My past and present research uses interdisciplinary methods in order to understand the relationship between film form, context, and theory. I examine the history of screen culture to think about the ways in which different media and the cultures that surround them shape and reflect social and cultural relations in the United States and beyond.
My dissertation, “‘Canned History’: American Newsreels and the Commodification of Reality, 1927-1945,” examined the history of an overlooked film form – the American newsreel – and seeks to understand its importance in the development of 20th century media culture. I argue that the newsreel was both a cause and a symptom of an increasingly visual public sphere, one where the ability to watch the news and see the world was democratized by the screen; but also one where democratic life and civic participation became increasingly defined by spectatorship. Focusing on the sound newsreel of the 1930s in a transnational context, the manuscript brings together an historical examination of the newsreel’s modes of production, distribution, and reception with an analysis of the form’s representational strategies. Using several case studies, including the newsreel’s coverage of Charles Lindbergh’s trans-Atlantic flight and the Sino-Japanese War, my dissertation shows how news film transformed the relationship between viewers and current events as well as the social and political consequences of these changes. It pays particular attention to the ways in which discourses of race and gender worked together with the rhetoric of speed, mobility, and authority to establish the power and privilege of American newsreel spectatorship. This multi-faceted analysis reveals a crucial moment in the development of a spectacular society where media representations of reality became more fully integrated into the looking relations of commodity culture. With the newsreel, the experience of watching the news became as important as the news itself. This research is the basis for my forthcoming book, News Parade: The American Newsreel and the Mediation of the Public Sphere, 1927-1945 (University of Minnesota Press).
Currently I am working on a new research project focusing on race, memory, and the film archive that combines archival and memory studies with critical race theory. Drawing on a range of examples – from the African American filmmaker Carlton Moss working in the US Signal Corps during WWII to the home movies of Matthew Ko, a Chinese Canadian businessman from Victoria, BC – I examine at the creation of non-fiction film by and about people of colour and the subsequent uses of these images by documentarians, historians, and audiences. I’m particularly interested in understanding the role the film archive plays in shaping public and private memory and how people of colour have used non-fiction film to assert and contest their own visibility.
In addition to these research interests, I have also become deeply invested in the issue of media preservation in Canada and working towards greater cooperation between scholars and archivists. I co-founded Cinephemera, a group of scholars, archivists and media artists dedicated to the study and preservation of ephemeral film and media in Canada. This group has organized panels and screenings at the Film Studies Association of Canada and recently published a collection of essays, Cinephemera: Moving Images At the Margins of Canadian Cinema History, edited by Gerda Cammaer and Zoë Druick for McGill-Queens University Press. As part of this work, I have begun research in the Associated Screen News Fonds at the National Archives of Canada. This is an extraordinarily rich archive. As the longest running film production studio in Canada before the founding of the National Film Board, the Associated Screen News represents a crucial part of Canada’s screen past. My essay, "From Canada and Back Again: Roy Tash, Montreal’s Associated Screen News and the US Newsreel’s Transnational Flows before WWII," will appear in the upcoming collection Rediscovering U.S. Newsfilm: Cinema, Television, and the Archive (Routledge).
“‘Public Forums of the Screen’: Contesting Modernity at the Newsreel Cinema,” in Vanessa Schwartz and Jason Hill, eds. Getting the Picture: The History & Visual Culture of the News (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015), 161-167.
“Double Vision: World War Two, Racial Uplift, and the All-American Newsreel’s Pedagogical Address,” in Charles Acland and Haidee Wasson, eds. Useful Cinema: Expanding Film Contexts (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2011), 263-288.