Ambitious Amateurs – European Amateur Film Clubs in the long 1960s

Julia Wack, Institute for History, University of Luxembourg

23 November 2020


Most of us have starred in amateur films, more than ever since we’ve hit the digital era, a lot of people however still have videos or small gauge films made of our childhood benchmarks, such as first steps, first day at school or family Christmas. These latter formats, 16mm, 8mm, 9.5 mm and super 8, which were permanent and not editable, used to reign the world of non-professional film until the 1980s. Yet, there is much more to ‘amateur film’ than what is categorically regrouped under terms like ‘home movie’ or ‘family film’.

Particularly in the decades immediately following World War II, there was a major surge of amateur film making, due to technical development in mobile cameras, projectors and film material and a decrease in price of the aforementioned equipment. For example, every tenth French household, as well as every fifth German household owned small gauge camera and projection equipment in the late 1950s. In addition to home movie making, the newfound accessibility led to a wave of newly founded amateur film clubs and soaring membership rates during this period. Film making turned from an elitist leisure time activity of the upper class to a popular middle-class hobby.

Figure 1, courtesy of Family Archive Christiane Ensch, Luxembourg.

Worldwide, a target group of mostly middle-aged, middle class men got together in local groups that collectively purchased, or even developed and tuned equipment, and spend an important part of their free time socialising, working on film projects or competing in local, national and international amateur film championships. In case of West Germany this development is not only based on economic rise, but partly on the fact that, after a period of hesitation, the allied powers granted the right to found leisure time associations in the late 1940s/early 1950s. The social life of these clubs went largely beyond film making and included excursions, frequent gatherings and public parties or film soirées.

Figure 2, courtesy of Family Archive Christiane Ensch, Luxembourg.

Considering the role of the amateur film maker as a chronicler of the contemporary, academia has shown increasing interest in amateur film as a research subject of since the 1980s, with Roger Odin and Patricia Zimmermann among its most notable scholars. Amateur filmmakers in organised associations and competitions have – with few notable exceptions[i] – however not been studied extensively, even less in a transnational context. My doctoral research at the University of Luxembourg focuses on the cinematic and socio-cultural practices of such amateur film clubs or societies in the long 1960s (between 1955 and 1975) in the so-called Greater Region: a border region comprising the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, the French-speaking Wallonia in Belgium, Lorraine in Northern France and Saarland in Germany on a comparative transnational level. A financially rather less affluent cultural periphery during that era; economically and culturally united by the heavy industries of the European Coal and Steel Community, but separated by languages, borders and state forms, the amateur film clubs of the Greater Region show striking similarities in terms of production content and activities.

My project is part of a transnational collaboration Popkult60 between Luxembourg and Germany about Popular Culture in the long 1960s. I am thus not only interested in the medium amateur film, but also in the clubs’ social and cinematic practices as a popular cultural expression. Besides the existing body of peer-reviewed literature about amateur film, I use a base of oral history interviews with film club members of the period in question, as well as an analysis of the medium itself and other artefacts, such as equipment and files, provided by the club members and archives, as primary sources. The search for these primary sources proves challenging due to the archive situation of amateur film in most countries and the fact that most amateur film makers of the research period have passed; these obstacles providing an explanation why the subject had underrepresented in academic research for a long period.

Considering that the demographics of these clubs were (and are) largely homogenous, mostly consisting of middle-aged men of the more affluent part of the working class, on the one hand, we encounter a unique insight in this, by academia rather neglected, target group, and on the other hand, access to a source body that is – while comprising diverse genres – equally homogenous on a transnational level in terms of narratives, imagery and design. An important part of the productions are nature documentaries, family films, travel and Sunday excursion films, fewer feature films and very rarely experimental or avant-gardist films.

At this point, the explanation for these preferences seems that most film makers resorted to what is nowadays called ‘scripted reality’. Even despite the increased financial accessibility of the material, the fact that it could not be edited, made it a very valuable resource, and film makers recall that, due to financial constraints, they were frequently confronted with a decision between the purchase of film rolls or a holiday trip. The often heavily staged and directed family or travel films strongly feature the element of the ‘male gaze’ as described by Laura Mulvey, due to the fact that everyday life and its heydays like weddings, birthdays and other festivities were mostly filmed by men. In rare exceptions, the male film makers would direct their wives using the camera, so they could be featured themselves as actors in their own productions.

