Channel 4 Television and British Film Culture: an assessment of the broadcaster's film policy and programming, and its impact on British film culture.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Portsmouth
Department Name: School of Creative Arts Film and Media

Abstract

In 2007 Channel 4's 25th birthday was marked by a number of reappraisals of its broadcasting legacy. Yet its innovation in film sponsorship & programming scarcely received mention. At a time when Channel 4's future as a public service broadcaster is again in the media spotlight, this project directs attention specifically to its unique contribution to film culture in Britain. Following the completion of their AHRC-funded project 'British Cinema in the 1970s' (on which Dr Justin Smith was Co-investigator), film & television historians at the University of Portsmouth are ideally placed to embark on this new research which adopts an original historical approach to the relations between television & film.

In the wake of the 1977 Annan Report, Channel 4's charter made the promotion of film part of its working remit. Film on 4 broke new ground in directly funding feature film production for television broadcast & selective cinema release. But Channel 4's coverage of film culture (from magazine programmes to avant-garde seasons, from cutting-edge documentary to experimental animation) went further still in realising its ambition to promote diversity & minority interests. It also established a distribution arm (Film 4 International). From 1998 to 2006, it pioneered a subscription film service on its digital network (Film4) - another innovative enterprise in the context of a rapidly changing global television marketplace.

This 4-year project assesses Channel 4's impact on British film culture over 25 years. It will consist of 2 elements. The substantive part of the study, at the University of Portsmouth, will comprise 2 full-time PhDs, a major conference & website. The first doctoral project will research film policy, commissioning, programming & scheduling; it will provide the institutional & economic context & map the extent of Channel 4's broadcast coverage of film. The second PhD will attend to Channel 4's sponsorship of original feature film. It will survey films produced over the period & focus upon a number of case studies (incoporating their production histories, financial packages, distribution & exhibition arrangements & critical reception) in order to assess the cultural & aesthetic influence of Channel 4's films. Channel 4 has agreed to assist the project in facilitating interviews with current & former commissioning editors for Film. The conference (in yr2) will invite academics, TV & film industry personnel, & policy-makers, to debate the responsibilities & approaches of public service broadcasting to film culture in Britain, from the advent of Channel 4 to emerging internet film download environments. The conference proceedings will be published on a UoP website will which also showcase the project's work to a wider public. The final project outcome (in yr4) will be a monograph by the Principal Investigator (PI), Dr Justin Smith, entitled Channel 4 and British film culture.

The second, subsidiary, element of this project, sub-contracted to the Research Executive (RE) at the British Universities Film & Video Council, will be to produce a database of Channel 4's weekly Press Information Packs (1982-2004) under an agreement with Channel 4. Reporting to the PI, the RE, alongside the PhD students, will develop methods of interrogating this data primarily in order to gather information about film programming & broadcast film reviews. But, with agreed input from Channel 4, they will also reflect on the methodology used & demonstrate the wider potential of this digital resource for future media researchers. The database & full research context will be published (in yr3) & maintained on the BUFVC's website for the benefit of the UK HE community after the main project is completed. The project's findings, via book & web publications, will reach an audience across & beyond academia. The conference will provide a forum for opinion formers & policy makers to debate the role of public service broadcasters in film culture.

Planned Impact

Beyond the direct academic benefits of this project, there are a number of potential additional benefits, to a wider constituency, in terms of impact, which derive both from the currency of our project focus and from our collaboration with the British Universities Film & Video Council and Channel 4. The first of these is evident in the intention to invite to the conference in September of year 2, participants (including potential keynote speakers) from Channel 4, the BBC and ITV, the Film Council, Ofcom, government and journalists. Our contact at Channel 4 (Rosie Gleeson, the broadcaster's archivist) is facilitating negotiations with their current Head of Drama Tessa Ross to open proceedings. The purpose of seeking industry and parliamentary involvement is to broaden and update the scope of our survey of Channel 4's contribution to British film culture by taking into account related topical issues such as internet broadcasting and film. Delegates might consider the continuing success of Channel 4 in film sponsorship and international co-production and distribution (most notably the recent, Oscar-winning, Slumdog Millionaire) in the context of the outcome of current debates about the Channel's funding position, in the wake of Lord Carter's Digital Britain report and Ofcom's deliberations. What will its future financial status mean for its public service remit generally, and its policy towards film in particular? The conference may consider its influence in the realm of film sponsorship and distribution upon other rivals (including the BBC), and wider policy implications in a rapidly changing television marketplace. To this extent, our conference will provide a forum and an agenda for industry personnel, opinion-formers and policy-makers to air their views. Thus, the project's central investigation would provide a stimulus, in terms of impact, to industry personnel and policy-makers; and, via the project website and media publicity, bring it to wider public attention.

