Amateur Cinema SIG (BAFTSS)

The BAFTSS Amateur Cinema Special Interest Group aims to introduce scholars, researchers, and students of amateur cinema studies to wide-ranging and cross-disciplinary evaluations of key histories and theories of amateur media production (incl. home movies), distribution and reception.  Ever since digital media and Web 2.0 became the globally dominant, almost ubiquitous mode of communication and representation, everyday amateur film / media productions have also become the centre of today’s film and media culture.

BAFTSS Amateur Cinema SIG founding members include British and international film and media scholars, archivists and filmmakers interested in advancing current cross-disciplinary studies relevant to amateur film/media studies, from film history to social anthropology, psychology, political history and gender studies.  While encouraging contributions from future members, too, the BAFTSS Amateur Cinema SIG  members will create a forum for debate and best-practice protocols (theory and practice) while aiming to develop educational approaches for teaching amateur cinema/media studies and promote their inclusion in film and media studies programmes.
BAFTSS Amateur Cinema SIG seeks to organise annual events and academic projects which they will design and develop in close consultation with the BAFTSS Executive Committee. For each BAFTSS annual conference, Amateur Cinema SIG will provide:
– One or two conference panels
– Two special screenings (amateur cinema and new amateur media respectively), each followed by a round table discussion
– One session led by British and international postgraduate students researching amateur cinema /amateur media – case studies (research and practice)
– Online publication of all the BAFTSS Amateur Cinema SIG conference proceedings on ‘Amateur Cinema Studies Network (ACSN), including podcasts when available.
– Live Videocasts of the BAFTSS Amateur Cinema SIG presentations on the ACSN website.
Additional annual contributions:
– Following each BAFTSS annual conference, several BAFTTS Amateur Cinema SIG presentations and papers will be revised for publication in selected academic journals (see, for example, the special issue on ‘Personal films in the Digital Space’ for New Cinemas: Journal of Contemporary Film, Vol. 11, Issue 2-3, 2013).

BAFTSS Amateur Cinema SIG will continue to welcome new members, especially since there is a strong global network of scholars and media professionals interested in amateur cinema / amateur media studies and who will benefit from the opportunity offered by the BAFTSS in developing this collaborative platform.

BAFTSS Amateur Cinema SIG founding members:

  • Dr Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes, Affiliated Lecturer, Division of Social Anthropology, Fellow Clare Hall, University of Cambridge
  • Professor Karen Lury, Professor of Film & Television Studies, University of Glasgow
  • Professor Andreas Fickers, Professor for Contemporary and Digital History at the University of Luxembourg
  • Professor Ian Craven,Theatre, Film and Television Studies, University of Glasgow
  • Patrick Russell, Senior Curator (Non-Fiction), and Lisa Kerrigan, BFI National Archive
  • Dr Heather Norris Nicholson, Film historian, community heritage development consultant and Visiting Researcher, University of Huddersfield
  • Dr Caroline Frick, Associate Professor, Radio-TV-Film Department at The University of Texas at Austin
  • Dr Susan Aasman, Director of the Centre for Digital Humanities and Program coordinator of the Master Digital Humanities at the Groningen University
  • Dr Frank Gray, Director of Screen Archive South East and founder of the Film and Screen Studies course at the University of Brighton
  • Dr Ciara Chambers, Lecturer in Film Studies, University College Cork
  • Dr Abigail Keating, Lecturer in Film and Screen Media, University College Cork
  • Daniel Mauro, Ph.D. candidate, Media Studies and Social Science/Humanities Research Associate II at The University of Texas at Austin
  • Dr. Kiki Tianqi Yu, Associate Professor in Cinema Studies, USC-SJTU Institute of Cultural and Creative Industry, Shanghai
  • Kevin Brownlow, film historian, documentary filmmaker and director of Photoplay Productions
  • Tim Jones, School of Media, Art and Design, Canterbury Christ Church University
  • Dr Kevin Greenbank, Archivist, Centre of South Asian Studies, University of Cambridge
  • Angela Graham, Archive Manager at East Anglian Film Archive (UEA)
  • Phillip Collins, Film archivist, Institute of Amateur Cinematographers (IAC) – The Film and Video Institute
  • Graeme Spurr, Post-Doctoral student, Film and Television Studies Department, University of Glasgow.
  • Dr Nariman Massoumi, Lecturer in Film and Television, University of Bristol.

