Intellectual Networks and Cultural Networks: Kinomatics and the complex cultural geometry of cinema

panel / roundtable
  1. 1. Deb Verhoeven

    University of Technology, Sydney

  2. 2. Paul S. Moore

    Ryerson University

  3. 3. Vejune Zemaityte

    Deakin University

  4. 4. Skadi Loist

    Film University Babelsberg “Konrad Wolf”

  5. 5. Evgenia Samoilova

    Film University Babelsberg “Konrad Wolf”

Work text
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This panel considers how Cinema Studies and Digital Humanities can inform each other through examining the different ways that film distribution analysis extends aspects of critical infrastructure studies.
Every discipline has metaphorical geography that delineates the shape and course of its intellectual itineraries. Cinema Studies is no exception. In reflecting on the ways in which our scholarly explorations might be experienced as expressions of, and interactions with, surfaces, spaces, situations, and speeds, we might ask, what are the particular perspectives and projections that delineate our own paths to knowledge. And, more importantly, how might they be reshaped or redirected through their engagement with new objects of study, new questions, new forms of evidence, and innovative disciplinary tools.
The metaphors used to make sense of the industrial infrastructure of global cinema and that describe the movement of films through segmented times and spaces already suggest an approach that is premised on the recognition of a connection between Cinema Studies and Digital Humanities. Both film distribution “circuits” and festival “networks” gesture to a foundational electrical infrastructure that in turn expresses the way power is mobilised and distributed through a cultural infrastructure such as the cinema.
Cinema Studies has been a mainstay of humanities and media studies programs for decades and yet was slow to take up the methodological innovation of the Digital Humanities. This changed when attention in the discipline turned to new methods of analysis based on the observation that the cinema was primarily a social experience rather than a textual projection (Maltby, 2011; Verhoeven, 2012). The advent of New Cinema History heralded the development of innovative online archives (Allen, n.d.; Christie, n.d.; Dibbets, n.d.; Hopwood, n.d.; Visser et al., n.d.; Verhoeven et al., n.d.). More recently, digitisation of printed and audio-visual assets has expanded the findability and accessibility of historical resources for cinema researchers (Acland and Hoyt, n.d; Williams, n.d). At the same time, crowdsourced, openly accessible databases like IMDb have opened vast information pools for contextualizing analysis.
Whilst the proliferation of these digital case studies has recently produced a great deal of methodological innovation in Cinema Studies, this disjointed approach was most often achieved through urban and regional case studies, which has also resulted in a significant deficit in our understanding of the global nature of the cinema despite “technological reproducibility” allowing films to circulate in principle to any audience without respect to locality. Most existing distinct computational platforms are not yet capable of addressing the global, elastic, and networked nature of the contemporary international film industry currently producing and exploiting huge quantities and varieties of data. As disciplinary Cinema Studies has contemplated its own diffusion, scholarly interest in the distribution of its object of study, films, has also risen. Influential in the “circulatory turn” (Straw, 2010) in Cinema Studies is the Kinomatics project, an international, interdisciplinary study of the cultural geometry of cinema.
The study of film distribution has sat in the background of cinema studies, a cultural and economic engine humming along functionally, connecting filmmakers and their audiences. Rather than viewing film distribution as a transparent mediation, Kinomatics invites consideration of the social and relational aspects of distribution that draws on studies of critical infrastructure in Digital Humanities:

How can distribution, as a process of connection, support complex non-binary understandings of infrastructure?
How can we mobilise a greater attentiveness to uneven acts of cultural distribution to give insight into their redistribution?
In reflecting on the ways in which our own scholarly explorations might be experienced as expressions of, and interactions with, surfaces, spaces, situations, and speeds, what are the particular perspectives and projections that delineate our own paths to knowledge? And how might they be reshaped?

