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Feeling Cinema
Affect in Film/Composition Pedagogy

COLLEEN In Hal Hartley’s 1993 film Surviving Desire, a persistently dissatisfied

JANKOVIC English professor Jude (Martin Donovan) reads and re-reads aloud the
first paragraph from The Brothers Karamazov during every session of his
undergraduate Russian literature class, frustrating his students to the
point that they hurl their books toward the front of the room. Decidedly
morose throughout Surviving Desire Jude appears wholly unconcerned
with either his students’ education or their pleasure, except for one stu-
dent with whom he begins a tensely flirtatious and eventually sexual
relationship, though her interest in him seems primarily intellectual.
After the book-centric student-teacher relationship fizzles, Jude deals a
final blow of irritation to the students in his class, writing “Knowing Is
Not Enough” on the chalkboard in large letters. One of the final shots
of the film has the teacher lying face up in a gutter, alive but exaggerat-
edly dejected. Does Surviving Desire mean to suggest that learning
destroys pleasure? Or perhaps that pleasure, when it too closely touches
scholarly inquiry, becomes complicated, diluted, and unmeaningful? For
the film studies teacher, a similar question frequently arises in introduc-
tory film courses: can the desire involved in film spectatorship survive
the study of film?

Come On, Feel

If we believe the often taken-for-granted relationship between film schol-
arship and cinephilia, that we study film because we love film, affective
response is a foundational norm of film studies. Many undergraduate
introductory film analysis courses use the classic Film Art by David
Bordwell and Kristen Thompson, which positions the question of affect
as intimately bound up with the difficult question of why film ought to
be an object of academic research in the first place.While the authors sug-
gest that emotion is often the catalyst for, and end point of, critical film
studies, they suggest that the concept itself is indefinable. In a section titled
“Form and Feeling,” the authors attempt to locate the purpose and place
of affect in relation to form and formal analysis:
All we can say for certain is that the emotion felt by the spectator
will emerge from the totality of formal relationships she or he
perceives in the work. This is one reason why we should try to
notice as many formal relations as possible in a film; the richer
our perception, the deeper and more complex our response may
become. (72)
Transformations: The Journal of Inclusive Scholarship and Pedagogy | Volume XXII Number 2
http://web.njcu.edu/sites/transformations published semi-annually by New Jersey City University.
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Framing affect as “emotion felt by the spectator,” the authors relegate

questions of feeling to personal perception and inexplicability; hence, “all
we can say for certain.” Though affect enters as a reason we “should” do
formal analysis, its substance and precise role is ambiguous. Even so,
Bordwell and Thompson consider affect, understood here as the experi-
ence of feeling and emotion, important insofar as it compels a more rig-
orous and energetic critical investment. They suggest that the more we
notice about a film’s formal elements, the more and the better we can feel
in relation to it. The starting point and ultimate goal of cinema studies
may be cast as affective, but there is little sense that these affective attach-
ments ought to be or can be incorporated into the analytic process.
Affect often emerges more explicitly in regards to reception studies or
genre studies (focused on melodrama, romantic comedy, etc), topics that
have historically been more closely linked to personal or subjective
and/or aesthetics and dynamics that are labeled as “feminine,” including
the assumption that the works are more intrinsically related to consump-
tion and entertainment. The elusiveness of affect seems symptomatic of
gendered assumptions about intellectual work more broadly.This perspec-
tive lingers in the mandate to keep a critical distance and remain objec-
tive. While close and subjective work seems passive, personal, and inter-
pretively slippery, distance and objectivity are regarded as active and
authoritative, scientific and rigorous. Passive spectatorship suggests recep-
tivity to excessive paths of emotion, which disrupt or resist more clinical
and objective techniques of analysis. The overstimulation of casual cinema
viewing threatens to disturb what might otherwise be neutral and stable
critical processes, hence the early introduction of descriptive formal lan-
guage that can translate film into a more easily recognizable and analyz-
able object. In this light, film vocabulary and discipline-specific interpre-
tive tools can be understood as helpfully deciphering cinema into a more
readily interpretable text and preventing the messy interference of feelings
as well as the uncertain relevance of questions of reception.
But the drive to achieve objectivity through the acquisition of a dis-
cipline-specific technical vocabulary can, in the case of film studies,
equally be attributed to the defensiveness of a field that for a long time
was regarded as not-quite-emerged in its own right. It may, too, be a
backlash against such political interventions made through film studies as
feminist, psychoanalytic, and critical race analysis.The idea that one needs
to learn the proper interpretive tools in order to analyze films serves to
associate cinema studies with more established disciplines like literary
studies or the social sciences. More self-servingly, film scholars can posi-
tion themselves as the ultimate lovers of cinema, who perceive its inner
workings and how best to understand them. Yet if film studies finds the
scholar’s love of cinema learned and sophisticated, the introductory stu-
dent’s love of cinema seems suspect, naïve, and a potential obstacle to
critical film analysis. The promise that students will experience more
pleasure through education–with richer perception leading to complex
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response—seems directed toward the student who film teachers presume

