European Film, European Heritage, European Identity

Thomas Elsaesser suggests that ‘European cinema distinguishes itself from Hollywood and Asian cinemas by dwelling so insistently on the (recent) past’. And, even if one takes the briefest of looks at the European films most visible to international audiences he would appear to have a point. From Germany’s The Lives of Others (2006) to the UK’s The King’s Speech (2010), historical dramas dominate mainstream European film production, their impact further increased by the fact that they often generate major national debates on the role of the past in contemporary national identity construction. One thinks, for example, of Nile Gardener’s jingoistic attack on the EU’s public celebration of The King’s Speech success at the Oscars (a film that it supported), or the debates generated in Germany on the ‘right’ of a West German director to tell the story about the East German Secret Police in The Lives of Others. At the same time, internationally, such films frequently function as a ‘shop window’ that can not only help to generate an audience for the domestic film industry, ‘but can also support the wider heritage and tourist sector by attracting international visitors to the country.
Given the importance of historical dramas within European film culture, they also unsurprisingly play a particularly important role within the cultural policy of both the EU and the Council of Europe. An examination of the types of historical dramas that are produced with the support of both these institutions, along with how they circulate and are consumed by audiences across and beyond the continent, allows us to explore the foundational principals of the ‘European project’, how European cultural policy instrumentalises European history to help generate a common understanding of what it means to be European, as well as to support the continent’s economic growth via the cultural, creative and heritage sectors, particularly in the face of the continent’s current economic crisis. The importance of history, film and heritage to an understanding of contemporary Europe can be seen particularly clearly, for example, in the current Horizon 2020 programme, where these issues are explicitly addressed in many of the project calls.
Academic Lead – Alan O’Leary – University of Leeds

Studentship research area title : The place of history in European cultural policy. What role does European, national and regional cultural policy play in the production of historical dramas, how do filmmakers negotiate such policy and how does film production interact with the wider heritage sector?
Principal Supervisor – Paul Cooke – University of Leeds
Co Supervisor – Duncan Petrie – University of  York
Studentship research area title : The limits of ‘Europeaness’ in European historical drama. How do historical dramas extend, or delimit, the possibilities of historical representation? How do their various modes of emotional engagement with history underline, or reflect tensions in, the aims of the European heritage industry as a whole.
Principal Supervisor – Jonathan Rayner – Univesity of  Sheffield
Co Supervisor – Alan O’Leary  – University of Leeds
Studentship research area title : How are historical dramas distributed and consumed across and beyond Europe? Who is their audience and what are the mechanisms of their consumption? To what extent do films circulate beyond their country of origin and how does this circulation reflect common understandings of the ‘European project’?
Principal Supervisor – Andrew Higson – University of York
Co Supervisor – David Forrest – University of Sheffield
This network has been awarded as part of the White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities

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