Panel A


Lisa Purse | Framing the potential insurgent in recent US cinema

US fiction films about the post-9/11 military interventions into Iraq and Afghanistan focus their narratives and audio-visual frame predominantly on the perspectives and experiences of US soldiers and civilians. In these films insurgents are everywhere and nowhere, potentially any face in a crowd of onlookers or a cluster of buildings, unseen or unmarked but present and powerful. This inherently fictionalised conception of the insurgent, and the manner in which it manifests in terms of audio-visual style, demand further scrutiny. What audio-visual tropes and strategies are deployed in the depiction of potential insurgents in fiction films, and what are the consequences for their fictionalised representation? How is the implied presence of the insurgent framed by the camera, and how is the way that that implied presence shapes the landscape, behaviours and actions of others staged? This paper will interrogate recent cinematic representations of the potential insurgent figure in a number of recent US films including The Hurt Locker and The Kingdom, in order to ask how the concept of the insurgent is constructed by these films in relation to notions of knowledge, power, identity and point of view.

Lisa Purse is a Senior Lecturer in Film in the Department of Film, Theatre & Television at the University of Reading, and is the author of Contemporary Action Cinema (EUP, 2011). Her research interests focus on the relationship between film style and the politics of representation in contemporary cinema, and she has published a number of essays on action cinema and digital effects in film. She has just finished a book on digital imaging and the challenge of interpretation, called Digital Imaging and Popular Cinema (EUP, forthcoming 2013).


Sue Malvern | On militant action and feminism: Hito Steyerl’s November 2004

Hito Steyerl’s video work November (2004) examines images of a young militant activist called Andrea Wolf, murdered in 1998 fighting for the Kurdish cause, and Steyerl’s childhood friend. November collages sequences from avant-garde and mainstream films to make various points about political filmmaking, feminism and violence, terrorism and militant heroics. Direct quotations from films support November’s analysis of the blurring of fiction with fact and the problematic status of documentary. There are also allusions to films which expand November‘s discourse and its historical framework, including Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin’s Letter to Jane (1972) about Jane Fonda’s visit to Hanoi during the Vietnam War. This paper will analyse Steyerl’s November and its filmic references, investigating the ways it raises questions about the relationship of violence and femininity and how it has engaged with shifting trajectories of feminist politics.

Sue Malvern has published extensively on war and visual representation, feminism and contemporary art. She is the author of Modern Art, Britain and the Great War (Yale University Press, 2004); recent essays include ‘Inside ‘Inside the Visible‘ in eds, L Parry and A Dimitrakaki, Politics in a glass case: exhibiting women’s and feminist art. Liverpool University Press (2012) and ‘On the troublesome relationship of feminism and terrorism: representing the female terrorist in contemporary art’ in eds, S Schraut and C Hikel, Terrorismus und Geschlecht. Politische Gewalt in Europa seit dem 19. Jahrhundert, Campus Verlag (2012). She recently co-organised a project titled Terrorist Transgressions, funded by the AHRC, and is co-editing a collection of papers arising from this project for I B Tauris.


Andreas Behnke and Christina Hellmich | Imagining Iraq: The Cinematography of an Insurgency

The purpose of this paper is to explore this critical potential within cinematic representations of war to provide the viewer with, in the words of Michael Shapiro, ‘a de-centering mode of creation and reception’. The paper analyses three documentary films about the aftermath of the Iraq War and the beginning insurgency. To what extent can these three documentaries realise the de-centering of the Western viewer’s perspective by providing voice, vision, and thus subjectivity to the respective Other in their narrative? In other words, to what extent, if at all, can they force the audience to think outside preconceived narratives in which the complex political and cultural context of war and violence vanish behind stories of individual soldiers’ fates, psychological dispositions, or heroic accomplishments? Can these documentaries overcome the complicity of popular movies with the narratives of power and authority? Can a critical cinematography of war provide a critical geography of war? In order to answer these questions, the present paper will analyse three documentary films about the Iraqi insurgency: Iraq in Fragments ((Typecast Pictures, 2007), My Country, My Country (ITVS, 2006), and Meeting Resistance (Nine Lives, 2006).