Figure 3, courtesy of Family Archive Christiane Ensch, Luxembourg.

Only with the invention of Super 8, which was heavily marketed towards women in the mid-60s/70s in what would nowadays be considered rather sexist campaigns, more women took up the camera to film their environment. Nevertheless, female members were mostly playing the role of caterers, accountants or occasionally scriptwriters in film clubs.

Joining forces in amateur film clubs had the advantage of sharing equipment, advice and manpower. Most interviewees who share their memories with me admit that their main interest was the technical aspect of filmmaking and to proceed from the static image of photography to the moving image. Often, amateur film clubs were founded upon initiative of local photography and film equipment shops to enhance their turnover. Being one’s own film director and making a creative, while chronicling, contribution to society, seemed to be part of the democratisation process of the post-war years. Yet, though the mission statements of clubs and associations of the long 1960s cite a pursuit of artistic freedom and encouragement, in reality, their members limited their experimentations mostly to technical advance, such as building their own montage or lighting equipment, or customising professional equipment. Within the club environment, members also worked on extensive collaborative productions, making division of labour a necessity in the departments of camera, lighting, script or scenery.

Participation in local, national and international competitions, such as in UNICA, the world association of amateur film makers, is a factor that led to the members going to great lengths in their film productions. In the late 60s, a slight increase in critical or satiric films, among others political animations could be observed, which might have been encouraged by the increasingly liberal socio-political climate. Nevertheless, their authors frankly admit that they rather made the effort in order to succeed in the competition, than to make a political or artistic impact. Occasionally productions include elements of high culture, such as classical music or poetry, but feature almost exclusively the ‘mainstream’ of the high culture, with one interviewee joking that one year a national competition saw 30 films opening to the overture of Johann Strauß’ operetta ‘Die Fledermaus’.

Figure 4, courtesy of Family Archive Christiane Ensch, Luxembourg.

The amateurs were producing largely for the reception and recognition of their peers, but adopting well known codes of mass culture which also work for a general audience. This approach only seems to differ in large centres of cultural production such as New York City, where amateur film and artistic production as well as commercial film, had an impact on each other, considering the œuvre of the likes of Andy Warhol, Jonas Mekas or Michelangelo Antonioni; these exceptions remain very rare on a global scale and are therefore even more remarkable in their few cases among most amateur film clubs.

In my current research, it appears that, while the amateur film club scene in France was very active, the North-Eastern department of Lorraine is to be a major exception: With a few striking exceptions, little production within a club context is recorded between 1960 and 1980. Consulting Roger Odin, whose contributions were pioneering in the studies of amateur film, about his opinion regarding Lorraine, he noted that this area had always been less active in competitions. Yet, bearing in mind the economic similarities between the fellow regions of the Greater Region, no convincing reason could yet be found for the striking difference between the amateur film landscapes of Lorraine and the other regions. Following Odin’s advice, I’d like to further explore whether Lorraine-based amateurs were preferring the family context to the club environment.

While the German Saarland was more active during the research period, most clubs have meanwhile ceased official activities. This is in stark contrast to Luxembourg and the Belgian Wallonia where an important number of the clubs that were active in the long 1960s still exists nowadays, in the latter under the predicate ‘royal’, signifying 50 years of club activity. Another interesting fact that I am trying to analyse is, that, despite language not being an barrier for their members, Luxembourgish clubs seem to not have had closer collaborations or exchange with clubs in France or Belgium, whilst in the case of the German Saarland, the Luxembourgish Amateur Film Federation had several close ties and was even instrumental in the establishment of the local association of clubs – a remarkable fact shortly after World War II.

In the future I hope to connect my findings with the results of fellow international researchers in order to establish a transnational overview of the creation of amateur film and clubs, hoping to assist UNICA and the European association for the conservation of amateur film, INEDITS, in their respective work.


