British Universities Film & Video Council

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Screening European Heritage

Screening European Heritage: History on Film, the Heritage Sector and Cultural Policy

About the Authors:
bangertaDr Axel Bangert (University of Cambridge) has research interests in the fields of film and history, cultural memory of the Nazi past as well as transnational European cinemas. In his doctoral thesis, he examined cinema and television productions about the Third Reich since German reunification, assessing how changes in production, aesthetics and reception have impacted upon widespread images of the Nazi past. Axel Bangert has a longstanding interest in the history and memory of the Holocaust, above all with regard to recent trends in audiovisual representation. In his post-doctoral research project, he develops transnational perspectives on contemporary European cinema. Recent publications include Holocaust Intersections: Genocide and Visual Culture at the New Millennium (2013), edited together with Libby Saxton (Queen Mary, University of London) and Robert Gordon (University of Cambridge)

cookePaul Cooke (University of Leeds) was educated at the University of Birmingham (BA and PhD) and Nottingham (MA) and worked for a year as a Lektor at the University of Cologne and for 3 years as a Lecturer at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. He came to Leeds in September 2002.His research interests include Contemporary German Cinema in its political, aesthetic and industrial context and the role of Hollywood in World Cinema. His publications include: Contemporary German Cinema (2012); Representing East Germany: From Colonization to Nostalgia (2005); The Pocket Essential to German Expressionist Film (2002) and Speaking the Taboo: a study of the work of Wolfgang Hilbig (2000).

stone-robRob Stone (University of Birmingham) is Professor Rob Stone is Chair of European Film and Director of B-Film: The Birmingham Centre for Film Studies. He has published widely on Spanish, Basque, Cuban, European and independent American cinema and has further research interests in film theory and the politics of aesthetics, Modernism, Cubism, Surrealism and Spanish and Basque cultural and visual studies. His publications include: Walk, Don’t Run: The Cinema of Richard Linklater (2013); Julio Medem (2007); Flamenco in the Works of Federico García Lorca and Carlos Saura: The Wounded Throat (2004); Spanish Cinema (2002); with J. D. Gutiérrez-Albilla (eds), The Companion to Luis Buñuel (2013); with L. Shaw (eds), Screening Songs in Hispanic and Lusophone Cinema (2012); with G. Harper (eds), The Unsilvered Screen: Surrealism on Film (2007).


‘Screening European Heritage’ is an AHRC project ( set up to explore the ways in which heritage films across Europe choose to present the continent’s history. Axel Bangert (University of Cambridge), Paul Cooke (University of Leeds) and Rob Stone (University of Birmingham) map the terrain.


In his seminal collection of essays European Cinema: Face to Face with Hollywood (2005), Thomas Elsaesser observes that ‘European cinema distinguishes itself from Hollywood and Asian cinemas by dwelling so insistently on the (recent) past’. And, even if one takes the briefest of looks at the European films most visible to international audiences he would appear to have a point. From Germany’s The Lives of Others  (2006) to the UK’s The King’s Speech (2010), historical dramas dominate mainstream European film production, their impact further increased by the fact that they often generate major national debates on the role of the past in contemporary national identity construction.

An important part of this production trend are so-called ‘heritage films’. This is a term coined by Andrew Higson to describe a cycle of British historical costume dramas produced in the 1980s. Films such as Chariots of Fire (1981) and A Room with a View (1985) were analysed as a new genre, identified by slow-moving, episodic narratives organised around props and settings as much as they were around narrative and characters, and read as part of a national project of nostalgic remembrance celebrating British heritage culture just as the country was undergoing the seismic social shifts of the Thatcher years. At the same time, heritage film was championed by the UK heritage sector, hoping that it would act as a ‘shop window’ for foreign tourists and investment.

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