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Whose history is that in those national film archives?


Who do national film archives really belong to? That’s the question Dr Grazia Ingravalle is looking to solve over the next three years.

Digital technology has revived thousands of hours of historic film footage from across the world, much of it previously too fragile to play in its physical form.

Based in the DIvision of Sociology/Communications at Brunel University London, Dr Ingravalle will take a close-up look at why and how different countries restore controversial archive footage that exposes their imperial, colonial and postcolonial histories.

Part funded by a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship, she’ll comb national film archives at the British Film Institute (BFI), the Polish Film Institute and the Kenyan Broadcasting Corporation.

“Our multi-cultural societies today are a result of colonialization and it is interesting to look at this post Brexit,” said Dr Ingravalle. “It is time for Britain to rethink its cultural ties with former colonies and Commonwealth countries and look back at its imperial past, which is not something always taught at school.”

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Grazia’s work broaches the question of what cultural responsibilities museums and film archives have when they show films on the delicate matter of colonialism.

“This study will help people interested in film, people who work in film archives and museums and people who work with schools see how film enables citizens from all countries to learn from this past and question themselves.”

First under the microscope is Panorama of Calcutta. Filmed in 1899, it is one of the earliest films ever shot in India, and part of the BFI’s India on Film series which marks the 70th anniversary of Indian partition. Trips to Nairobi to see footage of Kenya’s struggle for independence and to Warsaw to explore Poland’s pre-World War II films, before the Nazi occupation, will also feature.

“It is important that audiences are confronted with this century-old footage, with its blatant stereotypes and horrors,” said Dr Ingravalle, “particularly today, in order to counter a kind of nostalgia for the Empire resurfacing in popular discourse and films like Viceroy’s House and Victoria and Abdul.”

Sarita Malik, Professor of Media and Communications, will acts as Grazia's mentor for the duration of the research project.

Find out more about communication and media studies at Brunel

Reported by:

Hayley Jarvis, Media Relations
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