Call for Papers: Women, Spectatorship and the Cinema of the Real

by: , December 14, 2020

© Screenshot from Panquiaco (2020) dir. Ana Elena Tejera

In association with the Institute of Contemporary Arts (UK), MAI: Feminism & Visual Culture invites authors with expertise in film—narrative or documentary–-and visual and cultural studies, as well as in related disciplines, to contribute to our new focus issue ‘Women, Spectatorship and the Cinema of the Real’. The issue will be co-edited with Dr Laura Canning from the School of Film & Television at Falmouth University.

Background & Inspiration

The ICA’s annual film festival ‘Frames of Representation’ (FoR) returns for its fifth edition with a programme focussing on the role of spectatorship—a collection of works that explore the spaces between knowledge and participation through the act of viewing.

The festival continues to be an international showcase for the cinema of the real, exploring in-depth the aesthetic and political implications of filmmaking as both a collective practice and an art form. Exploring the spaces between knowledge and participation through the act of viewing, this year’s programme premieres 20 films from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America, as well as discussions and Q&As.

This year, the festival addresses and resists the theoretical separation between (film)makers and audiences, individuals and collectives, referencing the writings of Rancière in The Emancipated Spectator.

Emancipation begins when we challenge the opposition between viewing and acting; when we understand that the self-evident facts that structure the relationship between saying, seeing and doing themselves belong to the structure of domination and subjection … The spectator also acts, like the pupil or the scholar. They observe, select, compare, interpret. They link what they see to a host of other things that they have seen on other stages, in other kinds of places. They compose their own poem with the element of the poem before them. (Rancière 2009: 13)

Documentary and experimental formats—and their intersection—have historically constituted fruitful sites of production for female filmmakers, their subjects, and their audiences. While E. Ann Kaplan could note in 1990 that experimental, realist and avant-garde film all come for the most part from

traditions … initiated and developed by white men… This very exclusion has enabled women filmmakers to become especially sensitive to issues of form and style, and has prevented any blind following of previous conventions … we see women filmmakers in all three categories re-thinking conventions for themselves (Kaplan 1990: 87),

considerable—and vital—work has been done since then on uncovering ‘women’s often uncredited and undocumented participation in their respective cinema cultures … and how to reconceptualize film history to locate the impact of women in that history.’ (Gledhill & Knight, 2015: 2)

Similarly, while semiotic and psychoanalytical models such as those of Johnston (1973) and Mulvey (1975), broke historical ground in unpacking representations and positing the idea of the female (and/or feminist) spectator, these ideas have been themselves subject to contestation and revision through the decades, from a move towards cultural studies frameworks privileging textual polysemy and audience fluidity in the 1990s to twenty-first-century considerations of subjectivity, the gaze, and spectatorship whose origins are derived from queer theory, cyborg theory, intersectionality, the notion of a digital self, renewed attention to race and power, globalised audiences, and the renewed place of activist feminism.

Hollinger notes that avant-garde and documentary filmmaking ‘do not merely run parallel to dominant cinema, but take a reactive stance that is oppositional in terms of form, content, production and exhibition … as forms of feminist opposition to mainstream filmmaking.’ (Hollinger, 2012: 67)

This call for papers asks for contributions which speak to creative documentary and the cinema of the real in the light of these issues.

Suggested (but not Exclusive) Areas of Examination:

