Major Debates in Film Theory (EAF1501)

StaffDr Debra Ramsay - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module aims to introduce you to a series of major debates in film theory from issues of realism and film language to stardom and genre. The module will familiarize you with these theoretical approaches, situate them in the broader development of Film Studies as an academic discipline, and demonstrate how these theories might productively be applied to analyze film texts in new and different ways.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. demonstrate an understanding of key interventions and developments in film theory (realism, digital cinema, authorship, genre)
  • 2. demonstrate skills in applying film theory to reading film as a visual medium
  • 3. demonstrate an understanding of the significance of these theoretical approaches in the wider development of film studies as an academic discipline.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. demonstrate an ability to analyse film from different periods and to relate its concerns and its modes of expression to the creation of meaning within the filmic text.
  • 5. demonstrate skills in the close formal, thematic, generic, and authorial analysis of different kinds of films.
  • 6. demonstrate skills in the research and evaluation of relevant critical and historical materials for the study of film.
  • 7. demonstrate an ability to interrelate texts and discourses specific to their own discipline with issues in the wider context of cultural and intellectual history.
  • 8. demonstrate an ability to understand and analyse relevant theoretical ideas, and to apply these ideas to films.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 9. through seminar work and group presentations, demonstrate communication skills, and an ability to work both individually and in groups.
  • 10. through essay-writing, demonstrate appropriate research and bibliographic skills, a capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument and a capacity to write clear and correct prose.
  • 11. through research for seminars and essays, demonstrate proficiency in information retrieval and analysis
  • 12. through research and, seminar discussion, and essay writing, demonstrate a capacity to make critical use of secondary material, to question assumptions, to distinguish between fact and opinion, and to critically reflect on their own learning process
  • 13. through sitting their final examination, demonstrate proficiency in the use of memory and in the development, organization, and expression of ideas under pressure of time.

Syllabus plan

The module is divided into three blocks.  In the first, we consider ideas of representation, including early ideas of what cinema actually is.  Here we cover theories such as semiotics and realism, and we end this block by considering how digital technologies are shaping current notions of cinema.  The second block concerns various frameworks of meaning that have developed around film, including theoretical concepts such as the auteur and genre.  In the final block, we consider the different ways in which spectators might engage with film, and here we examine theoretical approaches such as psychoanalysis affect, and gender and sexuality.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching activities11weekly one hour lecture
Scheduled learning and teaching activities22weekly 2 hour seminar
Scheduled learning and teaching activities11Two weekly half-hour introductions to screenings
Scheduled learning and teaching activities55two weekly screenings
Scheduled learning and teaching activities111 x 1 hour workshop on a film from the further viewing list OR guided study group work
Guided independent study190Private study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group presentation with written analysis20 minutes1-9, 11-12Cohort feedback in seminars with opportunity for office hours follow-up.

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay451500 words1-8, 10-12Feedback sheet with opportunity for office hours follow-up.
Exam451.5 hours1-8, 12-13Feedback sheet with opportunity for office hours follow-up.
Seminar Participation10Continous1-9, 11-12Oral feedback from tutor and opportunity for office hours follow-up

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-8, 10-12Referral/deferral period
ExamExam1-8, 12-13Referral/deferral period
Seminar ParticipationRepeat Study or Mitigation1-9, 11-12Referral/deferral period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Core Reading:

Baudry, Leo and Cohen, Marshall (eds) (2009), Film Theory and Criticism (5th edition) New York / Oxford: OUP

Casetti, Franceso (1999), Theories of Cinema 1945-1995, Austin: University of Texas

Hill, John and Church-Gibson, Pamela (eds.), The Oxford Guide to Film Studies, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Stam, Robert (2000), Film Theory: An Introduction, Oxford: Blackwell

Stam, Robert and Miller, Toby (eds.), Film and Theory: An Anthology, Malden, Mass., USA, and Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers


Core Viewing:

Citizen Kane (dir. Orson Welles, 1941)

North by Northwest (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)

A Man Escaped  (dir. Robert Bresson, 1956)

District 9 (Dir. Neill Blomkamp, 2009)

Tout va Bien (dir. Jean-Luc Godard, 1972)

Lost in Translation (dir.Sofia Coppola, 2003)

Let the Right One In ["Låt den rätte komma in] (dir. Tomas Alfredson, 2008)

Persona (dir. Ingmar Bergman, 1966)

Fight Club (dir. David Fincher, 1999)

The Mirror [Zerkalo] (dir. Andrei Tarkovsky, 1975)


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Key words search

film, debates, theory