Gertjan Willems

Gertjan Willems

Participant in 2012

Phd Projects


Images of a Nation. Multi-Method Historical Research on Policy and Nation-Building in Flemish Feature Films

The PhD project ‘Images of a nation. A multi-method historical research on policy and nation-building in Flemish feature films’ examines the relationship between cinema, state and nation. This project feeds into a conception of nationalism which states that nations and nationalism are social and discursive constructions (e.g., Connor, 1994; Gellner, 2006; Hobsbawm, 1990; Smith, 1994). Following Benedict Anderson (1999), the concept of a nation is further considered as an ‘imagined community’. Within this socially constructed imaginary society, (mass)media products play an extremely important role, for which they are often regulated by political and administrative instruments or organisations. The project focuses on how film, as a popular mass entertainment medium, relates to the concept of nation-building, and which role the state, represented by different types of state organisations or policy bodies, plays in this context. In this, we contribute to relatively recent trends in the international literature on media and nation-building, where the influence of the state or government bodies is central (see, among others, Druick, 2007; Hayward, 2005; Higson, 1995; Schlesinger, 1991). Furthermore, the project focuses on Flanders, which, because of its (recent) political history, is a very interesting case in terms of nation-building. This study involves four major research sections. (I) First, through an analysis of legislative and public policy documents concerning film, the history of Flemish film policy is mapped out. Special attention is paid to how different state or government actors and bodies have tried to formulate nation-building ideas and processes through film policy. (II) The dissection of this official discourse on Flemish film is continued in the second research section. By exploring original archive material, policy documents concerning concrete film projects and subsidy decisions are analysed. (III) This study of Flemish film policy is further examined through expert interviews with policy-makers, filmmakers and other relevant witnesses. The interviews deal with both broader film policy perspectives and identity questions, as well as with specific selections, possible interferences in the production of concrete film projects and (in)formal contacts with the filmmakers. A special focus is placed on how film policy tried to guide, in any way, the image of a Flemish nation or identity. (IV) These expert interviews are also used to complement the fourth and final research section, in which an in-depth production, textual and reception analysis of a selection of films is carried out.

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