will resist our scholarly advances.
Greg Smith argues in “‘It’s Just a Movie’: A Teaching Essay for
Introductory Media Classes,” that explaining cinema studies to students
from a defensive lens is ultimately unsatisfying:
I have never been pleased with my spur-of-the-moment justifica-
tions of film analysis, which tend to come across as a bit defensive.
Worst of all, they do not deal fully with the question, which I
believe is very profound.Why are we spending so much time find-
ing new meanings in something as insignificant as a movie? (127)
Smith takes seriously what might otherwise be dismissed as student resist-
ance. However, I’m not sure the kind of student Smith describes necessarily
argues or assumes that film is “insignificant.” Students may have learned
dismissive attitudes toward film studies from courses that use film as an
“accessible” text often either in the service of learning something else, like
a fun entry into a novel through a film adaptation, or even as a break from
scholarly business as usual (popcorn time!). It is not surprising, therefore,
that film scholars might have developed defensive film pedagogies.
Defensiveness may explain why many film teachers are anxious about
students’ personal experiences with cinema, as well as their affective
attachments to cinema, which instructors might presume to be resistant to
critical work. Smith takes seriously the questions, variations of “aren’t we
reading too much into this?” which he repeatedly hears from students, but
his essay ends with a question about pleasure—“why tinker with the sim-
ple pleasure of watching a movie?”—which he answers too swiftly:
The basic faith underlying education is that an examined life is
better, richer, and fuller than an unexamined life….You can go
through life merely responding to movies, but if you are an edu-
cated person, you will also think about them, about what they
mean, and how they are constructed. In other words, you may
experience pleasures and insight you could not have obtained any
other way. (133)
This answer sidesteps students’ varied experiences of film pleasure—some
of which might not be considered pleasurable at all.
How we approach the question of student reception affects how film
scholars locate pleasure in relation to critique. Though reception studies
might have taught film scholars to critique notions of passive versus active
reception more broadly, and thus loosen conceptions of the top-down
power of the cinematic apparatus, many still assume there are at least some
naïve spectators. How do our film pedagogies reflect this assumption?
Film teachers can begin to engage students’ feelings about films out-
side of a frame of liking/disliking by introducing them to the ways in
which studying film does not necessarily “ruin” films or spectator pleas-
ure. Assigning Smith’s essay on student resistance early in the semester
helps students explore these questions. At the same time, since Smith’s
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essay reiterates cinephilia in response to student resistance, this cautious

approach can limit the ways film teachers engage students in questions of
affective and critical film spectatorship.

Feeling Cinema
Referring to the various ways that film might be incorporated in compo-
sition curricula, Daniel H.Wild notes how the filmic text itself resists usual
techniques of reading:
Part of the difficulty in beginning to work with the material of
film, then, is to problematize precisely our tendency to reduce
film to a legible text, which excludes more elusive concepts such
as, for example, affective responses to film through spectator posi-
tioning, the experience of time through the duration of images,
or our immersion into the visuality and the play of light. (25)
Film is elusive, like affect, because it moves: it moves viewers to feel, and it
moves in relation to viewers. In defense against approaches to teaching film
that cast it as inconsequential, the response might be to enact an overly
consequential approach. If the incessant sequentiality of film makes it trou-
blesome as an object in the classroom (it keeps moving), a consequential
approach stops, slows down, or pauses film to emphasize it as an object of
study and an object worth studying. Film analysis starts to resemble some-
thing like dissection or the careful and methodic workings of a scientific
lab experiment. However, these temporal and technical interventions
might also be understood as momentarily quelling the over-stimulation
that occurs with more conventional and casual modes of viewing.
Teaching cinema challenges us to consider with our students: can we
be critics and spectators at the same time? Moreover, can “elusive con-
cepts” such as affect, including, but not limited to, pleasure, play a produc-
tive role in film pedagogy? Should we avoid immersive spectatorship in
the classroom while at the same time positing pleasure as the primary
rationale for studying cinema?
Taking a reflective approach to these questions, Patty White and
Timothy Corrigan’s introductory text Film Experience responds to the
question “why film studies?”:
Students bring a lifetime of exposure to the movies to the class-
room, where their knowledge can be built upon in systemic ways.
In other words, the study of movies takes common knowledge
and pleasure seriously while acknowledging that film culture is
richer, more varied, and more challenging than most of us real-
ize.…Far from destroying our pleasure in the movies, studying
them increases the ways we can enjoy them thoughtfully. (7)
I use Film Experience in my Introduction to Film course for non-majors
because experience is integrated into its primary focus on industry, cul-
ture, and approaches to film study. Readers can consider feeling and pleas-
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ure without allowing experience to dominate formal critique. Tellingly,

