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The other day I was at a symposium at Leeds Metropolitan University called ‘Protests as events/Events as protests’, listening to the dilemmas of some academics who are or have been activists and how they consolidate these different identities in their jobs and research.

The opening address was a conversation between Dr Ian Lamond of Leeds Met and Dave Webb, Chair of UK CND and they discussed how they first became politicised, how this had affected their careers, up to the point of where they were today. Dave offered a useful insight from his many years of experience at CND: “Sometimes there’s a mis-match between what the public perceive you’re doing and what you think you’re doing” he said, “and you don’t know how much your organisation has achieved because you’re too close to it”.

Over the last few weeks I have also discovered that reading for my PhD is actually more productive when I’m on a train. I’m putting this down to the possibility that when I’m among strangers and in strange places, perhaps I feel more in the world so that I can think about it from the point of view of others. All of this, I hope, will be helpful!

I also recently presented at my first ever conference. I made a Pecha Kucha entitled ‘The Role of the University in the Cultural Economy’ and presented it in Salford at the SPARC post-graduate conference on the subject of Theory, Practice, Impact. I found that the ’20 slides, 20 seconds each’ format was a great way to condense academic waffle into a fast paced and fun performance (paris pics.tif-10I even won a prize for it!)

Starting off with my current sticking point – ‘what is the cultural economy?’ and presenting to a non-specialist audience, I crammed in some basic ideas about whether culture means high art and civilisation or popular culture and commercial products, Spice_Girlshow the value of cultural goods can change over time and happens within an economy or eco-sytem that combines a mix of cultural and social exchanges with the production and consumption of goods, some of which have intangible and non-market values.

I went on to talk about how an economic system combining state-funded activities with commercial production and international business attracts plenty of debate around value for money and justifying public investment. Then I connected that subject of enquiry up with my other big topic – the role of universities in the cultural sector (and the coming of the REF), before suggesting film screenings as ways to acheive public engagement. 200429986-001

There was just enough time to mention bringing together different groups of people from on and off campus to exchange knowledge, ideas, culture and experience, and how presenting a series of film screenings could work to generate impact in my own research before my slides ran out!

So with public screenings in mind, I’m still looking around at what’s new in the world of film and I was really chuffed to finally get along to one of the leading documentary festivals Sheffield Doc Fest this year – a festival that has such close links with the Sheffield Hallam University that they run an MA programme together. Two standout films for me were the new documentary about Stuart Hall by John Akomfrah (2013) and From The Land to the Sea Beyond (2012 – a repeat of one of last year’s favourite events). This surprisingly moving film was made mainly from BFI archive clips of the British seaside and coastal industries, directed by Penny Woolcock, produced by Sheffield Doc/Fest and Crossover Labs and screened with a live score by British Sea Power.

The Staurt Hall Project film is brand new, was backed by BFI Film Fund (which is also run in conjunction with Sheff Doc Fest) and is meant to be coming out on general release in September, which will be especially significant for those at Birmingham University I expect. Sunrise  A Song of Two HumansMurnau Sunrise  A Song of Two Humans

Before that, however, for those of you in Birmingham there’s a great opportunity coming up this month to see the classic Murnau silent black and white film Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) presented by Flatpack Film Festival outdoors at mac arts!

In this film you can really feel the tension in American and European society at the time, perfectly summed up by a single tram ride that crashes two fairy tale worlds into each other – the luxurious, shiny depravity of urban modernity and a sweet, gentle agrarian home. It also had the best action sequences Hollywood could produce at that time, winning an award at the first ever Oscars for unique and artistic production, and I am assured that the screening will go ahead whatever the weather!