Symposium Programme






Essay Film and Narrative Techniques: Screenwriting Non-Fiction

Symposium of the BAFTSS ‘Essay Film’ Research Group


The Bowland Auditorium

Berrick Saul Building



Event Schedule

Saturday, 18th November

13:00-13:45 Registration and Coffee

13:45-14:00 Introduction

14:00-15:30 Panel 1 – Screenwriting Essay Films

15:30 – 16:00 Coffee Break

16:00-16:30 Keynote by Laura Rascaroli

16:30-17:30 Panel 2 – The Essay Film in the West

17:30 – 18:00 Roundtable Discussion

18:45   Dinner


Sunday, 19th November

09:45-10:00 Coffee

10:00-11:30 Panel 3 – The Essayistic in the East

11:30-12:30 Future Research

12:30 Conclusion





Saturday, 18th November 2017



Dr. Richard Walsh,

Director of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Narrative Studies, University of York

Romana Turina,

BAFTSS – ‘Essay Film’ Research Group’s Leader, University of York




Panel 1- Screenwriting Essay Films

Jill Daniels – University of East London‘Excavations: The Provenance of the Essay Film Script’

‘Excavations: The Provenance of the Essay Film Script’


Abstract:  There has hitherto been very little academic scrutiny of the essay film or creative documentaries. My research into the BFI archives found few documentary scripts. Scripts for essay films are not generally screenplays in the sense that the term is used by the film industry. The scripts for essay films may consist of several different texts, lists, and notes or visual materials that come together to form a guiding plan for production, something we might describe as the script. To illustrate this, I refer to the process of scripting my film, Not Reconciled (2009), where as well as filling notebooks with ideas, ruminations, list and historical research I created fictional characters, ghosts evoked from the Spanish Civil War period, which involved the development of a scripted dialogue of voice-overs. Hence, the script exists only in fragments or one could say the ‘script’ is the film itself.


Jill Daniels is a filmmaker and Senior Lecturer at the University of East London. She has been making films since 1989. She won many international awards, including Best Experimental Film for My Private Life II (2015). Her current practice focuses on memory, place, and subjectivities in the experimental documentary.


Kayla Parker – University of Plymouth, and Stuart Moore – University of West England

‘Troubling Dialogues: Fitting Words into Place’

Abstract: This paper examines the screenwriting processes developed during the creation of a collaborative essay film. The strategy emerges through its authors’ shared production experience, allowing the intertwining of their subjectivities with political and social histories. Using their practice research project, Father-land as a case study, the authors critically reflect on their evolving dialogic methodology developed through collaboration. Living and filming near the Green Line, in Cyprus, the place elicited a quiet reflection on the uneasy stasis of an unresolved conflict which tore the island in two over forty years. Our families played small parts in the island’s past and the challenge for us seemed to be situating our film’s narrative in the buffer zone between a sensitive and contested history and a placeless personal reflection.


Dr. Kayla Parker’s research interests centre around subjectivity and place, embodiment, and technological mediation, from the feminist perspective.  She is also a filmmaker.

Stuart Moore is a filmmaker and sound artist who uses digital and film-based technologies to explore people’s relationship to place and landscape.


Brenda Hollweg – University of Leeds

‘Scripting the Balkans: Voice-over Narration in Marianna Christofides’ Days in Between (2015)’

Abstract:  Days in Between is a cinematic essay produced and realized by Cypriot filmmaker and visual artist Marianna Christofides over a period of four years. Cinematic essays are notorious for the heterogeneous material they often cover as well as their random and eclectic approach to the world. In my talk, I want to draw attention to the systematically unsystematic way in which Days in Between came into being as cinematic essay. From 2011 to 2015, Christofides travelled across the Balkan Peninsula. What started out as a journey mostly driven by curiosity and with only a few preliminary notes at hands, soon turned into an ever-expanding exploration of the region. Focusing on conversations with Christofides, I seek to tease out the multiple voices and temporalities inscribed in the narration.