though, Film Experience falls back on the ambiguous claim that film study
can increase pleasure, while placing it somewhat outside the bounds of
study and interpretation. But can students’ “lifetime of exposure” be
mobilized as part of the “study of movies” rather than serving only as a
foundation on which it is “built”?
Composition classes that take film as their topic approach this prob-
lem differently. In 1999, Lucy Fischer, now chair of Film Studies at the
University of Pittsburgh, where I also teach, suggested that such a course
offered an opportunity to consider issues typically neglected by tradition-
al film studies courses—personal relationships to film and spectatorial
pleasure among them. At the same time, Fischer emphasized the peda-
gogical difference that film scholars would make in the basic writing
course, since for film scholars, “film functions as more than a mere stim-
ulus for reading and writing” (177). Influenced by this insight, I concep-
tualized the writing done in my “Seminar in Composition: Film” course
to be work done “in relation to,” and not simply about, film. As a result,
the primary challenge for students became writing, reading, thinking, and
viewing analytically and emotively. Like Fischer, I have found that this
approach allows introductory film/writing students space to engage with
film without necessarily learning the technical vocabulary or interpretive
modes of critical viewing, writing, and research typically used in film
studies. In this way, affective experience and pleasure can be more readily
incorporated into composition course work with film, without necessar-
ily avoiding formal critique as a key component of critical thinking and
composition. Asking students to keep a log of their personal responses,
such as laughter, confusion, and boredom, to a film viewed in class is one
way to incorporate and draw attention to their viewing experience that
can lead to more in-depth discussion of particular moments of the film
that can then be formally analyzed.
I argue that affect, broadly conceived, can both challenge how film
pedagogy imagines introductory students, and challenge how cinema in
any classroom resists and/or opens up space to teach critical thinking and
writing. Exploring the notion of “feeling cinema,” which brings affective
film experience into the realm of critical analysis, raises several interrelated
questions: What kind of pedagogy would allow instructors to relax other-
wise defensive approaches to teaching film? How might student affect
(particularly when drawn from and explored through personal experi-
ence) be seen as a productive and even productively disruptive motor of
critical thinking about film? What are the critical consequences of affec-
tive viewings in the film studies classroom?
Affect seems “elusive” both because of film studies’ ambivalence
toward emotion as a site of intellectual concern, and also because instruc-
tors lack practical advice about how they might usefully engage with
affective attachments to cinema in the classroom. Patricia Caillé reminds
us how “students come with a multifaceted and undisguised affective rela-
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tionship to film,” and that when writing about personal response and
experience students must “also explore the ways in which a learned
response finds itself inscribed in a natural, sometimes even bodily, reaction
to a visual experience” (3, 9).Valuing student response and experience in
the classroom need not amount to uncritical reflection or unquestioned
validation of simplistic judgments. It can be an opportunity to interrogate
affective response and to show the relationship between seemingly private
opinions and broader cultural positioning.
Many feminist, postcolonial, critical race, and queer theory scholars
look to feeling and affect as alternatives to mind/body distinctions, canon-
ical readings, and other regulatory norms of intellectual work in the acad-
emy. For Catherine Lutz and Lila Abu-Lughod, emotion carries this sort
of baggage in relation to academic disciplinarity:
Tied to tropes of interiority and granted ultimate facticity by
being located in the natural body, emotions stubbornly retain
their place, even in all but the most recent anthropological discus-
sions, as the aspect of human experience least subject to control,
least constructed or learned (hence most universal), least public,
and therefore least amenable to sociocultural analysis. (1)
If we understand affect not simply as an interior quality of individuals or
groups of spectators, it becomes a critical question not reducible to film
reception studies or questions of identity.We can understand affective read-
ings as political—particularly in relation to culture and history—as well as
capable of destabilizing identificatory viewings. One way to dislodge
assumptions about identification and spectatorship is to ask students to think
of films where they mis- or dis-identify with a film’s protagonist, hero, or
message. Since desire is complex, the reasons viewers identify or don’t iden-
tify with particular bodies or ideas onscreen are not consistent, obvious, or
easy to explain. The push and pull between film and viewer, as well as
among students, can be a rich site for exploring the rhetoric of cinema and
for students to consider their subject positions in relation to particular films.
Course work that asks students to think about what kind of audience a film
seems to presume or anticipate can be helpful in this regard, especially when
students consider the different kinds of cultural positioning and assumptions
they themselves bring to films, including how dominant forms of cinema
and other media rely on conventions that produce certain kinds of expec-
tations. Understanding their “own” responses in a broader cultural context
also means that students can think about what motivates their responses and
analyze how films engage different audiences in different ways.This strategy
has been useful when students feel defensive about their like or dislike of a
film, since their response can be seen as a valuable way into a critical discus-
sion rather than understood as an irrelevant or purely subjective aside. Once
acknowledged and explored, these evaluations can lose some of their per-
sonal prickliness, making it more comfortable to discuss them in class. This
distancing move from personal evaluation and judgment can widen an
understanding of how film makes meaning in relation to individual, embod-
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ied, and site- and time- specific screenings, as well as in relation to publics,
cultural tropes, and dominant narrative and visual codes.
Vivian Sobchak argues that film theory traditionally presumes the “fun-
damental intelligibility of the film experience,” and thus rarely accounts for
how film “might be engaged as something more than just an object of con-
sciousness” (20). In light of these observations, an affective film pedagogy can
engage with students’ responses to, experiences with, or feelings about a film
in close relation to particular moments and details of the film.While introduc-
ing students early on to discipline-specific language makes film more immedi-
ately intelligible, delaying the introduction of film analysis can bridge film
interpretation and affective experience. In the film/composition classroom that
is primarily an introductory writing course, there may simply not be enough
time to introduce film analysis. I use description assignments, which I carefully
distinguish from sequential narrative plot summary, to ask students to notice
more details and formal choices in course films. Since I introduce description
as an act of translation and interpretation, and not simply the narration of hap-
penings, students are more likely to write creative and thoughtful descriptions
of scenes that mimic the feeling, look, sound, rhythm, and movement of filmic
moments as they perceive them.To test this approach, I’ve used non-narrative
experimental films such as Fatimah Tobing Rony’s feminist and postcolonial
On Cannibalism (1994) to challenge students to make sense of what’s on screen
and to translate it into writing. Through this assignment, students are encour-
aged to choose and re-watch several times a one-minute or shorter segment
that they are baffled by—and Rony’s film offers many—in order to generate
questions about what they see and hear. The first part of the assignment asks
students to “just describe,” basing their writing on details in the film and, at
least for this part of the assignment, to avoid evaluative and abstract words (like
“beautiful” or “scary”) as well as intensifiers (like “very” and “really”).The sec-
ond part of the assignment asks students to “start to ask questions and make
interpretations” by generating a short list of potential interpretive leaps and/or
questions based on the description and through asking “why?” and “so what?”
about specific images, sounds, etc. Describing this film would be a challenge to
any writer, and the initial pieces were messy and awkward, but for the most
part the students came up with open-ended questions firmly located in the
details of the film. Students asked questions which offered jumping off points
for further analysis:
[Citing audio from the film:] “My country ’tis of…”: why does
she leave out thee? Interesting, maybe she leaves out thee because
she doesn’t feel as if this country is hers. Feels like her people are
not wanted here?
What was the point of using the old, existing audio from a
previous movie instead of making a new dialogue for the film?
Does she [the narrator] believe the things she tells us about her
ancestors being cannibals?
I encourage students to write about moments that provoke a personal
affective response—even if the response is boredom or frustration—
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because once their writing attempts to move the reader into a similar
response (through concrete details rather than overt evaluative statements),
the interpretive process becomes more meaningful. For example, several
students felt defensive about the racialized themes in Rony’s film, particu-
larly white students who felt personally implicated by what seemed like
accusations, particularly in regard to the film’s critique of white colonialist
oppression of indigenous people through violent colonization as well as
representation in science, museums, and popular film and media. However,
when defensive students attempted to “just describe” the cause of these
feelings by tracing them back to the concrete details of the film, they were
better able to avoid focusing only on their discomfort. The descriptive
exercise asked them to keep writing, revising, watching, and thinking,
whether alongside or in spite of a sense of resistance or exclusion.
When a class of twenty students shares their descriptions of the same
few seconds of film they see how each description varies, demonstrating
how personal, embodied spectatorship and film’s formal elements inter-
twine to create meaning. While students begin this exercise focused on
their affective responses, they move toward investigating the details and
causes, in this way giving themselves over to the film’s logic. “Feeling cin-
ema” in this way positions students as responsible critics who must recog-
nize their affective responses, their spectatorial positioning, and how they
subsequently understand moving images. A relational approach insists that
affect need not be something to overcome in favor of a seemingly more
rigorous critical process, and in my experience it can increase students’
critical engagement with cinema and expand interpretative possibilities.
This understanding of relationality and expanded interpretative possi-
bility is in part inspired by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s ideas about affect,
temporality, and pedagogy in Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity.
Sedgwick discusses affect in terms of a kind of queer temporality, one that
opens toward possibilities beside normative temporality and accompanying
notions of progress and certainty. Beside becomes a key term for Sedgwick
since it challenges us to think other than in terms of getting “beyond,”
“beneath” or “outside” certain conceptual frameworks. It allows for mean-
ing to expand sideways. Rather than insist students move past what is often
assumed as their uncritical relationship to cinema in order to get down to
the real business of critical work, the approach I use places affect, judgment,
and response beside critical work, implicitly arguing that meaning is made
between feeling and form.
Thinking sideways also queerly acknowledges that we can never
know in advance what kinds of critique will produce new questions, or
alternative interpretive models. Because sideways thinking undermines
the distinction between success and failure, I find this useful for encour-
aging students to take bolder interpretive and writing risks, and to ask
critical questions about what constitutes “good” writing in different
contexts. For example, sensitivity to context might have students consider
the appropriateness of clarity and accessibility, or whether persuasion
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means providing strong arguments or tentatively drawing out nuance and