Andreas Behnke is a lecturer in Political Theory at the School of Politics and IR at the University of Reading. His research interests include the Political Theory of International Relations, in particular Carl Schmitt, Critical Security and Terrorism Studies, and Critical Geopolitics. He is a member of the Terrorist Transgressions Network on Gendered Representations of the Terrorist, and the author of ‘The Re-Enchantment of War in Popular Culture’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies 34(3), 937-949.

Dr Christina Hellmich is Reader in International Relations and Middle East Studies at the University of Reading. She is a specialist in Middle East politics working in Yemen, with a particular research interest in political Islam and global terrorism. Her recent book, Al-Qaeda: From global network to local franchise (Zed 2011), examines the key sources that inform the present understanding of al-Qaeda.


Panel B


Olga Topol | Soldier, Rebel, Villain: The Perception of an Insurgent in Russian Contemporary Visual Culture

The paper analyses contemporary visual narratives of Chechen insurgents in Russian cinematography. It aims to trace if/how a language of political subordination and domination translates to the visual representation of Chechnya’s militia. The analysis illustrates how the rhetoric of ‘us’ and ‘them’, idea of civic society and notions of ethnicity and nationality reflect on artistic rendition of the Russian-Chechnyan conflict. Does the cinematography reveal public rhetoric and moral ambiguity of war? Does it reflect ideological divisions of the society thus stimulating a discourse or does it reveal a need for creating a homogenous and unifying collective memory of certain events? The attention focuses on the narrative practices of three films treating them as case studies for this essay: Sergei Bodrov’s ‘Prisoner of the Caucasus’, Aleksei Balabanov’s ‘War’ and the ‘House of Fools’ by  Andrei Konchalovsky.

Olga Topol graduated from the University of Silesia’s (Poland) Cultural Studies programme.  Her interdisciplinary PhD on representations of cultural patterns of the Russian and English 19th century middle class was backed by an academic scholarship. While completing her thesis she worked as a junior lecturer at the Institute of Cultural Studies. After relocation to London she completed Museum Cultures studies at Birkbeck College, University of London, where she is currently a doctoral student in the Department of History of Art and Screen Media. Her academic interests and current research concentrate upon issues of cultural memory and identity, conflict depiction by heritage institutions and visual media.


Christina Hellmich | Playboy, Freedom Fighter and Religious Fanatic: The discursive construction of Osama bin Ladin 

Since the attacks of September 11th 2001, Osama bin Ladin has become the public face of al-Qaeda and the embodiment of global terrorism, dominating discussions of national and international security. In spite of the attention he has received, conflicting assumptions about the alleged founder of al-Qaeda abound. Was Osama bin Ladin an engineer, a business-school graduate, or a university dropout? Did he spend his younger days in night clubs, chasing women and taking flying lessons in the US – or did he devote his time to the study of Islam, living a modest life? Accounts of the pious, gentle Muslim and devout family man stand in marked contrast to descriptions of a hypocritical religious fanatic: a womanizer, sex addict and coward who smoked dope, stashed porn in his Abbottabad compound and took cover behind his wives before he was shot dead on 2 May 2011.

In the first instance it is difficult, if not impossible, to combine such conflicting descriptions into a coherent narrative. Beyond this, however, a link may be observed between narratives about bin Ladin and the political context in which they arise. Thus, rather than seeking to shed light on the question of who he really was, this paper takes narrative constructions of “bin Ladin” as its starting point, mindful that everything that is assumed to be known about him is contingent upon these narratives rather than any biographical or empirical facts. Drawing on English and Arabic sources, it investigates the narratives about bin Ladin and the political contexts in which they have been formulated. The paper demonstrates that the narratives provide an opportunity to know the authors and the sociopolitical context in which they operate rather than the person they seek to describe. The paper concludes that the figure of bin Ladin stands as an archetype for terrorism: any attempt to define him is deeply imbued with the politics of those creating the definition.

Dr Christina Hellmich is Reader in International Relations and Middle East Studies at the University of Reading. She is a specialist in Middle East politics working in Yemen, with a particular research interest in political Islam and global terrorism. Her recent book, Al-Qaeda: From global network to local franchise (Zed 2011), examines the key sources that inform the present understanding of al-Qaeda.


Abstracts for the two keynote presentations can be navigated to by clicking on the left hand menu.


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