[i] Compare for instance Ryan Shand, “Amateur Cinema: History, Theory, and Genre (1930-80)”, University of Glasgow, 2007; Melinda Stone and Dan Streible, ‘Small-Gauge and Amateur Film’, in Film History, 15:2 (2003), 123-125; Laurence Allard, ‘Espace public et sociabilité esthétique’, in Communications, 68 :1 (1999), 207-237


Julia Wack is a 3rd year PhD candidate at the University of Luxembourg’s Institute for History. Her research focuses on socio-cultural aspects of amateur film clubs in the long 1960s in the Greater Region (BE/LU/FR/DE). After studies of History, Art History, Archaeology and Cultural Management in Cologne (DE) and Maastricht (NL), Julia spent 15 years organising and contributing to large scale exhibition projects, publications, film series and festivals in Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, UK, Switzerland, Romania, France and Luxembourg (selection: Projekt Migration (DE), 2003-2006; Manifesta 9 (BE/NL), 2012; Eppur si Muove (LU), 2015). Most recently Régisseur des Expositions at Mudam  and Communication Coordinator at CinEast Festival (both LU), her main research interests are Popular Culture, Performance, Film, Gender and Esthetics.


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

A Day at the Archives: BBC Written Archives Centre

Tom May, Northumbria University

9 November 2020


Figure 1: Part of a wall display in the locker room of the BBC Written Archives Centre in Caversham (Photo taken by author, 15 January 2020).

 

My last trip to the archives was in January 2020 and it was to the BBC Written Archives Centre in Caversham, near Reading, Berkshire. This wonderful resource was originally opened in November 1970, so is now celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. I was actually due to go again for a couple of days in mid-March, but my better half and bioinformatician Rachel rightly told me in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t best for myself or others for me to travel hundreds of miles down south and back on a train amid the growing public health crisis of Covid-19. It was to take the British government another two weeks or so to start taking the situation anything like as seriously.

But, anyway, for the moment: enough of “These Interesting Times”…! I’ve got an archive to extol. Any researchers of British media, television, history or politics should be chomping at the bit to get inside the unprepossessing white building of the Written Archives Centre whenever this is again possible. Depending on what your research area is, you will be able to access the BBC’s full holdings of micro film, paper files, as well as specialist books on the shelves in the Reading Room and no doubt much else I have yet to discover…

The main thing to be aware of is you will need to book by appointment well in advance to visit. You will be allocated an archivist who will source and bring the archival material you need on a large trolley to the reading room. In a way, this person is like an informal collaborator in how vital their facilitating role is. Across my visits, I have been assisted by two supportive and professional archivists.

Now, I have found the WAC absolutely essential for my personal research: for my PhD, I am writing a history and analysis of BBC1’s influential drama strand Play for Today (1970-84), which is just one month older than the WAC itself! Before I obtained funding to study full time, I had visited the WAC on several occasions in holidays while I was a full-time lecturer in FE. It has always seemed to me like a goldmine, containing not monetisable riches but cultural wealth. To a television and cultural history nerd like myself, this surpasses the Klondike. As well as looking through personnel files and a catalogue of the work of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, I have accessed a full set of audience research reports for The Wednesday Play and Play for Today – which contain the contemporary opinions of the BBC’s carefully calibrated audience panels. As a researcher, you are allowed to photograph such material provided you include the correct copyright card within your photos (either BBC, Crown or third party) and get permission before quoting from or using them in any way.

Figure 2: BBC Audience Research Report of PLAY FOR TODAY: ‘Baby Love’ by David Edgar, 3 December 1974 [BBC WAC, VR/74/651] (accessed: 30 July 2015).