complexity. This approach often entails calling into question the value of
the so-called “five paragraph” essay and its attending formal and concep-
tual strategies. Incorporating feeling in the interpretive practice of film
writing also works against presumptive dominant/submissive power rela-
tions between film and spectator, and between critic and text. In film
analysis conceived as a kind of mastery, for example, scholars might imag-
ine themselves dominating the cinematic medium, preventing its tenden-
cy to move us into the presumably passive position of spectator. Once
under our thumb, film can be subjected to a variety of interpretations
that allow us to look through or beneath its elusive and ephemeral sur-
face. Expertly, I can slow down the film and pinpoint the precise moment
of a cut, determine the precise framing or angle of the camera, or catch
a fleeting moment. While this type of critique might allow us to notice
and name more of the formal elements that come together to create dif-
ferent kinds of meaning in film, it can neglect some of the messier, uncer-
tain, or unintelligible aspects of spectatorship and film form. If the critic
can only be conceived of as an active spectator, we might neglect aspects
of film experience that would posit us as submissive viewers. Although
feminist models of spectatorship offer ways to acknowledge and recon-
sider assumptions about the film/spectator relationship, feminist film the-
ory has also sometimes reiterated the notion of a dominant/submissive
binary in order to highlight the violence that can attend cinematic gaze
and representation. Can film pedagogy account for the ways in which
neither film nor spectator takes a dominant position, rather than giving
in to the common notion of the naïve student?
Similarly skeptical of models that afford too much power to the crit-
ic, W.J.T. Mitchell reminds us that images (or “pictures”) are neither as
powerful nor as weak as we might often assume, and he offers a model
of surface reading, or “yielding” that, according to art historian Leo
Steinberg, asks critics to practice “a rigorous suspension of value judg-
ments” in part to recognize the ways in which value judgments are
formed in relation to images, which are themselves “sources of value”
(83). I introduce yielding in the classroom as an interpretive practice that
marks a heightened attention to feeling and response, but that doesn’t
necessarily dwell on individual opinions and value judgments. In an
introductory composition course, students and I wrote a worksheet for
what we called “generous reading,” which offered guidelines for anno-
tation and re-reading methods that prioritize listening to a text before
too quickly imposing judgment or interpretation. In relation to film, the
concept of yielding allows us to ask what happens when we let film
move—and move us—as part of a critical process of interpretation. In
other words, as the term “yield” suggests, it is a critical approach that
doesn’t disavow submissiveness associated with allowing oneself to
become immersed in film experience. “Feeling cinema” pedagogy argues
a yielding interpretive practice of allowing affect to unfold beside the
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unfolding of the moving image (while refraining from using metaphors

of domination and submission) and can allow for expanded modes of
understanding relational film experience between feeling and form.