Dr. Brenda Hollweg is Visiting Research Fellow at the School of Fine Arts, History of Arts & Cultural Studies, University of Leeds. A scholar of Anglo-American Literature, she is also a filmmaker. She has published on the video essay extensively and she is currently co-editing a volume on World Cinema and the Essay Film.




Laura Rascaroli –  University College Cork, Ireland

Professor Rascaroli will present on the research and material covered in her new book, How the Essay Film Thinks (Oxford UP, 2017).



Professor Laura Rascaroli is Co-Head of Film and Screen Media at the University College Cork, Ireland.

Laura’s interests span art film, modernism and postmodernism, geopolitics, space (the city, the road), nonfiction, the essay film, and first-person cinema, often in relation to issues of social, political, intellectual and artistic European history. She is the author and editor of several articles and volumes, including The Personal Camera: Subjective Cinema and the Essay Film (2009), Crossing New Europe: Postmodern Travel and the European Road Movie (2006), co-written with Ewa Mazierska, and Antonioni: Centenary Essays (2011), co-edited with John David Rhodes.




Panel 2 – The Essay Film in the West

Rob Coley

‘Destabilized Perception: Narrative as Network in the films of Adam Curtis’

Abstract:  Adam Curtis’ work is notably absent from critical discussion of the contemporary essay film. Yet, his experimental style is characterized by the use of archival fragments from the past to examine the present, produce counterintuitive connections and abrupt collisions that supplant the authority of narrative causality for a precarious network of associations. In this paper, I will argue that Curtis’ narrative method aims to confront a state of ‘network pessimism.’ Instead of challenging habitual modes of perception by adopting ‘heretical, contrarian stance’ (Rascaroli, 2017), he identifies a network of orthodoxy and pushes the inherent tendencies to their extremes. I will propose that his films employ narrative to induce ‘destabilized perception’, provoking audiences to explore the limit point of a powerful imaginary that conditions everyday experience.


Rob Coley is Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader for Media Studies at the University of Lincoln. He is the author (with Dean Lockwood) of Photography in the Middle: Dispatches on Media Ecologies and Aesthetics (2016), and Cloud Time: The Inception of the Future (2012).


Jouko Aaltonen – Aalto University

‘The Mirror with Memory: History, Dream and Time in Peter von Bagh’s essay films’


Abstract:  Peter von Bagh (1943-2014) was the leading essay-filmmaker in Finland. He was also film-historian and critic. He is known for his historical documentary essay films, often dealing with the history of Finland. His films were compilation films in which he used very different kind of materials, from newsreels to fiction films but also fine arts, music, and literature. Von Bagh favoured associative structures, which was reflected both in his films and his theoretical writing about the essay film. In this paper, I will compare von Bagh’s theoretical ideas and writings about essay films to his own work practices. He wrote very short synopsis or treatments for his films, the form of the film was created during the filmmaking process. In a way, he was writing, shooting and editing simultaneously. The analysis is based on my interviews with him and my work as a producer on his films, where I observed the process.


Dr. Jouko Aaltonen, is a Docent (Adjunct Professor), and Visiting Researcher at the Department of Film, Television, and Scenography, School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Alto University, Helsinki.  He has published extensively and directed more than twenty documentaries for national and international distribution, several of them awarded.


Roundtable Discussion

Laura Rascaroli, University College Cork, Ireland

Jouko Aaltonen, Aalto University, Helsinki.