See my article on David Edgar’s unduly neglected Play for Today Baby Love at Royal Holloway’s Forgotten Television Drama website here. Suffice it to say, I am not at one with the ‘small group’ of contemporary viewers who found it ‘sordid and depressing’…

In addition, I have consulted BBC Daily Viewing Barometers – which were records of a whole day’s viewing on every terrestrial channel. These are essential to gain detailed audience data from any programme before October 1981 when the Broadcasters Audience Research Board (BARB) took over and provided one standardised set of audience measurements. I have also treated myself to the recondite delights of the Television Weekly Programme Review minutes. These were meetings where all the senior BBC managers would gather on a Wednesday morning and mull over what the perceived merits and audience figures of the previous week’s BBC TV programming. You can infer occasional personal animosities and, more frequently, turf wars between departmental fiefdoms. You can even chance upon bizarre, stern addendums which signify something about the organisational culture, such as the fifty-ninth and very last minute taken at a meeting on 24 February 1971. This recorded widespread concerns within the BBC that a non-BBC employee and current TV critic had taken to hanging around the BBC canteen ‘unattended’… The tone of this minute seemed coolly indignant, with a touch of Reithian imperiousness. And it named this transgressor: Elkan Allan, who for many years wrote TV previews for the Sunday Times.

Like the TWPR minutes, you can access the full Camera Scripts of television and radio programmes on the micro film machines. These have been significantly upgraded from the more laborious totally manual system they apparently once were. Once you have fastened the tape in place correctly – during my 2019 visit, this proved a steep learning curve! – the pages will now appear digitally on a computer screen and you can use what is an accessible interface to fast forward and rewind through the reel to find what you are looking for. Especially usefully, you can also take snapshots of pages and then get a PDF emailed to yourself. I did this for several of the Camera Scripts from the thirty or so “missing” Play for Today episodes that were taped over for economic reasons by the BBC in the 1970s. These Camera Scripts are practically the only way to get a detailed grasp of these plays’ dramaturgy and the writer’s prescriptions for visuals and tone. It took around 25-45 minutes to go through a whole script and send the emails to myself. Laborious, yes, but a vitally worthwhile process for gathering missing fragments of televisual history.

Figure 3: Small extract from the camera script to PLAY FOR TODAY: ‘Hot Fat’ by Jack Rosenthal, 1974 (accessed: 15 January 2020).

My archivist helpfully located all of the microfilm I needed, including locating the exact position on the microfilm of a Play for Today Camera Script that had been mislabelled on the reel. This showed the intensely skilled nature of the archivist role.

Figure 4: My annotated copy of the sheet specifying the micro-film reels I was looking for.

Due to the large amount of material I wanted to view in my 2019 and 2020 visits, I curtailed my lunch to ten minutes, a Granny Smith’s apple and some water from the locker room tap. In my 2015-17 visits, it had been possible to lunch at the BBC Monitoring canteen within Caversham Park, a Grade II-listed stately home, built in 1850 which the BBC had used during the Second World War and the Cuban Missile Crisis. This was an almost preposterously grand, neo-Classical white building that you were able eat in, provided you obtained a visitor’s pass. But such are the straitened times that the BBC has put it up for sale, in 2017 and again in 2019 after a mystery bidder’s purchase fell through. BBC Berkshire moved out in 2018, ending the BBC’s 75 year use of the building. However, instead, there is the opportunity to fulfil your lunch needs or wants at Bite, an apparently excellent independent café in nearby Emmer Green.

Reading Station is around 37 minutes’ walk from Caversham, but the bus goes from the station to a stop on Peppard Road very close by the Centre. I wouldn’t recommend walking from the WAC to Caversham after the place shuts at 5pm in winter, as the busy roads only have a handful of proper pedestrian crossings with lights! There are plenty of good public houses to enjoy in non-socially distanced times. I have also sampled at least three curry houses on my various visits to Reading and by far my favourite was the one I visited last time: River Spice, overlooking the Thames. The repast was absolutely delicious and I would urge anyone else to go there – and I sincerely hope to go there myself again, when the time is right!

A visit to the cultural motherlode that is the BBC Written Archives Centre is, remarkably, free, given certain conditions. And, not just for UK licence fee payers! Academics worldwide are allowed to visit for research projects, as are those working on specific written publications. I have been fortunate for my 2019 and 2020 visits that my institution, Northumbria University, have kindly paid my train travel and hotel costs. This was massively appreciated given that all of my previous visits were entirely self-funded.

Of course, we are in uncharted territory with a major global pandemic with deeply questionable public health decisions being made by the UK government. So, my recommendations to visit the WAC in Caversham come heavily caveated. When it is safe to do so, and when it re-opens to researchers, go forth, masked if necessary, into this wonderful, vast repository of our cultural pasts.