Affective Critical Film Writing

My own attempts to integrate feeling and critique into film/writing ped-
agogy in the course “Seminar in Composition: Film” at the University of
Pittsburgh provide an opportunity for exploring what a relational, yield-
ing, “feeling cinema” approach might look like in terms of assignments
and teaching strategies in the film/writing classroom. The course materials
I describe here focus particularly on traumatic representation, and what it
means to try to write about events and images that are difficult to inter-
pret and articulate. The context for this work draws on my doctoral
research on Palestinian and Israeli cinema, and although the Israeli-
Palestinian conflict is daunting and the issues are often unfamiliar to stu-
dents, and the themes of conflict and violence can be shocking, these topics
open up questions about images, writing, and representation that the stu-
dents grapple with in each of their assigned essays. Inspired by teaching
Edward Said’s essay “States,” which combines words and photographs,
and addresses the problems of articulating Palestinian identity in terms of
writing and representation, I was interested in other film and writing
examples that self-consciously address complex and seemingly unrepre-
sentable experiences. Introductory writing students, especially first-year
students, also encounter problems of writing in relation to representation,
to authority, and as people entering the university; these are questions that
the broad goals of Seminars in Composition at the University of
Pittsburgh explicitly encourage students to address and explore.
Students read Jean Genet’s essay on the massacre of Palestinian
refugees in the Sabra and Shatila camps in 1982. Genet narrates as a for-
eign reporter, and the essay continually reminds the reader of the different
kinds of writing challenges he faces in the article, the primary one being
the impossibility of communicating what it was like to walk through the
destroyed camp filled with dead, bloodied bodies. The first words of the
essay begin “no words…nothing can explain,” and yet nearly every para-
graph attempts to describe or explain the scenes he witnessed in graphic
detail and researched deliberation. After reading and discussing Genet’s
essay in class, students watch the more recent Israeli “animated documen-
tary” (as film critics frequently call it) Waltz With Bashir (Ari Folman,
2008), which concerns an Israeli soldier/filmmaker’s memories, or lack
thereof, of the Sabra and Shatila massacre at which he was present and, the
film suggests, complicit. Ari, the soldier, seems to realize that he was pres-
ent during the attack by Lebanese Christian Phalangists on the Sabra and
Shatila refugee camp, but he has trouble recalling the events and decoding
his distorted memories and dreams. That this is all shown through a “real-
ist” (rotoscope) style of animation contributes to the themes of memory,
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trauma, and various problems of recall and representation. Shocking to

most audiences, the final images of the film are taken from actual docu-
mentary live-action footage of the aftermath of the massacre, suggesting
that Ari has completed his therapeutic journey and taken responsibility for
his presence in the Israeli army unit that did nothing to stop the massacre,
and enabled it by lighting the area during the attack.
Here’s how one student compares the representational strategies in
Folman’s film and Genet’s essay in an online discussion board post:
“Four Hours in Shatila” and Waltz with Bashir make it known
that they are representations of reality. Genet’s first paragraph
explicitly states that what he attempts to describe on the follow-
ing pages is indescribable and hence missing something, and the
contrast between the animation and the footage at the end of
Waltz with Bashir calls the audience’s attention to the difference
between Folman’s memory and what actually happened.
The fact that the film and the essay “make it known that they are repre-
sentations” makes each an opening toward thinking further about how and
why they approach the events as they do. To encourage a further close
analysis of the film’s cinematic techniques and representational practices,
and how these shape the film’s ideas about trauma, memory, and responsi-
bility, students write an essay in which they begin with a personal experi-
ence that relates to something in the film, or an affective response to the
film. They use this to form questions to further investigate the film and
their experience or response. This inquiry takes place primarily through
descriptive writing, where students are encouraged to spend time crafting
detailed sentences that translate their experience into words. Students
quickly realized that this process of “translation” is also one of creation and
invention, that they are shaping the experience through its representation.
This better prepared them to see the film differently and to question its
construction—how the film itself crafts and shapes its topics in particular
ways. While some students emphasized a personal experience like a mem-
ory as a way into the film, others used an affective response to the film, such
as confusion or shock, to form a set of questions to frame their essay.
In one memorable class discussion, I asked students what kinds of
personal experiences they’d had that could help them make sense of Ari’s
investigation of witnessing war and violence. One student shared with us
a graphic description of her memory of assisting with the difficult birth
of a horse—a bloody, graphic scene. The initial and immediately obvious
connection to the film is a scene that involves dead and dying horses in
Beirut’s Hippodrome, a scene we had re-watched that day. In it, a stylized
meta-reference to film and photography in the animated sequence (it’s as
if Ari’s memory was recorded and played back on film), is used to suggest
how his past experience as a soldier suddenly became real to him. This
scene takes place within the frame of a visit to a therapist, who asks Ari
what he remembers from Beirut. That Waltz would include a meta-ref-
erence to celluloid running through a malfunctioning film projector (the
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image speeds up, slows down, seems to jump off the tracks) suggested it
was a rich moment to discuss.
I encouraged the student to further her investigation into the connec-
tion between the film and her own horse memory in her essay, which
became a descriptive narrative as well as an attempt to consider what it
means to retell a memory that is foggy, what it means to try to narrate an
experience that is both memorable and yet was experienced as traumatic.
She described losing time, or not quite recalling how she knew what to
do to try to save the horse and its offspring.The difficulty of fully remem-
bering the events led her to more creative sentence forms and to experi-
ment with more sensorial description. Here she describes attempting to
pull the foal out of the mare with chains:
After forty-five minutes, I insisted [sic] to try to loop the chains
just once more around the hooves. I reached in one last time: the
mare’s insides were hot, my hand felt compressed between the
masses, I was unable to see what I was doing—I had to rely solely
on my sense of touch. There was enough room to twist my arms
around, but not enough for the two of them to work together in
a coherent way. The blood was running down my arm and onto
the cement floor of the stall.
The student’s attempts to both describe and understand her own experi-
ence allowed her to see the film differently, and though her essay primarily
focuses on her own memories the questions she asked were relevant to
the film as well. She noticed that Ari’s memory is also marked as moving
through time differently, that the traumatic memory exceeded conven-
tional narrative constraints and perhaps explained why Waltz resorted to
alternatives—animation, a reference to a broken projection of a series of
still images, etc. In class and in office hours, we discussed how she might
model these representational strategies from the film in her own writing.
The result was her focus on multiple senses rather than only visual
description or a summary of action. Creative use of punctuation was a
strategy for her. Rather than rely solely on sentences that characterized
the experience (“my mind was blank”), she crafted paragraphs that
attempted to show, through punctuation and word choice, her feeling of
losing a sense of the events taking place.
Another student, who focused primarily on an exploration of the
film’s complicated weaving of fact and fiction, reality and memory, also
experimented with descriptive writing as a mode of analysis. She focused
on a scene in which Ari meets his friend Ori in Ori’s home. Ori explains
a memory experiment where participants were shown a fake photograph
of themselves as a child at a fairground, to which most of the participants
supply what seems to them a real memory of the fair. Waltz With Bashir
depicts the experiment through animation, the film’s primary mode,
while also suggesting something about the relationship between represen-
tational modes like photography and memory. After a description of this
moment in the scene the student included this inquiry:
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 trans formations