The BAFTSS Amateur Cinema SIG is convened by Dr Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes, University of Cambridge. To join the group please contact Dr Motrescu-Mayes (amm230 [at] and register as a member of BAFTSS at


The Amateur Cinema Studies Network (ACSN) is co-organising the ‘Amateur cinema and social networks of screen culture’ panel for the 8th annual BAFTSS Conference – “Rethinking Screen Cultures” –  to be held at the University of St Andrews, 16-18 April 2020.

Panel Overview: While amateur cinema is now considered within humanities and social sciences studies as the benchmark for genuine visual testimonials, it is yet often assessed against professional media- making standards and conventions rather than within its specific means of production and distribution. The three papers proposed for the Amateur Cinema SIG conference panel explore several interdisciplinary perspectives on recent developments in amateur cinema practice and studies, from considering amateur cameras as ‘apparatus’ in a Foucauldian framework, to ways in which normative conceptualisations of media amateurism could often misguide the variety of intent among media practitioners, and to non-ephemeral amateur media as constructions of a new Self. The overall aim of this SIG panel is to raise several questions about how amateur cinema can contribute to global debates about social, ethical and media- citizen activism.

Dr Tom Slootweg (University of Groningen), Challenging amateur modes: Or how to deal with the variety of intent among amateur media practitioners? Moments of media technological change have often been seen as important junctures at which processes occur of democratisation and participation in media culture. Whether it was the domestication of photography, film, video, or the Internet, much media scholarship preferred to theorise the appropriation of amateur media from the perspective of emancipatory “practice-politics” (Benjamin 2007 [1968]), or resulting in the aesthetic of “access” and “liberation” (Moran 2002). In other words, media amateurism was thus understood to hold great promise for individual creativity and as means to counter intuitional media power in capitalist society. In this paper, I will argue that such normative conceptualisations of media amateurism obfuscate the variety of intent among those media practitioners who self-identify as amateurs or have been labelled as such by scholars. Elsewhere (Slootweg 2018), I have argued to instead adopt a more inclusive theoretical perspective, which takes into account three co-existing, sometimes overlapping, amateur modes of practice and functioning: the home mode, community mode and counter mode. I will return to these three modes and discuss their characteristics and interrelationships. In particular, I will re-evaluate my notion of “counter mode” and point at the influence of progressive media theoretical and activist traditions on its coinage. As it currently stands, it becomes more and more clear that discourses on the role of amateur media in terms of “emancipation”, “liberation” and “access” are not only the purview of progressive ideologies, but also characterise those tied to worldviews coming from the other end of the political spectrum. I will argue that the latter is a blind spot in our current understanding of media amateurism. Lastly, I will offer a theoretical solution and highlight the implications for media historical research in particular.

Dr Giuseppina Sapio (Université Jean Jaurès/LERASS, Paris), A middlebrow eye: home movies between ideological subjection and profanation
We develop a theoretical-political reflection of the practice of home movies. By conceiving amateur cameras as “apparatus”, understood in their Foucauldian sense, we point out how families constantly negotiate the principles guiding their representations: on the one hand, by appropriating and reproducing the ideological injunctions of society in which they live; on the other hand, trying to “profane” them in the sense of Agamben. In this perspective, the study of the practice of home movies makes it possible to trace a history of the “ways” of seeing and representing the world, insisting on the subjectivation potential of private images, since these audiovisual productions do not simply reflect societal models but actively contribute to founding or subverting them.

Dr Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes (University of Cambridge), Non-ephemeral amateur cinema / media and constructions of Self. 
This paper is concerned with several theoretical approaches that position ephemeral (new and amateur) cinema /media as a functional social tool as well as a deceptive theoretical construct. Issues of amateur media-makers opting for anonymity and the ephemerality, or time-restricted distribution of their records indicate a choice for a renewable, non-punishable freedom of expression. This leads to cases of political, sexual and racial abuse, to name just a few strands, often reaching high levels of (involuntary) online archivability, whether due to active legal frameworks or to pervasive cultural and visual priming processes that preserve the original media records – from home movies to selfies translating impudence and narcissism, to scenes documenting acts of terrorism or domestic abuse. The paper also explores the ways in which several pervasive cultural frameworks often allow for the current amateur new media- ‘periscoping’ behaviour. In this context, it is argued that old and new amateur media can function as para-texts, which are highly- ‘recyclable’ across geo-political specific visual priming process, and the respective subsequent visual literacies – a process that leads to renewed acts of self-referential memory-building and interpretations of a private and/or collective past.

