Object Stories intern, Mini Warren, filming at the BDC Museum

Object Stories: Making Films with the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum Collections

Just launched on YouTube, the Object Stories Project involved the creation of short films, in which academics discuss how they use artefacts from the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum (BDC Museum) for their research. Led by Dr Helen Hanson and Dr Lisa Stead (English and Film Studies), the project aimed to develop ways of engaging new audiences by disseminating research online and through social media. The project was funded by a Research & Knowledge Transfer Impact award. 

Working with the museum’s curator, Dr Phil Wickham, Dr Hanson, Dr Stead and Dr Joe Kember sourced a wide range of valuable objects to use in the films. A unique resource, the BDC Museum is based in Heritage Collections at the University of Exeter and holds one of the largest UK collections of material relating to the history of the moving image, containing over 75,000 items.  The collections play a highly significant role in the research of many academics in the College of Humanities, supporting a number of research projects, such as ‘Moving Image and Projected Entertainment in the South-West 1820-1914’ (English and Film Studies) and ‘In Search of Italian Audiences in the 1940s and 1950s’ (Modern Languages).

The Object Stories films feature current research projects in Film Studies which draw upon the BDC collections.  Dr Hanson’s current research investigates the histories of sound technologies, creativity and industry in Classical Hollywood Cinema, and she has recently been awarded a BA/Leverhulme Small Grant to support this project. Her films feature fan magazines, technical publications and other artefacts mapping film sound history.


She said: “The museum is full of sources that have helped me to make sense of the histories of sound, connecting changing technologies with how technicians worked, and how new forms of sound-led storytelling were integrated into film style during the 1930s and 1940s.  Making the Object Stories films allowed me to use the collections in a different way.” 

Dr Joe Kember’s film explores the BDC Museum’s collection of magic lanterns, said: “The collection is filled with treasures, each with a unique story to tell, which makes coming to the Museum to explore such an exciting experience for anyone with an interest in cinema or in visual shows of all kinds.” Dr Kember is currently participating in a European Consortium project ‘A Million Pictures: Magic Lantern Slide Heritage as Artefacts in the Common European History of Learning’ which has been awarded funding from the JPI Heritage Scheme.

The films were made by recent English graduate and student filmmaker, Mini Warren. Mini, who was appointed as an intern for Object Stories through the Student Campus Partnership scheme and funded by RKT, had developed her filmmaking skills through XTV, the University’s award-winning student television station, during her time at Exeter. She worked closely with Dr Hanson, Dr Stead and Dr Kember to map out the stories of different research projects, such as sourcing objects, digitising and filming artefacts, building new online audiences and storyboarding and filming the academics.

For Mini, the BDC Museum was a “treasure trove” and the project was “a fantastic experience. It was inspiring to work with lecturers who have such knowledge and expertise who can really bring academic research to life. For me it was also an excellent opportunity to utilise the skills I gained from my time at Exeter, applying them to the working environment, as well as acquiring new skills for the future.” According to Dr Hanson, Mini has been a valuable asset to the project: “The process of working with Mini to interpret and link the objects on screen refreshed how I thought about the story I was telling in my research, and I was able to explore new ways of working ‘off the page’.” 

Dr Hanson and Dr Stead hope that the project will showcase the important research in film history taking place at Exeter and that it will inspire not only researchers and students, but members of the public to visit the BDC Museum. Dr Stead, whose film features her work on women’s writings about cinemagoing in the interwar years, said:

“With the Object Stories project, we hope to bring greater visibility to our unique collections at Exeter, but also to create new ways of thinking about cinema and visual culture histories. The materials explored in these audiovisual essays take us beyond film texts alone and into the objects and artefacts that constitute a broader cinema culture. In regards to my own research into female audiences and cinema writing, these kinds of ephemeral fragments - papers, pamphlets, collectables and magazines - offer us a really strong sense of the colour and vibrancy of women's early film cultures. Presenting such research through film rather than through the more traditional channels of print allows us to showcase this.”

Dr Stead's film is being screened tonight at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), as part of Onwards and Outwards: I am Dora and She Shark Industries presents “The cinema exists to please women.”     


For more information, visit the BDC Museum website, the YouTube channel and read Dr Lisa Stead’s article on Object Stories on The Humanities Blog. Follow the project through Twitter with the hashtag #objectstories, and via @bdcmuseum.

Date: 4 September 2015

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