Do individuals assume that their memories and flashbacks “furnish

evidence”? [she is referring back to a Susan Sontag quote here]
Perhaps individuals fail to acknowledge that memories are illusive
because it would make them appear insane; their memories would
become hallucinations.Yet, assuming that all memories are true pre-
vents questioning and challenging memories that may be inaccurate
representations. Is Ari’s memory of the war true or spurred on by an
image that causes him to “fill in the holes with things that never hap-
pened.” Perhaps Ari’s mind constructed a flashback that was erro-
neous or misleading. What if he is struggling to interpret a memory
that his mind contrived? Just as the experiment’s subjects are able to
recall the details of a visit to the fair that never occurred, Ari’s flash-
back may contain details that never happened.The mind is a power-
ful editing device. Ori concludes, “Memory is dynamic, it’s alive.”
I encouraged the student to incorporate even more tentativeness
(reflected to me by the repeated us of “perhaps”) into her larger essay. One
element of the scene she felt she couldn’t understand in relation to the
ideas above was the repeated interruption of Ori’s children into the scene.
Were they there to simply incorporate more dynamism into the fairly stat-
ic animation? Though unclear about the meaning of the children and the
other odd background details, the student risked the inclusion of these
figures in her own essay and incorporated their uneasy interruptions pri-
marily through the use of dashes and descriptive lists. For example:
Ari takes a brief moment to puzzle over the possibility that his
flashback is fabricated before he proceeds to ask about a friend
who was present in his flashback. A small child in the background
struggles to hold a rubber ball larger than his body—dropping it,
picking it up again, and holding on with outspread arms.
Allowing the experience of viewing the film to take some precedence
over her initial desire to make a tidy, if narrow, argument about what the
film might be saying about memory and representation, the student writer
yielded to the experience of watching the film and to what she admitted
was her uneasiness about not being able to entirely explain the scene.
The seeming elusiveness of an affective response like uneasiness might
be a way of introducing uncertainty and complexity into student inquiry, to
encourage students to take interpretive risks and to keep thinking about
questions regarding meaning, allowing it to expand sideways rather than only
following the more obvious or easily provable argument. This student
learned that she enjoyed descriptive writing, and excelled at it, though she
had initially prioritized clear-cut statements and arguments.Throughout the
remainder of the semester we worked on integrating her two modes of writ-
ing, attempting to fold her critical inquiry more seamlessly into the more
descriptive creative sentences. As the class as a whole wrestled with how to
use description analytically, we were continually finding new ways to inter-
pret the ideas and images from Waltz With Bashir, as well as the varied affec-
tive and critical experiences of the film from the students’ perspectives.
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Creative Critical Film Writing

I used the following assignment sequence in two sections of “Seminar in
Composition: Film” in the 2009-10 academic year. After concentrating on
building descriptive writing skills and critical reading and viewing skills, we
ended the semester with Tisa Bryant’s personal, creative, and critical essay on
the French film 8 Women (François Ozon, 2002). Bryant’s essay, “Under
Cover of Darkness,” appears in her 2007 book Unexplained Presence. When
students read Bryant’s essay before watching the film, they first see it through
Bryant’s written perspective and are often surprised both by the creativity of
her essay, as well as how the film seems different through their own eyes.
Bryant never explicitly states that the film has musical numbers, for example.
The assignment sequence is preceded by a discussion of Bryant’s “creative
critical” style, which we view as a hybrid approach that incorporates creative
nonfiction and more overtly analytical elements. After this class discussion,
the students complete an online discussion board assignment and respond to
other students’ posts. The next class discussion takes place after the students
view 8 Women on their own and after they complete the Scene Rewrite
assignment. In the Scene Rewrite, I ask the students to “recreate” a scene of
the film in writing and to attempt to reproduce or translate into writing
what they saw and heard, including elements like the movement of the
camera, the framing of characters, and the passing of time. In class, I use a clip
from the film to focus the discussion on a sample student Scene Rewrite.The
class discussion takes up how the student’s writing choices (with a particular
focus on subject/verb choice) encourage us to see the scene in a particular
way, and we compare these strategies to Bryant’s choices in her essay. Many
students found their own writing awkward, since they would resort to phras-
es like “the camera shows,” “now we see” and passive constructions such as
“is shown.” I encouraged students to write in the present tense and to
attempt to recreate the scene in writing, without explicit meta-references to
the film like “in this scene,” or “the camera next showed.” For example, stu-
dents singled out the following paragraph as one of the more active and
emotive descriptions that “replayed” the scene in writing:
All seven women are standing perplexed facing Catherine.
Disgruntled, flustered and confused, they are looking at her but
not understanding a single word of what she is saying. Their
thoughts vary. Catherine is dramatic. Catherine is craving attention.
She is seeking truth and at the same time hoping that her own
maturity will be recognized through that truth. Seven pairs of
ravenous eyes are piercing towards Catherine, because Catherine
has just announced that her father is not in fact dead.The women
all look inside themselves, searching feverishly for answers, starved
for the truth. Catherine hesitantly abides their wishes in a swift
motion turning away from them, grabbing the banister and racing
to the top of the stairs. Higher than the others, she now can pres-
ent herself with authority; looking down on all these women she
shows them her complete and total disgust.
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 trans formations