BBC copyright content reproduced courtesy of the British Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.


Tom May is a Post-Graduate Researcher at Northumbria University, in his third year of study of a funded PhD research project constructing a history and analysis of Play for Today with attention to its aesthetics and style, representation and reception. He also blogs at May’s Britain and Opening Negotiations. He has written for The Conversation and has had articles published online about David Edgar’s Plays for Today Baby Love (1974) and Destiny (1978).


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

 

Citizen science. “Try again. Fail again. Fail better” (Part 3)

Figure 1: A research contribution by a citizen.

Part 3: Course of the project, experiences and interim conclusion.

Anna Luise Kiss reports from her film studies citizen research project.

1 November 2020

In the second blog entry I presented the project The cinematic face of the city of Potsdam and showed how I implemented central requirements for citizen research projects. Another important element in a citizen research project is evaluation. In its conception, different paths can be taken and different criteria can be used (see e.g. here and here). I have decided to use a formative evaluation, i.e. interim results for the entire project and its sub-projects are proactively compiled in the course of the project according to defined criteria, so that corrections can be made if necessary. On the basis of a first interim evaluation, I can give a partial insight into how the citizen research project actually went and formulate initial responses. Hopefully, these can be useful in the conception of a citizen research project as an addition to the basic requirements listed in the second entry.

Survey methods – theory and practice

As described above, I have provided three ways to report filmic finds. The lowest participation was via Instagram, followed by the app (Epicollect5) which was found to be only moderately acceptable to participants.  E-mail was the most used way of reporting, along with the verbal report of cinematic finds, a way of communication I had not anticipated. The contact via e-mail did not result in the processing of the questions I had presumed would be processed. Instead, as with verbal references, invitations were extended to come by and take photos. These e-mail invitations and the verbal references now confront me with an evaluation difficulty: should such contacts be considered a research contribution by a citizen? A hotel owner, for example, invited me to his hotel restaurant because there are film posters hanging there and a film camera has been set up. He told me about his plans to update the filmic references in his hotel. Is it citizen research if a workshop participant does not become active him/herself, but “only” points me to a location where he/she found an artefact?

Figure 2: In a hotel in Potsdam, a stylized film strip on the wall in the restrooms. It shows photos of cinema lettering. After an invitation to the hotel in question, I took the photo myself.

From this I conclude that citizens have expressed a clear wish not only to participate in preparatory events, deliver data and participate in a process of joint analysis, but also to use the data collection as an opportunity for personal interaction, informal discussion and clarification. This is at least true on a regional level, if not more generally.

In the light of this it would have been more appropriate to offer joint field research from the beginning. In a similar project I would prioritize this method of data collection, if only because the personal encounters have resulted in valuable impulses for the evolution of project. An example: the owner of a guesthouse let me photograph a collection of autographs in the reception area. She told me that the collection was unfortunately no longer up to date. Prominent actors and directors were no longer willing to offer autographs for inclusion in the collection, but would only offer to shoot a selfie together with the guesthouse owner. It was only through this conversation that I realized that media change and the ongoing history of such change can be directly read off of filmic artifacts in urban space. The person in question would not have come to my planned analysis workshop. Only through the on-site discussion could this thought be incorporated into the project.

Reflecting on the role as communicator in advance

The role that scholars play in citizen research projects has hardly been reflected upon and certainly not been scientifically investigated. Susanne Hecker and Nina Wicke therefore make an important contribution to the reflection of role constellations in citizen research projects.[i] They have analyzed the roles of citizen science protagonists from the “political actor” perspective. The authors were able to show that political papers on citizen science focus on traditional role assignments rather than innovative approaches to breaking up existing power structures, hierarchies and role specifications.[ii]