The second area of impact comes from the BUFVC's digitisation of Channel 4's Press Information Packs (1982-2004) which the project fund-holder at UoP will commission. Under the terms of an agreement between Channel 4 and BUFVC of September 2007, the BUFVC can only publish this data for the use of the UK HE community. However, Channel 4 is very interested in being engaged with the digitisation project and has already expressed a willingness to participate in and comment on the beta-testing phase of development. Whilst Channel 4, since 2004, has published its own weekly Press Packs online, the format in which this information now exists has none of the data complexity or interrogative potential which the BUFVC will bring to the 1982-2004 dataset. A possible future impact, therefore, could reside in collaboration (within 3 years of project completion) between the BUFVC and Channel 4 over technological convergence, since the broadcaster is seeking to consolidate its archival and information capabilities due to financial constraints.

Thirdly, the PI is party to a framework agreement of July 2007 between the University of Portsmouth and the BUFVC in the interests of pursuing mutually beneficial research collaborations. The BUFVC has a well-established track record in meta-data handling and web publication in the fields of film and television and brings considerable technical and intellectual expertise to this sub-contracted service. The co-investigators at the University of Portsmouth and the BUFVC's Reseach Executive have met with Channel 4's archivist, securing the broadcaster's support for the project and willingness to co-operate with the investigation. At this stage we are confident of the productive potential of this three-way relationship for the purposes of the present project and its possible future impact, which might pave the way for future collaborati

Publications

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Blanchard S (2013) The Two Faces of Channel Four: Some Notes in Retrospect in Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television

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Franklin I (2013) Interview Dossier in Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television

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Franklin I (2019) Precursor of Pride: The Pleasures and Aesthetics of Framed Youth in Open Library of Humanities

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Franklin I (2013) Sex, Youth & Video Tape: Turn it Up and The Struggle to be Heard in Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television

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Franklin, I (2014) Queer Youth and Media Cultures

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Long P (2013) 'What We're Trying to Do is Make Popular Politics': The Birmingham Film and Video Workshop in Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television

 
Description This project has compiled a history of Channel 4's contribution to British film culture since 1982. With unprecedented access to Channel 4's own archives and having conducted over 30 interviews with current and former employees and film industry personnel, the project has charted both the origins of Channel 4's intervention in the British film industry and assessed its impact in both economic and cultural terms. The project has found that Channel 4 pioneered a model of cultural subsidy in respect of British film production and talent development, which has since been emulated by BBC Films and which Lord Chris Smith's 2012 government review of film policy held up as a vital and exemplary model for public broadcasters' contribution to UK film culture. Much of the success of this model, according to the project's finding, can be attributed to the flexibility inherent in Channel 4's commercial structure as a publisher-broadcasters and its public service remit, as well as the stewardship of a number of key personnel in commissioning and other roles.
Exploitation Route The project's relationship with Channel 4's archivists and its interviews with key personnel have done much to enhance the commercial broadcaster's view of its own history in respect of film culture, and develop the potential of its archival holdings. It has also contributed material which may be used to inform the Film4 website. There are plans to produce a fully-illustrated complete filmography of Film4 for publication aimed at a mainstream, non-academic readership.
Sectors Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://bufvc.ac.uk/tvandradio/c4pp
 
Description Our research team has had unprecedented access to Channel 4's archive. Our work has caused Channel 4 to change its approaches to the cataloguing and preservation of material. They have been alerted, by our methods, to the additional significance of contextual material about programme content; they have discovered material of which they had no record, or which had remained uncatalogued. Producing a digital database of Channel 4's weekly press information packs (1982-2002), in collaboration with the British Universities Film and Video Council, has influenced how the Channel maintains and presents its current online programme information and listings. Our project brokered a business relationship between Channel 4 and Cambridge Imaging Systems which led to the establishment of the Screen Ocean website for the commercial management of Channel 4's programme content archive. Our project interviews and other research data have been used by Channel 4 to inform changes to the Film4 website in order to enhance its historical profile. Our project microsite hosted on the BUFVC's website has caused the BUFVC to re-think its approach to presenting archival material for non-academic audiences. We are currently in talks with Channel 4 about exploiting our archival and interview research to co-produce a fully-illustrated, complete filmography of thirty years of Film4 for joint publication in 2016.
First Year Of Impact 2010
Sector Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Policy & public services

