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Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) Ph.D., Screen Cultures (2011)

Dissertation: “Redeveloping the City, Redeveloping the Cinema: Film and Urban Culture at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century.”

Advisor: Jacqueline Stewart.
Committee members: Wendy Griswold, Hamid Naficy.
[wpspoiler name=”Dissertation Abstract” style=”smoothness”]My dissertation investigates the relationship between the city and cinema in contemporary North America. I contend that dramatic changes to the urban way of life at the turn of the twenty-first century have redefined our historical understanding of that relationship; while the film industry struggled to adopt new strategies of production and exhibition for reaching urban niche audiences, cities rushed to embrace media and other cultural industries as a potential engine for development in a post-industrial economy. I pursue this argument across three case studies: in the first, I examine the impact of urban gentrification on the film industry, where I find that the elevated prominence of the “indie film” over the last twenty years occurs alongside the rise of new taste publics that form as a result of urban gentrification. In the second, I explore the rise of an alternative exhibition circuit for black film in the United States during the 1990s and 2000s, arguing that this new circuit has helped to redefine the audience for African-American popular cinema during this time period. In the last, I examine the rise of culture-led urban redevelopment plans, and specifically focus on the city of Toronto’s efforts to encourage development via civic investment in the cinema. Throughout, I rely on a mixed-methods approach that draws equally from cinema and media studies, cultural geography, urban studies, and sociology.

Examination Fields: Theories of Spectatorship, Reception, and Audience Studies; Documentary Film History; Sociology of Urban Culture[/wpspoiler]

University of Chicago (Chicago, IL) A.M., Humanities (2004)

Concentration in Cinema and Media Studies.
Master’s Thesis: “Seeing the City: Chicago in the Cinema, 1968-1976.”

Georgetown University (Washington, DC) B.S., Foreign Service (2001)

Major in Culture and Politics. Certificate in Social and Political Thought.
Honors Thesis: “Political Urgency in American Popular Music.”



University of Calgary (Calgary, AB) Department of Communication and Culture
2011-present Instructor


Wes Anderson and the City Spaces of Indie Cinema.”
New Review of Film and Television Studies (forthcoming, March 2012).

T.O. Live With Culture: Film and Cultural Policy in Contemporary Toronto.”
Canadian Journal of Film Studies (forthcoming, vol. 21, no.1, Spring 2012).

The Many Hats of Toronto’s Bell Lightbox.”
In Media Res(September 17, 2010).

Graduate Affiliate, Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities 2010-2011
Graduate Teaching Fellow, Northwestern University Office of Fellowships 2010-2011
Government of Canada Doctoral Student Research Award 2010
Fulbright Canada–US Embassy in Ottawa Twentieth Anniversary Fellow 2009-2010
Fulbright Mobility Grant 2009-2010
Visiting Fellow, University of Toronto Cities Centre 2009
Government of Canada/SUNY-Plattsburgh CONNECT Fellowship 2009
Graduate Research Grant, Northwestern University 2009
Teaching Assistant Fellow, Searle Center for Teaching Excellence 2009
Graduate Travel Grants, Northwestern University 2008-2011
Department of Radio/TV/Film Travel Grants 2007-2011
City of Chicago Community Arts Assistance Program Grant 2006
Washington Post Grants in the Arts Award 2003
District of Columbia Superintendent’s Award 2003