In this context, the question of the personal communication skills that a scholar should bring with him/her to citizen research projects is too little discussed. In many projects online communication with the fellow researchers is all that is needed. Such communication allows one to enter into simultaneous relationship with many participants over considerable distances. Online communication can be controlled and easily traced. If, however, a project is based on the knowledge of local citizen researchers, personal contact with such researchers is unavoidable, either because it is provided for in the project or is subsequently demanded by the citizen participants. In my case, I had initially planned personal exchange only in specific formats (among others, public kick-off, site walk with the participants, public workshop). This resulted in communicative interaction with strangers, a situation which could not be planned for or controlled, despite a measure of preparation. Such a possibility should be carefully examined in preparation for a citizen research project. One should ask oneself if, as a researcher, one has the ability to deal with such situations in a confident, appropriate and fulfilling way for all participants, at once flexible and goal-oriented and, above all, free from fear and a feeling of reticence among inexperienced participants. The direct exchange with students and with colleagues takes place in established settings to which researchers have access as a matter of course. Within these settings (e. g. seminars and conferences), which almost always include an accepted and familiar framework, a series of unspoken rules apply. However, these communicative situations differ from those required for the success of citizen research projects. Such projects require a local focus that includes face-to-face interaction with members of the public. There are no established rules on which the participants can rely. Even the general reference to pedagogical skills that should be available for conducting citizen research projects[iii]  is of limited help, because the pedagogical tools acquired in an academic context cannot simply be transferred to the communicative dynamics of a citizen research project. In my project, for example, I followed up on requests for additional unplanned direct exchange and had many conversations on film topics that were not directly relevant to the project. I also had to deal with criticism, because, for example, my project could not include memories associated with bygone experiences of filming in Potsdam. In existing publications on citizen science projects it seems to be assumed that all scholars will be able to handle the direct exchange with citizen researchers. In regard to quality assurance, however, it is in my opinion absolutely necessary to reflect very precisely on one’s own role in a citizen research project in advance. Admitting that one is not made for such communicative situations can mean, for example, that others are assigned the communicator’s role. In these cases, it can be useful to schedule a professional facilitator as project member. For me, communicative situations have so far been a matter of a hands-on interaction with the impulsive immediacy of events in the midst of the evolution of the project, an experience at once unpredictable and personally enriching.

Number of members in the research team and risk management

How many citizen researchers must actually be part of the research team for a project to be successful? I was advised by Rosy Mondardini, the managing director of the Citizen science Center Zurich, that only a few citizens can be expected to participate in humanities projects. However, a look at the high number of registrations for some projects on the citizen research platform Zooniverse gave a completely different impression. There, humanities projects with hundreds or thousands of citizen researchers are listed. Impressive numbers, which can be off-putting for those who plan a small-scale citizen research project.

Figure 3: Impressive numbers of participants: In the project Scribes of the Cairo Geniza 4,972 “volunteers” have registered (as of April 6, 2020). A project that has set itself the goal of deciphering one of the largest archives of the Middle Ages.

With the help of Montserrat Prats López’s dissertation (2017) on Quality Assurance in citizen science, I was able to explain the discrepancy between Rosy Mondardini’s prediction and the numbers on the platforms. The author has shown that signing up for a project is one thing – and active research is something else. The majority of citizens do not participate in the research process at all or only once after registration. However, in citizen science projects, there are individual, particularly committed researchers who submit most of the data, write most of the transcripts and/or participate in analytical or interpretative processes. To illustrate this, López lists one transcription project, among others, for which 3,000 people had registered, 400 of whom transcribed a manuscript in part or in full, while only 11 people continuously translated several manuscripts.[iv] A study by Henry Sauermann and Chiara Franzoni also shows that even projects from the natural sciences face the challenge of finding citizen researchers: the number of registrations may be very high, but on closer inspection, most citizens participate only once, while most of the research work is done by a few “top contributors”[v].

It seems important to me to emphasize that prospective initiators of citizen research projects should not be put under pressure by the number of registrations on citizen research platforms. There is no blanket answer to the question of how large citizen science teams need to be. Only the intended data corpus and the intended evaluation procedure are decisive. If, for example, a clearly limited corpus of film-related materials is to be translated in co-operation with citizen researchers, then the pages to be processed can be used to estimate, approximately, how large the team should be to complete the translation and analytical discussions within a certain period of time. For a high quality result in such a case, a very small group of dedicated team members can be the decisive factor.

