PhD Journal Memory Conceptualisation in Cinema & Film Theory

PhD Journal

Ian’s PhD Journal. Ian is currently engaged in research for a Film PhD by practice at Lancaster University. Ian’s PhD is practice based and a significant part of his PhD involves the creation of Experimental films. Ian researches in film theory in particular the conceptualisation of memory in cinema, memory representation in films.

Research Question: An investigation into the conceptualisation of the relationship between memory and Cinema by film theorists and filmmakers. Through the production of  experimental films.

Super 8 camera and film
My vintage Super 8 camera

Original Research Title: Collective Memory: Exploring the phenomenology of Dementia patients through documentary film and reconnecting them to past memories of cinema going. (Abandoned due to Covid-19 restrictions and safety issues working with people living with Dementia in these difficult times)

Abstract PhD Journal

The conceptualisation of memory in film is an expanding area of research that establishes the links between memory and identity through the use of case studies. The case studies in my thesis are primarily chosen for their use of cinematography, while also considering both genre and historical importance. In this thesis I will investigate primarily through their cinematography, the use of flashbacks in transnational and international cinema from their early and rare appearance in classical Hollywood film and the current trend in contemporary cinema in which complex narrative forms traditionally associated with independent art cinema have become common in productions targeted at mass audiences. As Turim states “The flashback is a crucial moment in a film narrative, one that captures the cinematic expression of memory, and history”. (Turim, 2013: 1-278). The flashback, the various definitions of the flashback, the evolving conventions associated with entering and exiting a flashback through cinematography and other methods, initially defined by classical Hollywood film conventions and those in art film. Using similar research methods, I will investigate the history and definitions of other memory representation in cinema, including; prosthetic memory, collective memory and cultural memory. Included in this thesis will be a critical analysis of my own film practice, a series of experimental films considering the production techniques employed in the creation of these films, how they represent aspects of memory and identity through the cinematography and editing processes.


Turim, M. (2013) Flashbacks in film: Memory & history, Flashbacks in Film: Memory & History. Taylor and Francis. doi: 10.4324/9781315851761.

Research into  Film Flashbacks PhD Journal

Definitions of The Flashback:

A narrative device used in Film (as in literature) to go back in time to an earlier moment in a character’s life and/or history, and to narrate that moment. Flashbacks, then, are most clearly marked as subjective moments within that narrative. Flashbacks are a cinematic representation of memory and of history and, ultimately, of subjective truth. (Hayward, 1996)

The flashback is a privileged moment in unfolding that juxtaposes different moments of temporal reference. A juncture is wrought between present and past and two concepts are implied in this juncture: memory and history. (Turim, 2013)

  1. Hayward, S. (1996) Key concepts in cinema studies. London ; New York: Routledge.
  2. Turim, M. (2013) Flashbacks in film: Memory & history, Flashbacks in Film: Memory & History. Taylor and Francis. doi: 10.4324/9781315851761.
  • Collective memory

Collective memory is the term for the memories of a group of people who have collected them through shared social experiences.

collective memory image
Collective memory – insert your collective memory here (Image)
Collective memory Hugo Van Hofmannsthal
Hugo Van Hofmannsthal

The term “Collective Memory” was first advanced by Hugo Van Hofmannstal in 1902. (Olick and Robbins, 1998: 106)

Collective memory Maurice Halbwachs
Maurice Halbwachs

French philosopher and sociologist Maurice Halbwachs analysed and advanced the concept of the collective memory in the seminal book La mémoire collective (1950)

collective memory Emile Durkheim
Emile Durkheim

Durkheim discussed how each new generation is connected to the past; as they are taught about history, memories carry forward. Durkheim focused more on social memory. He also asserted that as a people we needed to have a connection to prior generations, and that we seek to repeat previous actions in order to relate to the past.

Russell Kilbourn
Russell Kilbourn

Russell Kilbourn in his book Cinema, memory, modernity: The representation of memory from the art film to transnational cinema said, since its inception, cinema has evolved into not merely a ‘reflection’ but an indispensable index of human experience – especially our experience of time’s passage, of the present moment, and, most importantly perhaps, of the past, in both collective and individual terms.

Cinema can become embedded into the collective memory of people and society, across boundaries and cultures. Individuals collectively remember, forget, and recall events, people, places, has been a prominent topic of research on collective memory. However, the notion of collective memory as a socially generated common perception of an event itself has been introduced and studied only recently. (R. García-Gavilanes) The relationship between film and collective memory is under-researched, unlike films that have memory central to its narrative for example amnesia, collective memory and Cinema has been largely ignored as a research subject.

Mediated memories: the personal and collective dimensions

collective memory Jose Van Djick
Jose Van Djick

Remembering is vital to our well being, because without our autobiographical memories we would have no sense of past or future, and we would lack any sense of continuity. Our image of  who we are (…) is never stable but it is subject to constant remodelling because our perceptions of who we are change along with our projections and desires of who we want to be (Van Dijck 2007: 3)


Collective memory is a socio-political construct: As such, collective memory cannot be considered as evidence of the authenticity of a shared past; rather, collective memory is a version of the past, selected to be remembered by a given community (or more precisely by particular agents in it) in order to advance its goals and serve its self-perception. Such memory is defined and negotiated through changing socio-political power circumstances and agendas. (Motti Neiger, 2011)

Documentary pre-production, location scouting

Documentary location scouting

Documentary Location Scouting

I am jumping ahead here by starting the locations starting so early in a Documentary project. I came across an interesting online article that could prove to be vitally important in the production of my documentary film. A local venue has been running Cinema and Entertainment events specifically for Dementia sufferers and their carers, which is central to the narrative of my documentary.