While it would be difficult to explain how the film conveyed the

“thoughts” of the women that are represented in the student’s writing
with italics, the last line could easily be translated into film analysis lan-
guage to make a point about framing and camera angle, though the stu-
dent didn’t have access to that vocabulary. Even without the conventional
film analytical tools, which I introduce in a limited way due to time con-
straints and in order to focus primarily on writing, the student had
watched and re-watched the scene closely, bringing together visual and
formal elements to craft her own present-tense version of how this scene
“plays,” noticing, for example, that a high angle helps establish a charac-
ter’s authority and availability for sympathetic identification. By avoiding
meta-references to the film, the writing integrated what they noticed
about formal elements into a creative piece of writing that aimed at con-
structing a particular experience of the film.
One student remarked in a discussion board post that she “never
would have seen what Bryant saw in the film,” because she herself could-
n’t identify with the marginalized character of Madame Chanel, the black
lesbian housekeeper who Bryant dwells on in her essay. When this
response comes up in class, I encourage students to move from the initial
sense of skepticism and disbelief toward Bryant’s openly selective and per-
sonal reading of the film toward a conversation about how and why Bryant
makes so much out of a character seemingly inconsequential to the film’s
primary narrative concerns. Bryant’s essay becomes a way to begin to dis-
cuss how descriptive writing can be interpretive as well as how it can
shape the way a reader sees a film. Though the student’s discussion board
response initially sounded to me like a dismissal of Bryant’s interpretation
of and inquiry into 8 Women’s intersecting racial, sexual, and gendered
politics, it is also an acknowledgment of what Bryant’s essay allowed her
to see in the film that, as she says, she wouldn’t have otherwise seen.
The class discussed in some depth how Bryant’s essay frames a reading
of the film through a story about two sisters watching the film after their
mother’s death. In Bryant’s essay, the particular situated and embodied
experience of watching the film has everything to do with how she ana-
lyzes the film throughout the essay, which weaves in and out of creative
descriptions of the film and the thoughts and memories of “Older Sister,”
who is herself, the narrative frame of the essay implies, queer and black.The
essay implicitly suggests that affective embodied viewing matters when we
consider what a film means and how it makes meaning. Prompted by
Bryant’s concerns, several students energetically excavated the film for
additional moments that support Bryant’s observations about how the film
treats Madame Chanel differently than the other characters. Students yield-
ed to Bryant’s inquiry and some even identified with Bryant precisely
through a productive dis-identification with what they considered their
own response. The affective viewing in this assignment incorporated both
the student’s own recognized responses as well as the affective response of
someone else—Tisa Bryant and/or the character of Older Sister.
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After we discussed the formal aspects of Bryant’s essay and Ozon’s

film more in class, I asked students to take on a similar project in their
final essay. In the “creative critical” essay assignment students choose
their own film or visual text on which they have a particular, and even
uncommon, perspective. Then, students are asked to compose an essay
that attempts to show a reader something in a visual text that they might
not otherwise see—something that the student believes they see for par-
ticular reasons. They can use multiple characters, like Bryant does, to
explore multiple perspectives on the film, but I require that they base the
exploration on their own experience, even though they can take creative
license. I suggest they might recount a particular instance of seeing a cer-
tain film or image, and/or they might write their essay on a film or image
that says something about—or neglects to consider—an aspect of their
identity. In other words, the essays in some way speaks back to a film or
image, as well as to the larger cultural narratives it participates in. For
example, one student’s essay describes watching news footage of the
police using teargas and sound canons, and arresting his fellow students
during the G20 summit in Pittsburgh. The student explains how as he
watched the local news in a campus burger and fries restaurant he real-
ized that at that moment and directly outside the window police were
forcing a large gathering of students toward the dorm buildings.
Throughout the essay, the student used multiple “framing” devices like
the television screen, the view screen of a digital camera, and windows—
including the window of his dorm through which a riot police officer
momentarily shined the red laser crosshairs of a gunsight—to explore his
sense of detachment from events that were unfolding around him. My
intention with this assignment is to entice students into a more invested
form of writing, as well as to ask students to inhabit the vulnerable space
of an overtly invested critic who runs the familiar risk of being accused
of reading too much into a film or an image themselves.

Conclusion: Feeling Cinema

In Surviving Desire, instructor Jude becomes distracted and overwhelmed
by romantic love, making him a terrible teacher and a bad scholar. Books
and intellectualism can’t ease his heartbreak. The object of his attention,
his student, on the other hand, does not appear to act out of desire at all.
Consumed by her schoolwork and her writing, Sophia translates Jude
into the rather pathetic subject of her story-in-progress titled “Him.”
Given these two options by the film, the presumed routes between pleas-
ure and learning (or “knowledge” for Jude, since he is in love with
“Sophia,” and since he scrawls “knowing is not enough” on the chalk-
board) are severed: one character is consumed by pleasure at the expense
of scholarship, and the other is compelled by intellectual inquiry
detached from any apparent desire. Neither is privileged in the film since
Jude ends up in the gutter, while Sophia is left ignored by a swarm of
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 trans formations