[wptabtitle]CONFERENCE PRESENTATIONS[/wptabtitle] [wptabcontent]
[wpspoiler name=”“Rethinking the Urban Cinema: Benefits and Limitations of a Geographic Approach.” 2011 Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference. New Orleans, LA. March 12, 2011.” style=”smoothness”]One of the core contentions of my current research is that we can better understand the development of alternative commercial cinemas in the contemporary era by attending to the specific geographies of consumption through which these cinemas circulate. By allowing cultural and urban geography to inform our thinking about the cinema, we are able to see how new patterns of distribution and exhibition emerge that facilitate the commercial viability of new or previously marginalized cinematic forms. However, a geographic approach to thinking about the city-cinema relationship in the current moment is not without its problems. I hope to use the occasion of this workshop to present some of the methodological issues that I’ve confronted in my own research, and address how we might best employ mapping and other geographic technologies to further our understanding of the relationship between media and space. For instance, to cite but a few questions that haunt my own research: in considering the importance of macro trends like gentrification and the (uneven) return of capital to the inner city during the last two decades, how might we best approach the design of maps and other informatics tools to help us to understand their impact on the cinema? What assumptions do we make about the relationship of a movie theater to its surrounding neighborhood, for instance, and how confident are we that the taste preferences expressed by the patrons of that theater (as reflected by the films that they choose to view) are at all reflective of the taste preferences of the neighborhoods in which those theaters are situated?[/wpspoiler] [wpspoiler name=”“Towards an Urban Approach to Cinema and Media Studies” (workshop chair).
2011 Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference. New Orleans, LA. March 10, 2011.” style=”smoothness”]Chair of workshop exploring methods and issues in current urban-related cinema and media research.[/wpspoiler] [wpspoiler name=”‘T.O. Live with Culture: Film and Cultural Policy in Contemporary Toronto.”
2010 Annual Conference of the Film Studies Association of Canada. Montreal, QC. June 3, 2010.” style=”smoothness”]In the wake of amalgamation in 1998, Toronto’s City Council created a new Culture Division, part of an effort to promote a new brand for Toronto as the “Creative City.” Subsequently, the Council commissioned a study to address how Toronto could enhance its efforts to position itself as a “global cultural capital.” This would spawn a series of reports, with the Council approving the “Culture Plan for the Creative City” in 2003.
My concern with this paper is the privileged position of film within the discourse surrounding Toronto’s efforts to promote itself as a cultural center. By foregrounding the importance of film in Toronto’s brand management efforts, I argue that we ought to consider the potentially transformative effects that the cinema can have in urban redevelopment efforts. Consider, for example, the “Cultural Renaissance,” a wave of new projects that includes new facilities for the Canadian Opera Company, the National Ballet School, the Royal Ontario Museum, among others. Tellingly, the authors of the Culture Plan conclude this list with the new headquarters building of the Toronto International Film Festival.
The report returns repeatedly to the economic benefits that film has for the city; moreover, the discussion includes not only the more easily calculable returns from the burgeoning film production sector, but expands to address the broader film culture. Drawing off of an array of policy documents and interview data, I argue for the centrality of film to Toronto’s efforts to develop itself into a cultural capital.[/wpspoiler] [wpspoiler name=”“Reconsidering the ‘Black Mecca’: A Reading of Madea’s Atlanta.”
2010 Meeting of the Association of American Geographers. Washington, DC. April 14, 2010.” style=”smoothness”]Tyler Perry’s Madea films take their name from their shared protagonist, a cross-dressing grandmother played by the director. The films also share a common setting, that of contemporary Atlanta, and it is my contention with this paper that Perry’s representation of Atlanta serves both as a critique of an earlier mode of urban representation in popular African-American cinema, but also as a depiction of the spatial logics of social mobility and class division within a heterogeneous black community.
The siting of these films carries with it symbolic weight in the recent history of African-American cinema. In the “hood films” of the 1990s (e.g. Boyz N The Hood), Atlanta exists as an imagined “Black Mecca,” the symbolic and distant home of elite black culture. In this paper, I argue that Perry’s films represent a break with this recent history; I advance a reading of the Madea films that pays special attention to the ways in which space is organized, navigated and traversed, so as to better understand how we might think of these films as a critique of a certain tendency stemming from the hood films to represent the black urban experience as one of uniform poverty.[/wpspoiler] [wpspoiler name=”“Marking Class and Gender in the Films of Tyler Perry.” Gender, Place and Space: An Interdisciplinary Conference. Hosted by the University of Notre Dame. South Bend, IN. March 27, 2010.” style=”smoothness”]Rising from obscurity over the course of decade, Tyler Perry has succeeded by specifically contradicting the utilitarian logic that prevails among the major Hollywood studios, choosing instead to focus on the African-American niche with great success. That a filmmaker might specifically target a particular audience is nothing new, of course; Perry’s films trace their lineage at least as far back as the earliest “race films” of the 1910s.
But what I will argue is unique about Perry’s films is the way in which he refigures the familiar tropes of the African-American urban experience (as it is represented on film) to redefine the position of the woman in contemporary African-American urban cinema. Specifically, I will use Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion to argue that we should understand his films as an attempt to reorient the narration of the urban black experience away from the young black male at the center of what Paula Massood refers to as the “hood films,” and instead towards a vision of urban space that is gendered primarily female. Complicating this shift is Perry’s own star persona, as his familiar cross-dressing routine forces the viewer to confront questions of gender and representation at both levels of text and subtext.[/wpspoiler]
[wpspoiler name=”“Film Festival Research Methodology” (panelist).
2010 Conference of the Society of Cinema and Media Studies. Los Angeles, CA. March 19, 2010.” style=”smoothness]Insert SCMS 2010 abstract here[/wpspoiler]
[wpspoiler name=”The Cinema of Gentrification in the Contemporary North American Motion Picture Industry.”
2010 Conference of the Society of Cinema and Media Studies. Los Angeles, CA. March 17, 2010.” style=”smoothness”]Insert SCMS 2010 abstract here[/wpspoiler]
[wpspoiler name=”“Constructing a New Urban Exhibition Circuit: Black Cinema After the Baldwin Theatre.”
Screens, Sounds, Seats: On Motion Picture Exhibition. Hosted by the Film Studies Program, Yale University. New Haven, CT. January 29, 2010.” style=”smoothness”]The Baldwin Theatre was built in the late 1940s and closed nearly fifty years later when its owners went bankrupt. It would barely merit a footnote in the history of motion picture exhibition, but for its claim to be the country’s only African-American owned first-run theater during the 1980s and 1990s. However, from this small theater in the Baldwin Hills neighborhood of South Central Los Angeles came a new generation of film exhibitors, who saw an audience where other chains saw a risky investment. While their innovative thinking about exhibition models was not enough to save the theater, we can look to the Baldwin as the site where a new movement in film exhibition, and indeed a new turn in film culture more generally, began.
In this paper, I chart the construction of a new black cinema in the United States, beginning in the wake of the Baldwin’s closure. Over time, an alternative exhibition circuit with over 100 screens nationwide would emerge, adapting the model of the suburban megaplex to the inner city. I argue in this paper that by recognizing and targeting this underserved audience, these exhibitors have created a market niche that has sustained robust growth. Using box office data collected from a Chicago-based chain of these theaters, I show how this has affected the direction that commercially distributed “black film” has taken over the past fifteen years, arguing that the establishment of these new theatrical venues has allowed new types of cinema forms to become commercially viable.[/wpspoiler]
[wpspoiler name=”“Mapping the Impacts of Gentrification on the Cinema.”
The City: Culture, Society, Technology. Vancouver, BC. November 7, 2009.” style=”smoothness”]Insert abstract here[/wpspoiler]
[wpspoiler name=”“Considering the Movie Theater as a Retail Concept.”
2009 Conference of the Midwest Popular Culture Association. Detroit, MI. October 31, 2009.” style=”smoothness”]My purpose with this paper is to suggest a model for considering the recent history of motion picture exhibition that emphasizes its relationship to broader trends in retail. This work comes out of a longer ongoing research project on the relationship between cities and film over the last two decades, and underscores a key finding of that work, which is that we can better understand rapid changes in the city and in the cinema by considering the two in the context of one another.
With this talk, I will first consider the historical precedent for this approach to thinking about the cinema, looking at two distinct eras of film history. From there, I will turn to discuss two specific case studies in the contemporary urban film exhibition market, arguing that we see echoes of the historical mutual dependency between the two in the present moment.[/wpspoiler]