British Women Amateur Filmmakers: Innovative Visual Narratives and Early Colour Films, 13 April 2018 (BAFTSS Amateur Cinema SIG panel, BAFTTS Conference, University of Kent)

  • ‘Webs of Production and Cultural Practice’ (Heather Norris Nicholson, University of Huddersfield): ‘In this paper, reclaiming women’s neglected role in Britain’s cine practice traces their involvement in the Institute of Amateur Cinematographers’ (IAC) development as it brought visibility and coherence to recreational filmmaking at home and overseas. Women’s emerging visibility as amateur filmmakers and in allied roles may be seen alongside emerging histories of British women’s professional involvement in visual media and broadcasting. Their diverse activities demonstrate how women assumed associated responsibilities that have often been credited solely to men. Apart from their hidden contributions to script-writing, editing, sound, titling, continuity and other practical aspects of location and post-production work, women held indispensable roles in keeping clubs going. Their levels of voluntary commitment and service resemble gendered patterns of activity in other associational networks and settings where males have been dominant. Women’s versatility as IAC members and club officers evidences arenas of unsalaried and under-recognised professionalism that lasted for decades and extended internationally. Club and IAC life became complex realms of creative and social practice in which women found niches for self-expression away from the routines of domestic duties and paid employment. Importantly, these webs of production and cultural exchange emerge as being fluid, self-sustaining and endlessly inventive. Their narrative threads criss-cross boundaries of gender, age, occupation, education, life-cycle change, marital status and responsibilities of care. They also reflect how club life sometimes acts as a mirror upon wider societal values, goals and prejudices over the past century, and highlight the agency now available to women who now have the freedom of digital and social media as platforms for sharing visual stories.’
  •  ‘Resisting colonial gendering while domesticating the British Empire’ (Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes, University of Cambridge): ‘The great majority of colonial amateur films made by (British) women are the equivalent of visual diaries. Apart from being a pastime, amateur filmmaking allowed colonial women to document their lives, activities and social networks in greater details than letters or diaries would have permitted, and in more nuanced ways that often exposed lesser-known aspects of imperial contexts. Such first-person visual narratives seem to validate Linda Nochlin’s claim that creating art or, for that matter, home movies and amateur media, is never an act of independent, subjectively-driven expression and individualised translation of personal experience. Instead, it is a personalised language that constantly adapts according to established or temporary conventions and cultural traditions. Consequently, rather than re-applying canonical theoretical frameworks to define possible (specific) visual narratives common to colonial amateur films made by British women, it seems more efficient and relevant to consider their films from the perspective of film technology developments, fashionable cine-narrative strands, memory and perception studies. Thus, a semiotic reading of colonial amateur films would propose that the relationship between the amateur filmmakers’ gender and their visual literacy and narrative symbolism, as well as issues of authorship, become superfluous since each film is the result of a continuous, diachronic process of acculturation. This paper will discuss two key examples of thematic and social frameworks that informed British women’s amateur filmmaking – colonial domesticity and its corollary of women’s roles as vectors of colonising credos, and gendered visual ethnographies – and will include film clips from the National Archives of Scotland, EAFA, and Bristol City Archives.

British Women Amateur Filmmakers and Colour Films – BAFTSS Amateur Cinema SIG Symposium, 27 April 2018

The Symposium has received generous support from the BAFTSS, ACSN, and East Anglian Film Archive, and is organised in collaboration with the Amateur Cinema Studies Network and ‘The Eastmancolor Revolution and British Cinema, 1955-1985’.
11.00 – 13.00 Presentations
Dr Heather Norris Nicholson (University of Huddersfield) – ‘Yorkshire women’s mid-century amateur filmmaking: colour and context’
Jane Fish (Imperial War Museum) – ‘“Because I thought it was far more natural….” the early colour films of Rosie Newman’
Dr Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes (University of Cambridge) –’Ludic domesticity and Royal family matters in colour’
Dr Paul Frith  & Dr Keith Johnston (University of East Anglia) – ‘Women, Amateur Film, and Colour Processes’
14.00 Panel discussion & Q&A
16.00 Free Screening – British Women Amateur Filmmakers, Cinema City (Screen 3), Norwich.

Additional information

Paper Yorkshire women’s mid-century amateur filmmaking: colour and context (Dr Heather Norris Nicholson)
With reference to private and regionally held archive material by different women amateur filmmakers, this presentation explores how colour film offered opportunities to explore personal interests and places of significance. Two Yorkshire women, Lucy Fairbank, an unmarried infant teacher and May Webb, the married manager of a York camera shop, may both be seen as pioneers in how, where and when they  filmed before colour television became widely available.
Dr Heather Norris Nicholson currently works as an independent cultural and community historian and has honorary research links with Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Huddersfield. Interests in amateur film and visual story-telling span many years and interweave with preoccupations with travel, landscape, belonging, memory and identity. Publications include Amateur Film: Meaning and Practice, 1927-77, 2012,MUP) and (co-written with Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes) British Women Amateur Filmmakers: National Memories and Global Identities ( EDUP).

