Cinema and the Letter: Epistolary Modes in Film Culture (Edited Collection - 10/15/12)

full name / name of organization: 
Rebecca Sheehan and Ilinca Iurascu
contact email: 

Cinema and the Letter: Epistolary Modes in Film Culture

Proposed Edited Collection
Edited by:
Rebecca Sheehan (California State University, Fullerton) and
Ilinca Iurascu (University of British Columbia)

Contact E-mail:
CFP and updated information:

Having long served a variety of functions in narrative and non-narrative, silent and sound cinema, letters help illuminate an array of complex relationships between image, sound and the written word in the history of film. This collection proposes to examine the manifold uses of letters in narrative cinema, and take a close look at the epistolary film as a largely unrecognized subgenre of the essay film. It also seeks to explore the role of written correspondence in the contexts of film production and spectatorship, bringing these aspects to bear upon a discussion of cinema's long-standing engagement with epistolarity and the letter as an object of cinematic spectacle and reflection.

The collection seeks contributions that approach letters in film and film within the technological, social and cultural life of the letter from a variety of critical perspectives, including, but in no way limited to:

• the use of letters as mediators of information and knowledge, facilitators of surprise, suspense or continuity in film
• the letter film's relationship to other film forms and genres (the essay film, the documentary, the travelogue) and other modes of constructing subjectivity and communication in writing (the essay, the diary and the notebook)
• theories of epistolarity in literature and film; the politics of cinematic adaptations of epistolary texts
• the ethics of the letter's mediation and enunciation of encounters between self and other, constructions of identity and modes of address between sender and receiver, filmmaker and audience
• the letter's function in film as a point of intersection between the machinations of an industrial system and the private, personal lives of individuals
• the cult status of the letter in melodrama film; the epistolary object and the economy of nostalgia; the melodramatic imagination and the complicity of the epistolary act with the structures of film ideology
• cinema's relationship with and reflection on the modalities of postal circulation, the postal principle and the standards of communication

These and other topics will be tentatively grouped into three sections, highlighting different aspects of the relation between letters and film. The sections and their contents are meant to be fluid and by no means exhaustive:

Part One: The Letter and Narration - Considerations of the letter as a device that enables plot and narrative by constructing disparities in knowledge between characters and audience; epistolary elements as points of contingency, delay, temporal confusion and displacement; the letter as insert, both converging with and diverging from the intertitle in silent cinema; the letter's mediation of elements of film form (framing, image and sound) and the relationship between image, voice and text; the use of letters in classical film narrative; the staging of the epistolary subject in melodrama film; narrative strategies in film adaptations of epistolary literature; the use of letters in remapping, reimagining and recycling the cultural, social and structural elements of the epistolary novel tradition

Part Two: The Letter Film and the Document – The epistolary form and its participation in the documentary and essay film; recent theoretical formulations, such as Hamid Naficy's notion of an "accented cinema," that consider letters as a means of generating various modes of address and constructions of national, ethnic, and gendered identity in film; the ethics of the epistle, its function in representing and constructing self and other, emplacement and displacement, home and exile; images as letters, and the relationships they enable between origins and destinations, filmmaker and spectator, speaker and addressee.

Part Three: Postal Circulation Within and Beyond the Screen – The cinematic trajectory of the letter and the underlying technological conditions of communication; the postal and cinematic networks as competing media systems; cinematic and/or written correspondences between directors; cinema and or as mail art; the politics of the postal film, as a subcategory of the advertising genre; the film picture postcard as an interface between epistolary and film culture; the circulation of film images as mail in the construction of spectatorship communities and production of popularity in commercial cinema

We invite abstracts of no more than 500 words and short biographical statements by October 15, 2012. For submissions and all other inquiries, please e–mail