  • Creative and/or critical responses to any of the films screened during the FoR festival 2020
  • Women’s authorial voices as expressed through cinema of the self, creative documentary, and cinema of the real
  • The questioning of traditional hierarchies and structures of seeing, listening and acting, and in particular as related to the creative work and lived experience of women
  • Spectatorship and subject position—including contemporary lived and theoretical challenges to our understanding of the spectator’s role and agency, and in particular the female spectator
  • The work of women in experimental film, experimental documentary, and the cinema of the real, particularly as conceived of as counter-cinema
  • Women’s non-fiction film and creative documentary worldwide, particularly in terms of contributing to a global cinematic grammar and challenging hegemonic paradigms, in production and reception
  • Historical contributions from women to the practice and form of ‘creative documentary’, particularly in global cinema
  • The relationship between presentation and action, in experimental cinema and in the documentary
  • The cinema of the real as an element in collective learning, community and activism, in particular around women’s communities, activism and collaborative practices
  • The idea of the image as a space for the renegotiation of positions of reception and agency, for fluid dynamics rather than dichotomies
  • The cinema of the real as an element in collective learning, community and activism, in particular around women’s communities, activism and collaborative practices
  • Contemporary industrial currents and tendencies in experimental documentary and the cinema of the real, particularly in relation to funding, structural power dynamics, and the potential exclusion/marginalisation of women filmmakers
  • The dissolution and/or reconfiguration of boundaries between the subject and the filmmaker, and considerations of how these reframe our understanding of women’s place as filmmakers and subjects
  • The examination of cinematic space/time in terms of possibilities for imaginative transformation.

300 to 500-word Abstracts Deadline: Abstracts by 10 May 2021

Full Articles Deadline: 30 September 2021

MAI considers submissions in the following formats:

  • academic research articles (6000-8000 words)
  • interviews (1000-3000 words)
  • creative writing (poems, short stories, creative responses, max 3000 words)
  • video essays (5-10 min + a brief supporting statement 800-1000 words)
  • photographs or visual/audiovisual art

All articles will be peer-reviewed.

Proposed publication date: Spring 2022.

MAI formatting guidelines:

Please send your abstracts to


Hollinger, Karen, 2012, Feminist Film Studies, Abingdon & Oxon: Routledge.

Johnston, Claire (ed.), 1973, Notes on Women’s Cinema, London: BFI.

Kaplan, E. Ann, 1990, Women and Film: Both Sides of the Camera, Oxford, UK & NY: Taylor & Francis Group.

Knight, Julia & Christine Gledhill, 2015, Doing Women’s Film History: Reframing Cinemas, Past and Future, Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press.

Kuhn, Annette, 1994, Women’s Pictures: Feminism and Cinema, London: Verso.

Mulvey, Laura, 1989 [1975], ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ in Laura Mulvey, Visual and Other Pleasures, Bloomington: Indiana UP, pp.14-26.

Rancière, Jacques, 2009, The Emancipated Spectator, London: Verso.

Download article


Feeling inspired by MAI? Dedicated to intersectional gender politics in visual culture? Want to keep your feminist imagination on fire? MAI newsletter will help refresh your zeal for feminism with first-hand news on our new content. 

Subscribe below to stay up-to-date.

* We'll never share your email address with any third parties.


The team of MAI supporters and contributors is always expanding. We’re honoured to have a specialist collective of editors, whose enthusiasm & talent gave birth to MAI.

However, to turn our MAI dream into reality, we also relied on assistance from high-quality experts in web design, development and photography. Here we’d like to acknowledge their hard work and commitment to the feminist cause. Our feminist ‘thank you’ goes to:

Dots+Circles – a digital agency determined to make a difference, who’ve designed and built our MAI website. Their continuous support became a digital catalyst to our idealistic project.
Guy Martin – an award-winning and widely published British photographer who’s kindly agreed to share his images with our readers

Chandler Jernigan – a talented young American photographer whose portraits hugely enriched the visuals of MAI website
Matt Gillespie – a gifted professional British photographer who with no hesitation gave us permission to use some of his work
Julia Carbonell – an emerging Spanish photographer whose sharp outlook at contemporary women grasped our feminist attention
Ana Pedreira – a self-taught Portuguese photographer whose imagery from women protests beams with feminist aura
And other photographers whose images have been reproduced here: Cezanne Ali, Les Anderson, Mike Wilson, Annie Spratt, Cristian Newman, Peter Hershey