 
Description Impact on Channel 4 Information and Archives services
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Title BUFVC Channel 4 Press Packs digital archiving tools 
Description The British Universities Film & Video Council (BUFVC) has been working in partnership with the University of Portsmouth (UoP) to digitize the run of Channel 4 press information packs from 1982 to 2002 for 'Channel 4 and British Film Culture'. It has been a really positive and stimulating experience that has changed the way in which we structure our development work and how we produce our online resources. A key aspect within the project was the integration of the Principal Investigator, the Research Assistant and the two PhDs within every stage of the digitization process in order to support and inform research through increased digital literacy. Although this required more investment in time and training, it enabled us to effectively empower the research team to make key decisions and expand activities within the development of the online resource. For example, we have given UoP team full editing privileges to the site interface so that they are fully engaged in the design and presentation of their research. This delegation is a substantial change in our work practice, previously we would have collated this information and implemented it ourselves. As a result, it has helped us to consider these research partnerships in a new light. This pivotal change in our working relationship has compelled us to work through issues at both a conceptual level, the integration of data and content within an online resource and practical level, such as the presentation of text heavy material within a timeline. This increased level of engagement has given us more confidence that the resource will fully meet the needs and expectations of researchers since they have truly been integral to its design and development. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2013 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Reports from other researchers of the usefulness of this resource. Report from Channel 4 Press Office of usefulness of resource. Website Analytics indications of usage. 
URL http://bufvc.ac.uk/tvandradio/c4pp
 
Title Channel 4 Archival Research 
Description Since the completion of the funded research project access gained through the project to Channel 4's archive, via their archives and information manager, has informed new research 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Additional publications (forthcoming) were made possible via this route. 
 
Title Channel 4 Press Packs 
Description Project partners, the British Universities Film and Video Council, have digitised the complete back-run of Channel 4's weekly press information packs (1982-2002) under an agreement with Channel 4 as part of the funded research output of this project. The database, currently in its beta-test phase, will be published to HEI subscribers at the end of 2013. An open-access contextual website about the project Channel 4 and British film culture, will accompany this database on the BUFVC's website beyond the lifetime of the project. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2013 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Channel 4 Press Office Impact Impact Context Channel 4's press office was aware, from the start, of the plan to digitise the back-run of weekly press information packs. The BUFVC already held a substantial number of these printed packs, but Channel 4's press office supplied some missing copies and their staff were keen that the resource, which wouldn't have been a priority for Channel 4 itself, should be produced. "The Press Information Project is an excellent resource, cataloguing Channel 4's rich and varied programming and schedules. It provides a clear and accessible archive of Channel 4's listings and press information on a week-by-week basis as well as a very helpful search facility - invaluable given the scope and history of the channel. The facility to pinpoint programmes and individuals to specific dates and shows offers a great resource. The 'library' is therefore both expansive and in-depth as well as detailed and specific." Johnny Law, Press Office, Channel 4 "Having the entire backlog of press packs available online is an exceptionally useful facility for us to have available. To have the ability to search our entire back catalogue by programme title, publicist, talent or phrase is a godsend - it can literally save hours of trawling around looking for information. As such, it is both a fascinating historical resource and a highly practical research tool". Benjie Goodhart, Press Office, Channel 4 
URL http://bufvc.ac.uk/tvandradio/c4pp
 
Description Partnership with British Universities Film and Video Council 
Organisation British Universities Film and Video Council
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The British Universities Film and Video Council are signatories to a collaborative partnership agreement with the University of Portsmouth which has underpinned this research project. The BUFVC has digitised the full back-run of Channel 4's weekly press information packs and produced a searchable database of this publication for the benefit of other researchers in the field. In turn, this resource has proved a crucial source of information for the project's substantive study of Channel 4 and British film culture. The project team has produced an open access microsite which will be hosted on the BUFVC's website and will showcase the project and the press packs resource beyond the lifetime of the project. The partnership has further produced new insights in the value of this print resource through the process of digitisation and has engaged with ways of transforming the project's findings for the benefit of non-academic audiences.
Collaborator Contribution The BUFVC digitised their holdings of Channel 4's weekly press information packs which was one of the major digital outputs of the project. They host this searchable database on their website along with the research context provided by the project resources. They provide sustainability and long-term impact opportunities.
Impact The aforementioned database on the BUFVC website
Start Year 2010
 