The Cinema of Gentrification in the Contemporary North American Motion Picture Industry.”
2009 Conference of the Society of Cinema and Media Studies. Tokyo, Japan. May 23, 2009.

(Conference cancelled; paper rescheduled for 2010.) Insert abstract here

“Thinking Globally, Viewing Locally: Cinematic Transformation in the Age of Globalization.”
Medium to Medium Symposium. Hosted by the Center for Screen Cultures, Northwestern University. Evanston, IL. May 1, 2009.

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“Cinema-Going in Contemporary Shanghai.”
2009 Urban Representations Conference. Hosted by East China Normal University. Shanghai, China. March 12, 2009.

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“Media Industries and Media Studies” (panelist).
2008 Flow Conference. Austin, TX. October 10, 2008.

My contention is that histories of media in the age of convergence err too often on the side of emphasizing production. There is a tendency, particularly among those of us concerned about the possible ramifications of consolidation on the media landscape, to regress to shooting fish in a barrel, wherein we pass off as media studies the simple enumeration of instances of “synergy” in corporate-owned media. Merely recognizing that conglomerates have worked to systematically control “content” is ultimately of limited critical utility, however. Instead, I would suggest that we bring a reception-oriented framework to bear on media consolidation, in an effort to more productively answer the question of how this has affected the media audience. That Pixar and ABC share a corporate parent is not salient in itself; rather, we should determine saliency as function of the extent to which consolidation has appreciable effects on the audience.

Madea and the Cinema of Displacement.”
2008 Conference of the Midwest Popular Culture Association. Cincinnati, OH. October 4, 2008.

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“The Cinema of the Urban Peripheral Megaplex.”
2008 Fall Graduate Symposium. Hosted by the School of Communication, Northwestern University. Evanston, IL. September 27, 2008.