Paper ‘“Because I thought it was far more natural….” the early colour films of Rosie Newman’ (Jane Fish)
A short presentation on amateur camerawoman Rosie Newman’s 1930 Kodacolour travel films and her Kodachrome record of her experiences of the Second World War. Additional information at Rosie Newman’s Britain at War In Colour
Jane Fish is Senior Curator – Film at the Imperial War Museums

Paper ’Ludic domesticity and Royal family matters in colour’ (Dr Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes)
Queen Elizabeth II’s colour home movies are compelling visual records on issues of gender identity and class hierarchies.  As a visual storyteller, the Queen proved in many of her amateur films a sharp sense for significant facts, colour, light, and composition. This is evident alongside details challenging customary perspectives from which imperial and post-colonial autobiographical visual accounts are  historically negotiated. Moreover, most of the Queen’s home movies dislocate the master narratives common to the amateur filmmaking practice in the 1950s and 1960s by adding a vigorous and surprising sense of unconformity, especially when recording domestic scenes that contradict, and humorously challenge, popular expectations for stereotypical depictions of royal etiquette. This presentation will discuss several scenes belonging to Queen Elizabeth II’s home movies collection.
Dr Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes is a Visiting Lecturer in digital and new media anthropology at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge, affiliated scholar and guest lecturer at the Centre of South Asian Studies (Cambridge), Fellow of Clare Hall, and member of the Cambridge Digital Humanities Network. She is a visual and digital humanities scholar working on British imperial studies, theories of media, and issues of racial and gender identities. Her research and teaching employs new theoretical models drawing on visual culture, cognitive psychology, and postcolonial studies. She has published extensively on colonial amateur film practice, and is currently co-authoring with Susan Aasman a volume on ‘Amateur Media: Film, Digital Media and Participatory Cultures’ (forthcoming Routledge, 2018).

Paper  Women, Amateur Film, and Colour Processes (Dr Paul Frith)
This presentation considers two recent projects at the University of East Anglia that have adopted a different strategy towards amateur filmmaking studies than the dominant place-based approach found in much academic work and in initiatives such as the BFI’s Britain on Film project. These projects – “Women Amateur Filmmakers in Britain” and “The Eastmancolor Revolution and British Cinema, 1955-85” – have overlapping interests around the production practices, technological choices, and aesthetic approaches of women amateur filmmakers working with colour processes from the middle of the twentieth century on. The projects have also both worked closely with the collection of British amateur films from the Institute of Amateur Cinematographers (IAC), held at the East Anglian Film Archive (EAFA), and will reflect on their findings to date. In the first half this presentation, Keith M. Johnston will cover the Women Amateur Filmmakers project, including the identification, cataloguing and digitisation of over 100 films, and consider the rich vein of women-produced films that span seven decades of the twentieth century. These films feature a variety of genres (drama, comedy, animation, documentary, travelogues), modes of production (single author, team, husband-and-wife collaboration), and technological adoption. An important aspect of that technological story is around the range of colour processes found in these, and other, amateur films. In the second half, Paul Frith will cover the Eastmancolor project’s engagement with the technological opportunities and limitations of amateur colour processes: focused on the production and aesthetics of colour films from the Women Amateur Filmmakers collection, he will explore how the amateur community worked together to develop experimental techniques that were employed to duplicate the technological accomplishments of the industry.
Dr Paul Frith is a Research Associate working on the Eastmancolor Revolution project at the University of East Anglia. He received his PhD from UEA in 2015 and was employed by the British Film Institute as a Conservation Specialist (2013-16). His PhD thesis addressed the commonly held misconception of a so-called ‘horror ban’ in Britain during the 1940s through alternative approaches to both censorship and discussions of the horror film. He is currently researching the use of colour in amateur cinematography and horror film censorship during the rise in colour production in Britain during the 1950s.