Description 'Born Risky: Channel 4 and the Red Triangle' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact A paper about Channel 4's short-lived experimental on-screen warning system to accompany the screening of films containing material unsuitable for some viewers. Useful discussions ensued. The presentation of feature film on television has had a chequered history. There have been debates about aspect ratios, commercial breaks, cutting to fit schedules and censorship itself. As Alan Sapper, General Secretary of the film and television workers union ACTT, wrote in 1982: 'A cinema film is a totally different product when shown in a cinema than when it is cut to size for television showing'.
Channel 4's Red Triangle experiment of 1986-7 was a response to tabloid press alarms about some late-night adult programme content which dogged the early years of the channel's life. The IBA supported the trialing of an on-screen warning symbol to accompany a season of international art-house feature films. However, a symbol designed to warn some viewers off was always likely to attract more than might otherwise have stayed up to watch. And more unwanted publicity ensued.
The 'red triangle season' began with Claude Faraldo's critically acclaimed surreal black comedy Themroc (France, 1972), starring Michel Piccolo as a middle-aged worker who suddenly throws off all sexual, social and political inhibitions. Mary Whitehouse described it as 'One-and-a-half hours of unadulterated assault on the senses containing the glorification and enjoyment of mindless violence'.
Access to Bournemouth University's IBA archives, Channel 4's weekly press information packs and the ITC's press cuttings has enabled the 'behind-the-scenes' story of this short-lived experiment to be told for the first time. It provides an interesting example of cinema's challenge to the restrictions of the small screen.

The editor of the Journal of British Cinema and Television was in the audience and we discussed the planned publication of an article based on my paper in a forthcoming special issue devoted to the project (published in October 2014).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.euppublishing.com/doi/abs/10.3366/jbctv.2014.0230
 
Description 'Collaborating in the Archives: Channel 4, University of Portsmouth and the BUFVC' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact An invited panel presentation about the value of academic/industry collaborative partnerships at the AHRC's Creative Economy Showcase event, London, 12 March 2014.

This session introduced the project's digital resource, the Channel 4 Press Information Packs website, as a case study in the mutual benefits of developing academic/industry partnerships within the creative economy, and demonstrate the value of these rela
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/News-and-Events/Events/Pages/The-AHRC-Creative-Economy-Showcase-2014.aspx
 
Description 'Great films you know, great films you don't': More than 30 years of Film4 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Public Lecture given by Dr Laura Mayne
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description 'Television Industries and the Production of Film Culture: Interventions in the UK Context' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact 20 fellow academics from a range of international institutions were stimulated by our presentations which gave an account of the creative intervention of television in the film industry in the UK context.

Dialogue with colleagues in response to audience questions
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.cmstudies.org/?page=conference
 
Description 'We Need To Talk About Subsidy: Television and the UK Film Industry' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Invited seminar paper given at the research group of the Birmingham Media School. In 2012 Chris Smith's Film Policy Review recognized and praised the role played by Public Service Broadcasters (Channel 4 and the BBC) in supporting British film production. Alongside Lottery Funding (now distributed by the BFI), this form of investment subsidy finances (or part-finances) half the films produced annually in the UK. This paper asks whether, as two sides of this subsidy triangle, the distinctive identities of Film4 and BBC Films have been lost. On the one hand, both the PSBs' film departments invest heavily in development; on the other hand, both pursue the holy grail of international breakout success. Is a subsidised UK film culture (like those of other European countries) really the lifeblood which sustains indigenous film art? Or does television's involvement in film restrict the definition of independence in a domestic market where British film still struggles to find adequate distribution?

In addressing these questions, the paper will consider how the history and development of Film4 specifically, is instructive in exploring the relationship between aesthetics, economics, audience and risk in British film culture.


Discussions which emanated from closing Q & A caused me to reflect on the definition of subsidy in ways which have since impacted on my research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://bufvc.ac.uk/tvandradio/c4pp/the-project/channel-4-conferences/other-conferences
 
Description BBC Radio interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Principal Investigator, Dr Justin Smith, contributed to a piece on BBC Radio Scotland's 'Good Morning Scotland' news programme on 2 November 2012 about Channel 4's 30th anniversary.