Rob Coley, University of Lincoln

Jill Daniels, University of East London

Brenda Hollweg, University of Leeds

Ming-Yu Lee, Shih Hsin University, Taipei, Taiwan

Stuart Moore, University of the West of England

Kayla Parker, University of Plymouth

Samuel Kaczorowski, Tokyo Hosei and Toulouse II Jean-Jaures Universities

Kiki Tianqi Yu, University of the West of Scotland

Romana Turina, University of York

Richard Walsh, University of York




Restaurant in the Centre of York





Sunday, 19th November 2017


Panel 3 – The Essayistic in the East

Samuel Kaczorowski – Tokyo Hosei and Toulouse II Jean-Jaures Universities

‘Osamu Tezuka and The Legend of Son Goku: The Duplication of Bodies in a Whole Career Guideline’


Abstract:  In 1961, the Japanese author of manga Osamu Tezuka founded ‘Mushi Production’ to create the first ‘made for television’ animation series. When the cartoon Tetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy) was broadcasted, the success was immediate. However, the artist engaged also in developing a less known laboratory for more personal experimented films. One of them, The Legend of Son Goku crossed the whole career of Tezuka. In this paper, I propose to explore the different incarnations of the author in the various adaptations of the film through the concept of ‘plural body’ as theorized by Roland Barthes. In his film, Tezuka employs the use of different bodies as a double of himself and to compose individuality. The principle of character-duplication upset the codes of screenwriting and introduces anachronism and a visual extradiegetic dimension.


Samuel Kaczorowski is a French researcher in animation who lives in Jordan, director of animated films, Associate Professor of Applied Art affiliated to Tokyo Hosei (Japan) and Toulouse 2 Jean-Jaures (France) Universities.


Kiki Tianqi Yu – University of the West of Scotland

‘Exploring Essay Film: Sanwen dianying and the Essayistic in Chinese Cinemas’


Abstract:  This paper argues that the current notion of ‘essay film’ is a western construct and questions whether it is a useful term to understand experiments in personal nonfiction cinema in non-western cultures. Essay film can be translated as ‘sanwen dianying’. Sanwen literally means ‘loose text’, referring to writing with looser structures than verse or other highly rhetorically structured texts. Instead of simply finding a Chinese equivalent of ‘essay’, I present some observations on what the essayistic looks like in Chinese cinemas. It does not suggest a completely different set of aesthetics but seeks to explore how these films inherit Chinese literary origins and cultural-linguistic traditions, and in what way they reference western essay films. The paper opens to draw attention to emerging new forms by foregrounding practices in Chinese language context.


Dr. Kiki Tianqi Yu is a filmmaker and a Lecturer of Filmmaking at the University of the West Scotland. Yu writes about first person documentary, Chinese documentary, and cinematic memory. As a filmmaker, her work includes feature documentary China’s Van Goghs (2016) and Photographing Shenzhen (2007, Discovery).


Ming-Yu Lee – Shih Hsin University

‘Written Diary as Script: Na’Ou Liu’s Personal Camera and His Essay Film Man with a Camera (1933)’

Abstract:  Na-Ou Liu (1905-1940) was one of the earliest avant-garde film and literature pioneers in Taiwan. Besides introducing Western film theories to Taiwan, Liu also pays respect to Dziga Vertov’s Kino-Eye theory by finishing a film called Man with a Camera in 1933. Liu’s Man with a Camera is often considered as a documentary that lacks artistic qualities. In this paper, I argue that there is more to it. There seems to be a new possibility of interpreting Liu’s film from his written diary in 1927, which might connect his film to the notion of the diary film, first person cinema, and essay film. This paper aims to verify this possibility by examining Liu’s manuscript and cross-referencing it with his film, as well as the use of personal camera and the authorial presence in his film that hide behind the trivial day-to-day documentation.


Ming-Yu Lee is Assistant Professor of Radio, Television, and Film at Shih Hsin University, Taipei, Taiwan. Research interests include the Diary Film, Experimental Film, Essay Film, First-Person Cinema, and Filmmaking. An independent filmmaker, Ming-Yu Lee has directed several experimental short films.




Future Research

All Panelists and Keynote Speaker (no public admitted)



Romana Turina,

BAFTSS – ‘Essay Film’ Research Group’s Leader, University of York



With many Thanks to


Interdisciplinary Centre for Narrative Studies


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