As a globally-distributed network of scholars whose shared problematic is the global distribution of cinema, we are less direct collaborators than a community of affiliated scholars learning from each other through articulated problem-solving. We work variously on local and international cases, with a distinct interest in the scaled relation between regional and the global but are committed to regular networking sessions and events that reinforce our shared concerns while supporting our individuated endeavours.
The panel reflects the “scaled” approach we take to our collaboration. It will take the form of a combination of the panel- and multiple-paper session. Within each of its three themes, the panellists responsible for a particular subtopic will open a discussion with short statements of up to 10 minutes, followed by responses from other panel members of up to 5 minutes in total, followed by an invitation to the audience to continue the discussion jointly with us. What is proposed, therefore, is not a series of 4 papers, but a set of interweaving engagements with each other and our audience that will make clear the connections between the 3 component topics outlined below.
This panel will profile new cases and methods for histories of film distribution, to bring the networked aspect of the circulation of cinema culture to the foreground. Together, the authors aim to supplement existing approaches to film distribution by including elements of Cinematic Cartography (Caquard, 2013; Klenotic, 2012) and Digital Humanities (Verhoeven, 2013), alongside careful archival work (Fuller-Seeley, 2008). We aim to expand the purview of what has been called “New Cinema Histories” (Maltby, 2011) of exhibition and reception, to focus on the circulation and movements of cinema practice and culture—not just its local forms—from early showmen through the studio period, to the present of global digital distribution. New techniques for data visualisation, newly opened archival records, new case studies, and new methods from Digital Humanities all unite on this panel to spotlight the potential for research on distribution to complement the corpus of work on film exhibition and reception.
This panel builds a critical theory of film distribution by also examining the various modes and models of academic and disciplinary circulation. The work of Digital Humanities scholars focussed on critical infrastructure studies (Liu, 2018; Smithies, 2017) offers a useful touchpoint for extending theories of cinema infrastructure.

Scale: Critical infrastructure studies and networked cinema studies (Verhoeven)

Paper 1 will serve as an introduction to this “scaled” approach in Cinema Studies enabled by computational analysis, an approach the Kinomatics team has been honing for more than 10 years. This paper will look at the mutual value of cinema distribution studies (as a global analysis of cultural infrastructure) and Digital Humanities (as an argument for methodological complexity, contingency, collaboration, contestation, and interpretation). By addressing “scale” as both an object of study (for example, examining the elastic relation of individual cinema’s screens to global distribution patterns) and an approach to analysis itself (how we have moved beyond individual researchers and research questions to a set of expanded practices), this paper proposes to set the scene for the following papers.

Event: Circuits of cinema and ephemeral archives (Moore)

The public for a film is not merely the aggregation of its audiences, nor is the space marked by a film’s circulation the area mapped by its aggregated screenings (Bean et al., 2014; Warner, 2002). For Kinomatics, however, these essential concepts are achieved through imputation across films’ empirical paths of distribution. A particular screening exists always in networked relation to prior instances and is publicized with anticipation, advertised in advance. Connectivity and mobility constitute novel genres of modernism (Beal and Lavin, 2011), and the culture of cities and entertainment can be taken as central to media and modernity (Peterson, 2003; Wells, 2007). Social network analysis charts the relations between communicating actors (Reis Pinheiro, 2011), and new work data-mining historical newspapers has revealed the structure of recirculation, in figures like the “networked author” (Cordell, 2015). A cinema circuit is somewhat distinct in reconstituting its network continually, rearranging shows in new venues on a daily basis, to produce such entities over time as territories (spatial limits marked by network regionality), seasons (temporal patterns marked by network periodicity) and scenes (confluences of sustained, proximate activity). Tracking and mapping the circuit or territory of an entire season of film screenings is an important means of studying historical audiences and cultural spaces, but the complexities of networked case studies must confront particular challenges.
Recent born-digital forms of film promotion allow data science and quantitative approaches to the global circulation of contemporary cinema; two Kinomatics case studies in this realm follow, described below.
For the first century of cinema, however, data about
historical film screenings (programme, location, date and time, cost, and attendance) are typically embedded in highly ephemeral documents such as newspapers, collections of handbills and flyers, or ledgers of corporate records. Digitalised archives of film listings and advertising are captured by the passing of print into searchable databases in historical newspapers and other ephemeral archives (Gabriele, 2013; Mussell, 2012). Data-mining for circuits of cinema thus shares the same concerns as any Digital Humanities study reliant on historical ephemera (Cordell, 2016): OCR reliability, archival accessibility and copyright, and imputing across samples of relatively insignificant and partial instances. The data of publicity for film screenings, however, is doubly embedded in advertising: a designed aesthetic object within these print ephemera, which follows norms but hardly ascribes to standardized form, rarely printed as a well-structured directory, not often easily transformed into a database. How, then, to reduce the complexities of amusement advertising to the norms of event listings, toward digital mapping of historical cultural circuits? Moore will spotlight historical case studies on early 20th-century travelling circuits of cinema in North America (Moore, 2018) and the model of Verhoeven’s TUGG database of The Ultimate Gig Guide compiled for rock and pop music in late 20th-century Australia. Markets, territories, and seasons can be discerned as temporal, spatial, and programming patterns when data from entertainment advertising and event listings is aggregated, with potential to link to demographic data to understand long-dispersed, historical audiences and publics.

