. Far from being simply a conflict between the magical tradition of Méliès and the documentary account of the Lumière brothers, cinema archaeology reveals the connections between various nineteenth century inventions concerned with movement, perception and transmission, and the advent of cinema. The course explores the various cultural influences that have contributed to the idea of 'cinema' at a particular time, such as those from painting, literature and theatre. Perhaps more significant are the moments of crisis brought about by the prospect of adding to film, such as the qualities of sound and colour. Most illuminating of all is film's competitive relation to its 'rivals': television, video, digital production and youtube. The course examines the question of whether film is a specific medium with enduring qualities, or whether its component parts are remade with every decade.

Film Philosophy

This module explores the relationship between film and philosophy by examining how films raise philosophical questions. We will learn what philosophers have to say about cinema, and how filmmakers incorporate philosophical perspectives, but we will also explore how films can inform the ways we think about ourselves and understand the world around us. From how we experience cinema in our minds and bodies, to what scares us and how we assess right and wrong, this module will address the question of how films do philosophy.

Film and Ethics

This module provides an introduction to the relationship between ethics and diverse forms of cinema, tracing the emergence of a relatively new but increasingly influential approach to the medium. How can the interactions between documentary filmmakers, their subjects and viewers be understood in ethical terms? What is specific about the way narrative cinema frames the moral dilemmas and decisions around which it so often revolves? To what extent does the filmic institution render viewers ethically complicit in scenarios of suffering and violence? What is distinctive about the contribution of cinema to debates in ethical philosophy? And how do given films relate to the poststructuralist ethical preoccupation with the possibility of unconditional openness towards the other? Students will address these and other questions through analysis of a wide-ranging corpus of films and critical, theoretical and philosophical texts produced in Europe, North America and beyond.

Cognitive Film Theory 

Cognitive film theory introduces the students to the main currents in this branch of film studies and outlines its main concepts, debates, and methods. We will be primarily

interested in problems of film classification (definitions of fiction, horror, etc.) and audience engagement (narrative comprehension, emotional responses, character engagement, bodily reactions, attitudes/desires/beliefs/behaviors films elicit, etc.). To do so we focus on the relationship of this brand of theorizing to continental philosophy, analytic philosophy, scientific method, dialectical theorizing, naturalism, and embodied cognition. Key theorists discussed include Munsterberg, Bordwell, Carroll, Plantinga, Smith, Tan, and Guerra and Gallese.

Documentary Theory & Practice

A practical filmmaking module. Documentary in its simplest of forms is a recording of an act. The film camera is first and foremost a recording instrument, whether it captures 'life caught unawares' or a fictional scenario. This module examines the history of 'non-fiction' filmmaking in the 20th and 21st century through the understanding of documentary styles and genre. Political, social, ethical and historical issues will be addressed through the engagement of theory and practice. In this module you will make your first 8 -12min documentary film. You are free to choose any subject and mode of documentary. It doesn’t matter that you have never made anything before, we will teach you the technical basics and you will learn through the act of making. Some of the best films made on this module have been made by students who had never made anything before. Their work has been selected to film festivals and a student won best student film at the Soho London Film Festival with her first ever film.  

Documentary Production Project

A practical filmmaking module. This module challenges some of the key tenets and ideas of documentary film (such as transparency, truth, reality, and representational practices) with a view to pushing the boundaries of the documentary form. We will explore different modes of documentary practice, including the performative documentary, artists' moving image documentary in the gallery, the animated documentary, archival and found footage film and the essay film. These non-traditional modalities of nonfiction are designed to enhance and reconfigure your own documentary practices, and enable you to test out new theoretical, aesthetic and rhetorical strategies in your production work. To make the most of the module, you are encouraged to read extensively around documentary film theory and practice, thinking through the myriad formal, political and ethical ways the moving image encounters and represents the lived world. 

Making Fiction Films

The module establishes knowledge and abilities in fiction film directing through practical workshop teaching. There are a range of topics covered, including, script preparation, casting, blocking, directing on set and working with actors. 

Short Film Production

A practical filmmaking module. The film is made by a group and not an individual. The module has a mixture of group meetings and whole class lectures and workshops. For documentary and film theory students you can also make a documentary or experimental

film. In this module you will learn and put into practice how you also present a project from pitch deck, to finished film. You will also learn about crowdfunding and have the opportunity to run your own campaign to raise finance for your production.

Activist Film 

This module examines films that can be considered activist - a body of work that engages issues of social and political significance. These varied films are driven by the activism of their filmmakers, their protagonists and through the films' direct participation in activism. Using artistic, ideological, socio-cultural, historical, technological, and practical frameworks to examine activist filmmaking this course will explore how the cinema and activism interact. This is a theory/practice module and will include the production of a short film. 

Scriptwriting: Social Justice and Crime

The aim of social justice to define and defend individual human rights as part of a just and fair society is a process of struggle. The abstraction of justice being is enacted and tried in actuality through law, both legislated and social. Story as a social codifier and film as a narrative form engages with the representation of social justice and this module takes up this engagement, supporting students in developing an individual narrative that is relevant to this subject.

Forms of Film Practice

Mainstream narrative cinema has always benefitted from the formal innovations taking place at the margins of film practice. The formal, aesthetic and technical experiments conducted by the avant-garde were soon appropriated by the commercial film industry. Risks taken in the documentary field have led to new attitudes towards truth and actuality. This module focuses on what forms film practice can take beyond fiction and storytelling. The module aims to broaden the students' skills-base by focusing on documentary filmmaking and artists' moving image, encouraging formal experimentation and an active critique of the ways in which mainstream cinema and conventional televisual formats construct meanings and representations. The module covers a range of practices, production procedures, technologies and techniques for concept development, and is structured to develop creative thinking, collaboration, crew dynamics and practical abilities. It is designed to ground the student in appropriate research and development methods along with practical and aesthetic skills to produce a short documentary or experimental film. Students choose from two short film project options: either a documentary portrait of a person, place or event, or a film that engages with process, concept and aesthetics, rather than with explicitly narrative content. In parallel, students produce an essay consisting of a close reading of a filmmaker or filmmakers working in a mode that relates to their short film production.

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