My project is one of qualitative data collection carried out through so-called theoretical sampling up to the theoretical saturation of categories to be worked out in succession. I did not set an ideal number of citizen researchers, and it was not important to me how many filmic finds were submitted. For me, it was important that among the artifacts submitted there should be those that I probably would not have found myself and which also provide impulses for category formation and thus for theoretical insights. In my risk management – i.e. the consideration of possible pitfalls that may occur in the project and the determination of necessary back-up strategies – I assumed that it should be possible, even with a small number of citizen researchers, to find at least initial artifacts that provide starting points for further data collection and category building. I had taken into account an extension and/or repetition of the survey period for the citizen researchers and, above all, the supplementation of the initial artefacts with own data collections. Consequently, the call for participation was preceded by an initial collection in order to facilitate the development of the theses and for the testing of data collection methods. A first extension of the survey period and a supplementary collection could then be carried out. Due to the Corona crisis, however, neither a further data collection nor an on-site review or supplementation by me is currently possible. This is (still) ok, because I can take advantage of the flexibility of working from home to undertake the processing of the data in Google Map and for the creation of first categories.

The attendance figures so far: A total of 24 people have participated in the preparatory events. So far, 15 people have participated as citizen researchers. Not counted were entrepreneurs who invited me and for whom I did the documentation myself. Most of the citizen researchers have reported at least one finding place, sometimes with several artefacts (9 persons); but there were also up to 5 finding places, which were submitted by one person. 70 artifacts were added to the database by the citizen researchers, 8 of which I classified as initial artifacts. I was lucky that two persons from Potsdam actually turned out to be “top contributors”, who also became active as communicators of the project and are already thinking about a further citizen research project on the topic of film.

Figure 4: An initial artifact. Research contribution by a citizen.

One important lesson I have learned from the process is that in the run-up to a project one should carefully consider whether the investment of a lot of time and effort justifies the recruitment of what might turn out to be only a core team. One should ask oneself whether the discrepancy between effort and number of team members can be justified by the quality of the data and the joint data analysis. In addition, risk management must be taken very seriously, for example by taking into account extension and repetition times and designing follow-up instruments.

Interim conclusion – Try again, fail again, fail better

Actually, some things went wrong in the unfolding of my project: The App Epicollect5 was generally ignored. Although some important contributions have occurred by hotel and guesthouse owners, I am unable to list them under citizen research. Due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis it is currently unclear when and how the next steps – joint analysis, data collection and derivation of practical proposals for action for urban development – can be realized. It all feels a bit like failure at the moment. And yet I draw a positive interim conclusion. It is precisely because my data collection methods were not accepted as I had planned that the project has been enriched with important but fortuitous insights. The collected data is already very extensive and can be used to form categories. Because of the opportunity afforded by working from home, I can take enough time for this and make the further data collection and evaluation even more effective. I have found great supporters among the people of Potsdam, who have committed themselves to the project and contributed important artifacts. It seems that, by the end of the project, both sides will have deepened their knowledge and that, once the Corona crisis is over, this project will lead to another citizen research project initiated entirely by the citizens of Potsdam. And finally, I was able to put theoretical knowledge about open science and citizen research into practice. Therefore, I would rather speak of a measure of failure, but, also, in Beckett’s words, of failing better. Perhaps this is a process that participants in citizen research projects have to prepare for anyway: not everything works as theoretically conceived, but it is precisely from this mismatch between theory and practice that valuable impulses for a project and for follow-up projects can arise.