Interpretation: Global data and analytics at scale (Zemaityte, Loist and Samoilova)

Two case studies both address the global flow of contemporary cinema from different perspectives:

(Zemaityte) The first case study employs big data to investigate the global nature of theatrical film distribution. Despite some unfounded beliefs that the importance of cinema is declining in the digital age, the theatrical sector remains a global billion-dollar business that continues to grow (MPAA, 2018). However, the digital revolution has changed the composition of the global cinema landscape with the yearly increases in international revenues more than compensating for the shrinking prominence of the US/Canadian market. Nonetheless, the global aspect of the contemporary movie exchange, especially with regards to the distribution of non-Hollywood films and low earning titles, remains empirically understudied.

This case study showcases the results of the first big data examination of global cinema that analyses the theatrical distribution of diverse new release movies across 40 countries to build an understanding of the current international industry trends. This study uses unique film-related data to be visually analysed, interpreted, and displayed in a way not previously explored: the Kinomatics showtime database. Its inclusive nature allows us to capture a rich sample of all movies screened at the cinema regardless of their origin and box office. We select feature films that received an international commercial release in 2013 and track their global theatrical runs through mid-2015. The sample contains 3,424 movies from 124 production origins, amounting to a total of 130,455,277 showtimes. Data from IMDb and Rentrak databases complement the sample with information on the release date, country of origin, and box office.
This study brings together data visualisation and computational techniques to analyse the global diffusion of films in both temporal and spatial terms in order to gain an understanding of the global trends. Employing a data-driven quantitative approach and harnessing the capabilities of big data, it considers international cinema distribution at three distinct scales: globally, nationally, and internationally. The study also examines rarely used measures of distribution to unpack the complex nature of global movie exchange, including the volume of screenings, the number of visited countries, the length of the theatrical run, and international release delay. We find that by moving beyond the localised case studies and engaging with multivariate cinema data from different viewpoints, it is possible to produce new insights into the geographic and temporal patterns of global distribution and relationships present in the data.

(Loist and Samoilova) The second case study will focus on a very different kind of film circulation. While cinema is seen to hinge on commercial distribution, niche cinema and much of global art cinema are distributed on global screens via the film festival circuit (Loist, 2015; 2016). Since the establishment of the first festivals in the 1930s, the sector has proliferated and diversified into more than 6,000 festivals taking place in every region, size and thematic specialization. The festival circuit runs are significant not only because they present an understudied distribution window, but also because there is a strong assumption that for some films they are the only place for global circulation and exhibition. The Toronto International Film Festival reports that ca. 20% of their films screen only at festivals, i.e., do not have any other type of distribution deals (Mudhar and Bailey, 2018).

This case study presents results of the project “Film Circulation in the International Film Festival Network and the Impact on Global Film Culture” which is the first empirical study concerned with complex temporal and spatial patterns of film movement within festival circuits (festival runs) and the first to employ Digital Humanities methods on the subject. The project collected data from the complete programs of six major film festivals within one festival season of 2013. Since the average length of a festival run is approximately three years, this ensured good coverage of completed festival runs for the sampled films. The chosen festivals constitute three major international A-list festivals (Berlinale, Cannes, and Toronto) as well as three leading specialized festivals (the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), the short film festivals in Clermont-Ferrand, and the LGBTQ* festival Frameline). The resulting sample includes 1,727 films of all genres from 102 countries produced between 1990 to 2014. The paper also examines if films had any distribution other than festivals by linking our sample to the commercial showtime data of the Kinomatics dataset.
This project charts new territory not only by considering different kinds of distribution but also by collecting not readily available data from a variety of sources in pursuit of answering new questions which arise from the study of the complex networked structures of the festival circuits. In order to achieve this, we collected data from festival catalogues and used web-scraping and text mining tools to analyse data from the IMDb film database. Using multiple data sources makes it possible to go beyond binary categories and provide a more complete picture of the festival run patterns. Since IMDb data have been criticized for their bias (Verhoeven, 2012), we will also talk about our approaches to addressing data quality problems.   


This panel places film distribution historically on top of infrastructures of transportation, communication, and civic institutions; and conducts methods for researching film distribution on top of emerging geographic and cultural-economic approaches to the Digital Humanities and archival work. How might the opportunities presented by an unprecedented proliferation of networked data, for example, also challenge the unspoken assumptions and ordinary practices of conventional film studies research? And how might the “computational turn” in Cinema Studies present opportunities (and challenges) at the intersection of qualitative historiographies (focused on the social experience of the cinema) and quantitative research approaches such as empirical analysis and digital visualisations? Altogether, juxtaposing cases and methods, our panel proposes a reflective study of film distribution as networked relations, so that seemingly trivial bits of public knowledge collectively gain significance, and case studies become part of the complex scaled inter-relations. The results show how films find their audience within local and regional routines but are also embedded in transnational cultural networks.


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