April 6, 2008
PCA/ACA: Michael Duffy and Regionally Digital Filmmaking

As most of the academic readers of this blog would likely agree, the intellectual curiosities of many media studies researchers far outweighs the time and resources one has to spend on writing and research projects, especially for those tenure-track academics who have courses, peer-reviewed publications, and a variety of institutional obligations to contend with. That's the great thing about a venue like a blog, though; it gives you the chance to briefly explore and think about issues that you might not have time to design a more rigorous project around.

Such was the case with my interest in regional cinema. In the summer of 2006, between my first and second year as a Master's student in the Program in Comparative Media Studies, I returned back to Kentucky to spend the summer working for several local weekly newspapers, in addition to continuing my work for the Consortium. In the process, I was assigned the task of covering a film being shot locally in Hartford, Ky., called Red Velvet Cake.

When I attended the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association conference last month, I had the chance to meet up with Michael Duffy, an emerging scholar whose dissertation reminded me of that interest.

Michael's project looked at one of Peter Jackson's earlier films, Heavenly Creatures, from the context of being a regional New Zealand film, and particularly looking at how new digital technologies allowed for experimentation in regional filmmaking, particularly for visual effects.

I had the pleasure of meeting Michael due to his interest in my soap opera anthology project with Abigail Derecho and Lee Harrington. We had the chance to talk in person for the first time at SCMS earlier in March, and we got a chance to actually sit down and have a conversation about Michael's research and the Consortium's work in San Francisco.

Michael's examination of Heavenly Creatures was part of his doctoral thesis for the University of Nottingham, which he graduated from in 2007. He has his Master's degree from the Tisch School for the Arts at NYU. Michael's dissertation project is entitled Becoming Regionally Digital. Duffy writes, in the paper he presented at PCA/ACA:

As new technologies were acquired by filmmakers, they began to utilize and interpret new visual effects approaches in more complicated, referential, and thematically specific ways. Digital technology was allowing filmmakers to not only accelerate the leap from "fantasy" to "reality," but to complicate the very link itself. These movements were also encouraging heretofore regionally "isolated" filmmakers to explore new industrial configurations within their own local communities. Filmmakers like Peter Jackson in New Zealand were forging local reputations with unusual, low-budget genre films that reflected local humor and sensibilities, but also appealed to a wider genre audience.

For those who are interested in locally specific media production possibilities in a digital age, Michael's project is a great place to look for further ideas. And to see my piece on Red Velvet Cake, look here. I concluded:

Red Velvet Cake may or may not be a success in national or international distribution--that's yet to be seen--but it's already become an important part of Ohio County folklore through its use of landmarks across the county and a significant number of locals in the film. While the market has yet to be fully explored, it makes me wonder if regional film industries may have an even more vibrant future than we realize, if marketed correctly.