To research this further and to take this idea to the next step I decided to conduct a recce of the venue and surrounding locations in the immediate area before contacting the venue. The reason for this may seem obvious but my aim was to scout the venue to see if it met my requirements as a filmmaker, which I have listed below. It is also a good idea to try and get a feel for a location and see how it fits into your visualisation. One of the key things to my films is production value. What do I mean by this? for example if you need to film in a church and both the local church and the cities Cathedral are both potential options always go for the Cathedral to immediately step up the production value of your film. Of course this isn’t a hard rule and sometimes the local church is the better option.

Documentary location requirements

  • Venue open to filming
  • What access will they allow
  • Dates available
  • Cost if any
  • Additional permissions required – if any
  • Is the location noisy so poor sound
  • Restricted Public access

Additional requirements

  • Easy to get to
  • Parking
  • Services near to hand (food, drink, toilets, medical)

The B-Roll

What is the B-roll? whenever you are filming a documentary or indeed any filming you will always need to make cuts in your footage. an examples of this would be a long interview, which after a short while becomes boring visually, there’s only so much time that you can watch what I call a bobbing head, you can acceptably watch for 15 seconds but any longer and you need to break away to a different visual just to keep your audience engaged. When you cut you need to cut away to a different visual usually related to the what the subject is discussing, but may just relate to the location, but whatever it is make it interesting.

Film viewing list

Filmography – A film viewing list – Experimental Film
The production of Experimental Film as a representation of memory

There are many examples of films that have human memory central to the narrative, the examples below have some credibility in Psychological fact according to the neuroscientist Steve Ramirez. (BU Today 2018)

Collective memory Sergi Eisenstein
Battleship Potemkin – Sergi Eisenstein
  1. Memento is one of the most realistic accounts of amnesia — the inability to form or recall our personally experienced events
  2. Inside Out is a Pixar classic that zooms into a child’s brain and lets us see her memories form, change, and evaporate over time as she matures
  3. The Bourne Trilogy (which starts with The Bourne Identity) is a fast-spaced action series about Jason Bourne, an agent with amnesia who knows how to win any fight, but doesn’t remember who he is or where he came from.
  4. Inception is a mind-bending film on implanting and extracting memories in the brain, done with high-octane drama and a twisting, dream-like storyline.
  5. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is perhaps the most famous memory erasure movie ever. Would you erase the memory of a loved one after a breakup if it eased the pain?
  6. Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 — a classic and instant-classic — tackle the concepts of implanting memories in human-like robots.
  7. The Matrix is another classic. “I know Kung Fu,” says Neo, after having martial arts skills uploaded into his brain. The movie tackles the philosophical questions of brains, free will, uploading information onto the brain, and how this changes us forever.
  8. Total Recall has the main character going into a machine where he can live out any reality or fantasy that he sees fit. Things get blurry, however, when reality and fantasy start to blend and force viewers to ask themselves: if our subjective reality feels real, then does it matter if it’s real or not?

The digital revolution in archival media opens up access to previously unknown images and provides the possibility that these images could broaden and transform collective memory. (B. Fabos)


  1. BU Today. (2018). 8 Brainy Movies That (Almost) Get Neuroscientist Stamp of Approval | BU Today | Boston University. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Mar. 2019].
  2. Bettina Fabos (2014) The Trouble with Iconic Images: Historical Timelines and Public Memory, Visual Communication Quarterly, 21:4, 223-235

Avant-garde Films that lived through time. film viewing list

  1. Manhatta – Charles Sheeler – 1921
  2. Ballet Mecanique – Fernand Léger, Dudley Murphy – 1924
  3. Ghosts Before Breakfast – Hans Richter – 1928
  4. Un Chien Andalou – Luis Bunuel – 1929
  5. Meshes of the Afternoon – Alexandr Hackenschmied, Maya Deren – 1943
  6. Dog Star Man – Stan Brakhage – 1961-1964
  7. Scorpio Rising – Kenneth Anger – 1963
  8. Julien Donkey Boy – Harmony Korine – 1999
  9. The Heart of the World – Guy Maddin – 2000
  10. Inland Empire – David Lynch – 2006

Documentary film viewing list

  1. Land of Promise – British Documentary Film Movement 1930 – 1950 (BFI. 4 Disk DVD Boxset) 40 films by Directors; Paul Rotha, Humphrey Jennings, Ruby Grierson, Basil Wright and Paul Dickson.