Although the potential reach of this impact, in terms of public engagement, was high, there were no tangible, specific impacts which resulted.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0074hf7
 
Description Channel 4 and British Film Culture 30th Anniversary Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact A conference held on 1 & 2 November 2012 at BFI Southbank in London to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Channel 4's launch on 2 November 1982. This event brought together media academics and industry personal to assess the legacy of Channel 4's contribution to British film culture and the future of its role as a public service broadcaster supporting British film.

The conference had media impacts (eg radio interviews), it provided important networking opportunities with fellow academics and invited industry professionals which led to further interviews and contributed to the project's research agenda and impact.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
URL http://bufvc.ac.uk/articles/channel-4-thirty-years-later
 
Description Channel 4 and British Film Culture: (E)merging Methodologies in Film and Television Studies 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Invited paper presented to the Institute of Historical Research Film History seminar at the University of London's Senate House, 14 February 2013.

Discussions ensued afterwards about developing methodologies in the relationship between between film and television industries research, which has since had far-reaching consequences for collaborative study in the field.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.history.ac.uk/events/seminars/116
 
Description European Network for Cinema and Media Studies Conference, Lisbon, 2012 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact The project team presented a 4-paper panel to this international conference in June 2012. HOW BRITAIN LEARNED TO LOVE EUROPE: BRITISH TELEVISION AND EUROPEAN FILM CULTURE, 1982-1996
Chair: t.b.a.

Justin Smith (Portsmouth)
British television and European film co-production policy

Rachael Keene (Portsmouth)
Channel 4's Visions: a European style of film programme?

Laura Mayne (Portsmouth)
From Cannes to Berlin: Examining the importance of film festivals in promoting Channel 4 films in Europe

Anne Woods (Portsmouth)
No Cannes Do


This panel presentation sparked some very fruitful post-presentation discussions which led to further collaborations with other scholars working in the field.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL http://bufvc.ac.uk/tvandradio/c4pp/the-project/channel-4-conferences/other-conferences
 
Description Next steps for the UK film industry¬†-¬†implementing the Film Policy Review 17th July 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Networking opportunities. Spoke with Sue Bruce-Smith, Head of Commercial and Brand Strategy at Film4. Useful discussions with her about our forthcoming project monograph.

Two major ideas emerged which will be key to future research. Firstly, the reluctance of UK broadcasters (beyond Channel 4 and BBC) to respond to the request of the Film Policy Review to invest in UK film. Secondly, the diminishing value of broadcast and DVD rights with the rise of on-demand services.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.westminsterforumprojects.co.uk/forums/publications/Film_Industry_July14.pdf
 
Description Southern Broadcasting History Group seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Members of the Southern Broadcasting History Group visited the University of Portsmouth on 2 April 2012 for a presentation by members of the Channel 4 and British film culture project team.

Southern Broadcasting History Group Event
On 2nd April 2012 the AHRC-funded Channel 4 and British Film Culture project, based at the University of Portsmouth's School of Creative Arts, Film and Media, hosted a meeting of the Southern Broadcasting History Group (SBHG), convened by the School's Dr. Laurel Forster. The SBHG is an informal research network of academics based at Universities in Southern England and Wales, as a means to collaborate and initiate research projects. The day began with an update on recent activities, including work on transnational TV; docudrama; interactive television; and digitization projects such as EU Screen and the BBC's Genome project. As it was the exact 30th anniversary of the start of the Falklands War, members then gave fascinating short papers relating to maritime history and media. Subjects included the Titanic and radio communications; media coverage of the Falklands War; and Southern TV's OB ship 'The Southerner'!
After a coffee break it was time for the project team to make their contributions. PhD student Rachael Keene presented a paper on the C4 experimental film strand Midnight Underground (1993-1997), exploring the scheduling and marketing of experimental film and late-night viewing 'zones'. After (an extremely good) lunch, PhD student Laura Mayne gave a paper which examined Channel 4's changing film policy between 1982 and 1998, and the way in which the Film on Four strand has often been emblematic of the channel's evolving commercial imperatives and public service commitments. Finally, the project's Research Assistant Dr Ieuan Franklin gave a paper on the influence of cultural studies on the (independent film and video) workshop movement of the 1980s, with reference to the formation of the Black Audio Film Collective at Portsmouth Polytechnic. The project generated a good deal of interest, and the event was enjoyed by all. Thanks are due to Dr Justin Smith (the project's PI) and Dr. Lincoln Geraghty (Director of the University's Centre for Cultural and Creative Research) for their support for and sponsorship of the event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL http://bufvc.ac.uk/tvandradio/c4pp/the-project/channel-4-conferences/other-conferences