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“Cinematic Visions of Place: Chicago.”
2008 Annual Northeast Historic Film Symposium. Bucksport, ME. July 25, 2008.

To talk about “the city” after the rise of modernity is to confront the problem of vastness, of a scale so large as to render futile any individual attempt to apprehend the city in its totality. The urban experience instead becomes a process of making sense from within a vast sea of potential meaning. Urbanist Kevin Lynch described this process as “legibility”; for him, it was primarily a visual phenomenon (as the word’s root would suggest), a product of the ease with which a city could be perceived and put into visual order by its inhabitant. Indeed, his classic study on the topic, The Image of the City, trades on the double-entendre of its title; legibility is a function of the inhabitant’s “mental image” of the city, which is itself influenced by the visual qualities of the urban physical environment (which he terms its “imageability”).
The goal of Lynch’s book was to explore the effects of various urban planning schemes on city residents. Yet the paradigm of legibility that he introduces also lends itself to a consideration of how this process of meaning-making plays out within the context of the city film. With this paper, I examine how two particular films explore the relationships between and among inhabitant, city and environment. In both instances, I find that the filmmakers show us how the terrain and built environment of the city contribute significantly to our efforts to make sense of the places in which we live.
In Conrad Friberg’s Halsted Street, an early documentary of life along the titular street in Chicago, the director begins with a single formal conceit: the camera will always move north. This decision thus implicates the city of Chicago’s construction of space as a central character within the film; as he moves through otherwise disparate areas within the city (the Union Stockyards, the Hull House, etc.), the physical organization of space is constantly foregrounded via a series of cutaways to street signs, reminding us of the film’s very tactile sense of continuity.
If Friberg tells us much about urban legibility as a function of our interaction with the built environment, E. Hector Coates reminds us of the urban dweller’s historical struggle to tame nature. His untitled film, collected by the University of Chicago and later donated to the South Side Home Movie Project, represents footage taken by an amateur filmmaker of a boat cruise down the Chicago River. As in Halsted Street, the most consequential editorial decision is made at the outset of the film, when the boat is pointed in a direction and the camera starts to roll.
Taken together, the films invite a similar set of questions. Most significantly, each film asks how we (as inhabitants, as filmmakers, as film audiences) render cities legible and memorable. If we believe that cinematic representations of the city have come to influence our perceptions of urban space, then these films raise the question of how the city can come to shape its own cinematic representation.

“Considering the Audience: Documentary Film and the Reception of the Real.”
2008 Conference of the National Popular Culture Association. San Francisco, CA. March 19, 2008.

My argument with this paper is that documentary film maintains a unique potential to assert a special relationship with the real to its audience. Though this capacity was a foundational assertion of the original documentary film theorists, the idea was widely dismissed in the 1970s and 1980s. During that time, many writers re-examined the documentary film and concluded that it possessed no special claims to the truth; Christian Metz’s declaration that “every film is a fiction film” was representative of the prevailing attitude that the constructed nature of the documentary film precluded it from making claims to veracity.
My contention here is that we err in focusing solely on the process of construction when we consider the documentary’s assertion of a nonfiction status. Rather, we should additionally consider the process of reception and the attitudes and expectations of the audience when we debate these claims, as the special place that documentary film holds within the discourse is due largely to these attitudes and expectations. This argument follows from work done by Noël Carroll and Dirk Eitzen, among others, on the “indexing” of documentary film and the consequences of such classifications for the audience.
Specifically here, I aim to show how an approach to documentary film that foregrounds audience reception can render legible the potentially problematic classification of political documentary films as nonfiction. I hope to demonstrate how the indexing of a film as a documentary determines the frame of reception for the audience and establishes the criteria by which the truth claims made by the film can be evaluated.

“Contrasting Different Models for New Urban Cinemas in the 2000s: A Case Study.”
2008 Conference of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. Philadelphia, PA. March 9, 2008.

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“Try to See it My Way: Considering Social Issue Documentary Films Along the Vertical Axis.”
2007 Conference of the Midwest Popular Culture Association. Kansas City, MO. October 14, 2007.

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Medium Cool and the City Street.”
Media Fields: Explorations of Media and Space. Hosted by the Department of Film and Media Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara, CA. April 6, 2007.

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University of Calgary, Department of Communication and Culture

Undergraduate Program Committee 2011-present

Society for Cinema and Media Studies

Urban Studies Scholarly Interest Group, co-founder and co-chair 2010-present
Scholarly Interest Group Co-ordinating Committee, co-chair 2011-present