Every citizen research project must be individually designed and equipped, so it makes little sense to take only one project as a model – “there is no single “right” model”[vi]. It is always necessary to conduct comprehensive research and adapt suitable elements from existing projects. I would be pleased if my interim report on the “cinematic face of the city of Potsdam”, despite the challenges I have described, would encourage the implementation of further film- and media-science citizen research projects. After all, Film and Media Studies could be seen as predestined, by their very nature, for citizen research. For many people the whole range of media is an integral part of their lives. The relevance of scientific questions for the everyday life of potential citizen researchers does not have to be derived but is obvious. I am convinced that Film and Media Studies could also play a role in resolving problematic aspects of citizen research. Citizen science projects often address well-educated and technically equipped milieus, and it can be observed that predominantly well-educated males from the USA and Northern Europe participate in them.[vii] Citizen science is therefore still practiced under a principle of exclusion. The topics covered, the use of technology, and even the choice of language and communication channels need to be reconsidered in the light of this. Film and Media Studies – with it’s emphasis on, and knowledge of, communicative processes, it’s thorough integration into innumerable aspects of everyday life, it’s role in individual socialization, and its gender sensitivity – can make a contribution to ensuring that citizen research really deserves to be listed under the “umbrella term”[viii] open science. In principle, however, it is important to ensure that the appropriation of citizen research into one’s own research repertoire does not, inadvertently, restrict the freedom of science, by limiting the topics addressed to those in which citizens have a current and direct interest. Smolarski and Oswald counter this concern by stating that citizen science should not be about subjecting itself to trends in topics. This implies that one should not only determine the value of one’s own knowledge within one’s own discipline, but also try to think it more comprehensively and at larger scales.[ix]

If there are any readers who have already carried out or are planning to carry out a Film or Media Studies citizen research project or simply wish to exchange views further on this topic, I would be pleased to receive an e-mail: a.kiss@filmuniversitaet.de.


[i] Susanne Hecker, Nina Wicke, “Roles of actors in citizen science in international policy documents” in Thomas Bartoschek, Daniel Nüst, Mario Pesch (eds.), Forum Citizen Science 2019: Die Zukunft der Bürgerforschung (Münster 2019), 5–15, 6.

[ii] See ibid., 12.

[iii] See Daniel Wyler, François Grey, Citizen science at universities: Trends, guidelines and recommendations, (Leuven 2016) 4 and 10 and European Citizen Science Association (ECSA), Ten Principles of Citizen Science, September 2015.

[iv] See Montserrat Prats López: Managing Citizen science in the Humanities: The challenge of ensuring quality (Amsterdam 2017), 7–8.

[v] Henry Sauermann, Chiara Franzoni, “Crowd science user contribution patterns and their implications” in PNAS, 112(3) (2015), 679–684, 680–681.

[vi] Andrea Wiggins, Kevin Crowston, “Surveying the citizen science landscape” in First Monday, 20(1), 2015.

[vii] See Mordechai (Muki) Haklay, Suvodeep Mazumdar, Jessica Wardlaw, “Citizen science for Observing and Understanding the Earth” in Pierre-Philippe Mathieu, Christoph Aubrecht (eds.), Earth Observation Open Science and Innovation (Cham: Springer Open, 2018) 69–88, 74 and Wyler, Grey, Citizen science at universities, 10.

[viii] Núria Bautista-Puig, Daniela De Filippo, Elba Mauleón, Elías Sanz-Casado, “Scientific Landscape of Citizen Science Publications: Dynamics, Content and Presence in Social Media” in Publications, 7(1), 12 (2019), 1–22, 1.

[ix] See René Smolarski, Kristin Oswald Einführung: Citizen Science in Kultur und Geisteswissenschaften, in Oswald, Smolarski (eds.), Bürger Künste Wissenschaft, 9–27, 14.


Anna Luise Kiss is a PostDoc Researcher at the Film University Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF and currently heads the BMBF-funded research project The cinematic face of cities. She is editor of the anthology Jede Menge Perspektiven. Der Regisseur Herrmann Zschoche (CineGraph Babelsberg, 2014) and – together with Dieter Chill – of Pathenheimer: Filmfotografin. DEFA Movie Stills (Ch. Links Verlag, 2016) and co-editor of the current issue of the FFK Journal (Avinus, 2020). Her dissertation Topografie des Laiendarsteller-Diskurses – zur Konstruktion von Laiendarstellerinnen und Laiendarstellern im Kinospielfilm (Springer VS) was published in March 2019. Also recently published was “Eine Medienwissenschaftlerin und eine Schauspielerin unterhalten sich über Performanz in ihrem beruflichen Alltag. Eine Text-Performance“ in Thomas Etzemüller (ed.) Der Auftritt. Performance in der Wissenschaft (transcript, 2019).


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