The Essay Film between Festival Favourite and Global Film Practice
Given the enormous popularity of the ‘essay film’, both as a practice among artists and filmmakers, and as a topic for academic research and writing, it may be a good moment to take stock, to try and redefine what we mean by this label, as well as to expand its reach, and include works from beyond the European home of the essay film. We may also want to listen to some of the critical voices that have begun to challenge the form from within the filmmaking community itself, and to explore further the distinctions between documentary and essay film, between found-footage film and essay film, and between essay film and the video essay.
My lecture tries to delineate a certain genealogy that wants to provide a clearer sense of the dynamics that drives the topicality of the essay film and ties its prevalence into the globalized world picture of contemporary visual culture.
Thomas Elsaesser studied English Literature and Comparative Literature at Heidelberg University and the University of Sussex. He went on to work as a film critic in London and as editor international of Monogram magazine. Starting in 1972, he taught at the University of East Anglia. In 1976, he created the institution’s Film Studies programme and served as its director until 1986. Elsaesser was then called to the University of Amsterdam, where he built the first Film and Television Studies programme in the Netherlands, serving as its director from 1991 to 2001. From 2001 to 2008, he worked as a research professor at the University of Amsterdam. Since being conferred the status of Professor Emeritus in 2008, he has held guest professorships at Yale University (2006-2012) and Columbia University (since 2013).