Amateur cinema and its multiple film sub-genres, 21 April 2017, (BAFTSS Amateur Cinema SIG panel, BAFTTS Conference, Bristol, UK)

Overview: There is an urgency to circumscribe, re-define and develop a critical language able to cope with the rapid shift between what was conventionally categorised as private and personal – i.e. home movies watched and distributed as ‘home entertainment’ – and what has become in the digital space a public, global privacy where the image-maker adopts the amateur’s creatively liberating status. The three speakers will place their core research agenda at the confluence of such clashing and yet co- dependent moving-image production and distribution practices and will consider possible new directions in inter-disciplinary scholarship. Each speaker will explore methodical, extensive approaches addressing developments in amateur cinema practice and studies while relying on the intrinsic interdisciplinary approach dictated by specific questions of technology, social and political dynamics, economic structures, changing aesthetic cannons, and contemporary cultural patterns. They will consider new insights regarding the ways in which visual and memory experiences are currently shaped, stored and re-distributed across new amateur cinema/media technologies and visual channels, and will discuss several examples of visual methodologies relevant to collective memory and representation studies within the global framework of amateur/user- generated film and media.

Paper My first Videotape: from amateur film to amateur media (Susan Aasman, University of Groningen)
This paper will trace the ways in which anthropologists, sociologists, cultural historians, and film and media theorists have explored amateur cinema and media as a rich source of new means of cultural production. From the invention of the film camera at the end of the nineteenth-century until the late 1960s, amateur film making on 16mm, 9.5mm, and 8mm film was a hobby practiced predominantly by white middle-class men. As such, it became part of the twentieth-century everyday life as a new cultural practice that primarily used the camera as a technology of memory-building an archive of idealised representations of family life.  So far, not much attention has been paid to the era of amateur video, which is a serious lack as from the 1980s onwards amateur media production became more diverse. This paper will especially address these more recent changes of the concept of ‘amateur’.   New media technologies brought new representational possibilities that were explored by different groups of users attracted to new kind of amateur media usages.  More recently, the emergence of the Web 2.0 challenged amateurship in an entirely new way, moving beyond small social circles of reception. YouTube’s initial call to ‘broadcast yourself’ individualized the possibility to express oneself to a potentially world-wide audience. In addition, a niche demographic, such as children and teenagers has quickly embraced this new visual literacy – a group who had never could produce, edit and broadcast its amateur cinema/media productions.

Paper Amateur cinema – from ethics to semantics (Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes, University of Cambridge)
This paper will consider an in-depth analysis of how cultural and social networks of amateur cinema/media redefine key concepts of surveillance and media ethics. Examples selected from different amateur media genres, i.e. home movies, web-dramas, vlogs, snapchats, are central to the argument around issues of authenticity and of global, national and gender identities. This perspective becomes particularly relevant when considering amateur cinema/media as an ever-changing vernacular text within the global visual literacy and its efficacy in modelling new perspectives on media ethics and semantics. The current visual culture and its by-product literacy are constantly shared and shaped by a synchronous global network of producers-cum-audience. While studies of the rapid shifts in popular visual and digital culture have already been published and scholarship addressing home movies and/or amateur film culture is gaining momentum, the study of amateur cinema / media as a text able to challenge conventional critical methodologies is still an uncharted territory for most media scholars. The paper will advance the thesis that the study of amateur cinema/media prompts the renegotiation of established (cine/media) semiotic studies that locate film/visual culture within the logic of structural linguistics and, most importantly, within the fluid parameters of media ethics that define today’s new visual literacy. Several examples of amateur cinema/media will be discussed from this perspective with the aim to identify the ways in which visual identities, memories and histories have been negotiated within private networks (i.e. family, social clubs) of distribution and/or continue to be interpreted across online, free-access global media networks.

Paper Film Cans or Coffins?  Reframing “Amateur” Archives in the YouTube Era (Caroline Frick, University of Texas at Austin)
In his oft-cited work on the develop of professionalism in the United States, scholar Burton Bledstein illustrates the shift from amateur to professional through the experience of nineteenth century coffin-makers.  From woodworker to “mortician,” and coffin to “casket,” Bledstein argues that these practitioners strived to distance themselves from their craftsman origins to gain closer links to the loftier position of medical “physician.”  The contemporary evolution of YouTube personality into broadcasting star mirrors such shifts and harkens to the advent of the Hollywood celebrity system, grooming the unknown into well-trained studio player.  The intersections between industry, amateur, technology, and the historical media canon offer compelling evidence for a closer look at the nuances of “amateur” film and video.  With a case study of amateur “horror” genre content from the Texas Archive of the Moving Image, this paper will address the challenges of generic classification presented by repurposed “amateur” archival content online.  The 1966 feature film, Manos:  The Hands of Fate, created by a fertilizer salesman from El Paso to win a bet, offers a unique example of the ongoing life cycle of archival media:  From nearly orphaned amateur relic, to cable celebrity status, to online viral click-bait, amateur horror refuses to be relegated to the coffin-like nature of an obsolete film can.

For further information about the conference programme and conference panels see BAFTSS Conference 2017

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