Visiting professor of film studies prominent among film researchers

“I am a political activist and want to broaden and deepen the subject of film studies”, says Chris Holmlund, who is spending the spring as a visiting professor at Lund University. She is a prominent figure in the world’s largest organisation for film researchers and in that capacity will represent Lund University at conferences worldwide.

Chris Holmlund

Chris Holmlund is a professor of film studies, women’s studies and French at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. She is currently a visiting professor at Lund University. Pictured outside Filmstaden cinema in Lund.

It is fun to be in Lund and an extra bonus to live just ten minutes from a good cinema like Kino, says Chris Holmlund in her Dalarna dialect when LUM meets her at the Centre for Languages and Literature. She grew up in a small village near New York, but her mother was from Dalarna and Chris spent her childhood summers there. Lund is a new experience, even if she has met several of LU’s film studies researchers at international conferences.

International conferences are Chris Holmlund’s home turf. She is an enthusiastic networker and wants to broaden the view of the medium of film, lifting our eyes from the narrowly Western, often American, perspective. She has achieved quite a lot in that respect as chair of the Society for Cinema & Media Studies (SCMS) – the world’s largest association of researchers in film, video games, radio and audio and an important arena and catalyst for new research initiatives.

SCMS has 3 000 members from over 50 countries. Chris Holmlund recently left the chair, but is still on the board of the organisation, which she explains began as a small gentlemen’s club in the US in the 1960s.

Chris Holmlund is a professor of film studies, women’s studies and French at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Her research spans everything from low-budget independent films to action blockbusters. She often employs feminist, postcolonial and queer theory perspectives. Her subjects of study have included gender and body ideals – for example as represented by Arnold Schwarzenegger or Dolly Parton.

She has conducted research on films from the USA, Europe, Francophone Africa and Latin America. Her language skills have enabled her to scrutinise the American cult of celebrity through an international, multicultural lens. The results take away quite a lot of the shine, she says, if you look carefully, because everything is not about the West and Hollywood. It is important for film studies to have broad knowledge of developments around the world – especially today when it has become cheaper to make and also distribute films via digital channels.

Many film studies scholars also have very broad interests, observes Chris Holmlund. She did a PhD on the films of Marguerite Duras – experimental arthouse works that may be more enjoyable to reflect on afterwards than to sit through, she says with a smile. This work on experimental film gave her clearer focus and provided tools for the analysis of feature films, documentaries and television news.

“News and documentaries can easily be perceived as ‘true’, but all film storytelling is biased. The choice of genre, images, voiceover, etc. affect how they are perceived”, she says.

What are your favourite films?

“If you had asked me ten years ago, I would have had a list – and it would have included Bergman’s ‘Persona’, an incredibly beautiful film. But today? What I find best and more interesting changes all the time.”

In general, her experience is that the most interesting films are often those that are low budget and made outside the Western domain. Two that have impressed her recently are Laura Poitras’ Oscar-winning documentary ‘Citizenfour’ about Edward Snowden’s disclosures, and ‘Gloria’, a film by Sebastian Lelio about a middle-aged woman’s search for love in modern-day Santiago.

In addition to her role as an ambassador for Lund University in international settings during the spring, Chris Holmlund will also be holding research seminars.

Text: Britta Collberg

Photo: Gunnar Menander