customers at her bookstore job, suggesting that there is no simple lesson

to be learned about the relation between desire and education.
Perhaps this is true for film studies, too, making cinephilia and spec-
tatorial pleasure unconvincing excuses or foundations for why anyone
should study cinema. If film teachers assume we have to love cinema to
study it, then reiterating a notion of ever-more-pleasure through interpre-
tation makes sense. However, if we loosen some of our assumptions about
the place of feeling in relation to scholarship, we may find that our stu-
dents have more varied affective and critical relationships to cinema than
presumptive narratives of student resistance would suggest. And since not
all academic work begins from appreciation and pleasure, can we also
open spaces in the classroom for inquiry that begins from displeasure? As
the Bryant/8 Women assignment implies, are there interpretive possibilities
that arise from understanding someone else’s affective response to a film?
What other modes of interpretation are neglected through narrow figu-
rations of spectatorial pleasure and its relation to scholarly work?
Sara Ahmed’s Promise of Happiness, a book that “proceeds by suspend-
ing belief that happiness is a good thing,” suggests that being a “killjoy,”
or someone who spoils happiness, can be an intervention into the status
quo that can “make room for possibility” of the sort that dominant fig-
urations of a “happy life” posit as unthinkable or undesirable (13, 20).
Since I want to encourage students to take interpretive leaps and chal-
lenge commonplace ideas,I risk the accusation of being a killjoy peda-
gogue who insists on teaching difficult films that I’m not sure students
will like in order to make room for the possibility of killjoy students,
rather than insist students reproduce happy cinephilia as the primary or
proper motivation for film scholarship.
What I’ve called a “feeling cinema” approach in the film/writing
classroom in this essay—a combination of relational and yielding prac-
tices of interpretation—seeks to complicate the assumption of any simple
relationship between pleasure, learning, critical analysis, and spectatorship
that frequently attends pedagogical discussions of film scholarship and
introductory film studies students. A “feeling cinema” pedagogy advo-
cates modes of analysis that attend not only to response and feeling, but
also to interpretive practices—how films make meaning in relation our
present-tense viewing, thinking, writing, and in-class discussion. “Feeling
cinema” risks an interpretive vulnerability for the sake of a bold, careful,
questioning, and generously yielding mode of critical writing and spec-
tatorship. Rather than attempt to appeal to students only with models of
pleasurable spectatorship and cinephilia, film pedagogy can allow for
more complex and even contradictory models of affect and its relation to
cinema studies that create room for more possibilities for students to
understand their own relationship to pleasure and learning.
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8 Women (Huit Femmes). Dir. François Ozon. Canal+, 2002.
Ahmed, Sara. The Promise of Happiness. Durham: Duke UP, 2010.
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Composition Courses. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook, 1999.
Bordwell, David and Kristin Thompson. Film Art: An Introduction. Boston:
McGraw Hill, 2008.
Bryant,Tisa. “Under Cover of Darkness.” Unexplained Presence. New York:
Leon Works, 2007. 49-61.
Caille, Patricia. “Interpreting the Personal: The Ordering of the Narrative
of Their/Our Own Reality.” Bishop. 1-22.
Corrigan, Timothy and Patricia White. The Film Experience: An Introduc-
tion. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004.
Fischer, Lucy. “Apocalypse Yesterday:Writing, Literacy, and the ‘Threat’ of
‘Electronic Technology’.” Bishop. 170-181.
Genet, Jean. Trans Daniel R. Dupêcher and Martha Perrigaud. “Four
Hours in Shatila,” Journal of Palestine Studies 12.3 (1983): 3-22.
Lutz, Catherine A. and Lila Abu-Lughod. Language and the Politics of
Emotion. New York : Cambridge UP, 1990.
Mitchell, W.J.T. What Do Pictures Want?:The Lives and Loves of Images.
Chicago: Chicago UP, 2005.
On Cannibalism. Dir. Fatimah Tobing Rony. Women Make Movies.1994.
Said, Edward. “States.” After the Last Sky: Palestinian Lives. New York:
Pantheon, 1986. 11-51.
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity.
Durham: Duke UP, 2003.
Smith, Greg M. “‘It’s Just a Movie’: A Teaching Essay for Introductory
Media Classes.” Cinema Journal 41.1 (2001): 127-134.
Sobchak, Vivian Carol. The Address of the Eye: A Phenomenology of Film
Experience. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1992.
Surviving Desire. Dir. Hal Hartley. True Fiction Pictures. 1993.
Waltz With Bashir (Valz Im Bashir) Dir. Ari Folman. Bridgit Folman Film
Gang. 2008.
Wild, Daniel H. “Writing Images: Some Notes on Film in the
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temporary Composition Courses. Bishop. 22-31.
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FALL  | WINTER  

youth engagement project in a Toronto health center. MAGGIE FLYNN

works with Mujeres Creativas; Creative Works Studios, and in her collec-
tive, http://tongueandgroovecollective.blogspot.com. RAY GODIN
works in Toronto as a support worker for people with disabilities. LAURA
HARTLEY (MES) teaches at The Linden School, a feminist girls’ school
in Toronto. SIOBHAN OZEGE is completing a Master’s degree in
Communication and Culture. KARI PEDERSEN is an intern at Buddies
in Bad Times Theatre, and at Workman Arts in Toronto. ELAINE TEGUI-
BON teaches at Synergy Performing Arts Academy in Toronto. YO
UTANO works with CELOS and blogs at publicbakeovens.ca.

COLLEEN JANKOVIC is a PhD candidate in English, Film, and

Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.
Her doctoral research draws on queer theory and queer diaspora studies
to examine cinema’s enlistment in early Zionist settler colonialism and
contemporary Israeli state mobilizations of LGBTQ politics, as well as to
explore alternative forms of national belonging in Palestinian cinema. She
is a grant-writer for alQaws for Gender and Sexual Diversity in Palestinian
Society and her writing on Queer/Palestinian Cinema will soon be pub-
lished in Camera Obscura.

HEATHER LOVE is the R. Jean Brownlee Term Associate Professor in

the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches
courses in gender studies and queer theory, modernism and modernity,
affect studies, film and visual culture, sociology and literature, disability
studies, and critical theory. She is the author of Feeling Backward: Loss and
the Politics of Queer History (2007), the editor of a special issue of GLQ on
the scholarship and legacy of Gayle Rubin (“Rethinking Sex”), and the
co-editor of a special issue of New Literary History (“Is There Life after
Identity Politics?”).

SUZANNE P. MacAULAY is an art historian, folklorist, and chair of the

Department of Visual and Performing Arts at the University of Colorado
in Colorado Springs. She is the author of Stitching Rites: Colcha Embroidery
Along the Northern Rio Grande (University of Arizona Press). Her research
interests focus on creative pedagogies, material culture, the sensate expe-
rience of objects, and narrative and performance. Her scholarly work
addresses themes of cultural politics, memory, arts revitalization move-
ments, creativity, and diaspora.

CAROLE SHEFFIELD is a professor of Political Science and Women’s

and Gender Studies at the William Paterson University of New Jersey. She
teaches and writes about violence against women, feminist theory, and
social justice. Her publications include “Sexual Terrorism,” which has
appeared in several anthologies; “Hate-Violence in the US,” in Race, Class
and Gender in the United States: An Integrated Study (1994); “The Invisible
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