Film & Memory (Top 25 film viewing list)

Collective memory Rashomon
Rashôman (1950), Akira Kurosawa
  1. Rashôman (1950), Akira Kurosawa
  2. Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1959), Alain Resnais
  3. Vertigo (1958), Alfred Hitchcock
  4. Wild Strawberries (1958), Ingmar Bergman
  5. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Michel Gondry
  6. Three Colors: Blue (1993), Krzysztof Kieślowski
  7. The Mirror (1975), Andrei Tarkovsky
  8. Blade Runner (1982), Ridley Scott
  9. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), John Ford
  10. Citizen Kane (1941), Orson Welles
  11. How Green Was My Valley (1941), John Ford
  12. Memento (2000), Christopher Nolan
  13. The Tree of Life (2011), Terrence Malick
  14. 2046 (2004), Wong Kar-wai
  15. Solaris (1972), Andrei Tarkovsky
  16. Last Year at Marienbad (1961), Alain Resnais
  17. The Sweet Hereafter (1997), Atom Egoyan
  18. The Thin Blue Line (1988), Errol Morris
  19. Certified Copy (2010), Abbas Kiarostami
  20. 8 1/2 (1963), Federico Fellini
  21. The Manchurian Candidate (1962), John Frankenheime
  22. The Act of Killing (2012), Joshua Oppenheimer
  23. La Jetée (1962), Chris Marker
  24. The Remains of the Day (1993), James Ivory
  25. Mulholland Drive (2001), David Lynch


  1. Admin, 2015. Avant-Garde. Film Theory. Available at: [Accessed April 10, 2019].
  2. Anon, British documentary. BFI Film Forever. Available at: [Accessed April 10, 2019].
  3. Holt, R., 2015. Top 25 Films on Memory. Image Journal. Available at: [Accessed April 28, 2019] Continue reading “Film viewing list”

Writing a Research Proposal

writing a research proposal

Firstly, writing a research proposal is not easy, or I should say formulating the research question is a difficult proposition. I started this process several  months ago with just a very basic outline of what I was most passionate about in Film production (Documentary) and then  the hard work began. I had this idea about a question that only the production of a documentary film could answer and be accessible to both academics and the general public.

Research Proposal – Getting started

Have a plan, which again takes some thought and is definitely worth doing before even beginning to research your chosen subject. For example, my plan and initial research centred on identifying the institutions that support a PhD by practice and of course in my chosen field, that is Documentary Film.

Finding a University and Supervisor

After identifying the surprisingly small number of institutions that could possibly support my studies and supervise my PhD project, the next step was to find a supervisor.

Finding a supervisor for your project is also a great way of talking to specialists in your chosen subject, gaining knowledge and assistance in producing your research proposal. I was fortunate to find a number of potential supervisors through their University staff pages. I think it is important to follow up any exchange of emails with a telephone conversation and possibly a meeting to discuss your project, I certainly did both of these.

Research Proposal – What to watch out for?

Beware of writing your proposal to fit others, I do not mean the format or general guidelines as such, but I mean the subject itself. It is too easy to divert away from your chosen subject and the essence of what makes studying for a PhD most passionate to you by writing the proposal to fit into another project, or to meet an institutions requirements. Fortunately the institutions and supervisors I contacted in the main, were totally onboard with my proposal and I was grateful for all the assistance I received in focussing my proposal before submission. However a big but, everything can appear to be progressing well but do not assume the outcome is guaranteed until that unconditional offer arrives. Fortunately I was successful with my 1st choice University and supervision but my 2nd choice University did not progress past the interview stage when we both realised that there was not a mutual fit.

What is the contact sequence? I contacted my potential advisors by email, just by expressing my subject interest and seeing if there is a mutual interest. I then followed up positive responses with my outline research proposal. Now I only had positive responses, which I assume was due to my initial research into my subject and the interests of my potential supervisors. After all contacting an academic who specialises in History for example, when your chosen subject is about the Environment isn’t really going to be of interest. Next arrange a telephone conversation or just jump into a Skype call, but ask permission OK, my contacts in the main made this suggestion anyway. For some I actual missed out on the telephone conversation and arranged to meet. Meetings. Be prepared, for some I just had an enjoyable chat on a subject of mutual interest but for some it felt more like a final exam, so be prepared.

Research Proposal Pitfalls

Check your institutions research proposal guidelines. One size does not fit all for example some asked me to complete a online template with character count limitations for each section, others just has an overall character limit for example 8,000 and for some it was left up to me as to how much to write. The online template doubles up as the application form so write each section offline in Word and copy and paste into the required sections later. After all you do not want to submit an application with spelling and grammatical errors or repetition?

Write for each institution, what I mean by that is taking note of the template sections, for example some ask for a specific response to a question like your approach to Ethics, diversity and another asked specifically how you would approach funding your research.

There are any number of guides available online with templates for writing your research proposal and in fact many of the institutions have application forms for you to download. examples can be found here:-

Find a PhD – Writing a Research Proposal


The Personal Statement

the personal statement

Personal Statement

Remember these? when you began your journey into academia you had to produce a statement to supplement your application for undergraduate study and possibly for your post graduate study.

Personal Statement On SetThis is about you, your personal skills and academic experience/abilities and why you have applied to study at this institution. This is important, basically you are selling yourself to the institution and it’s about how you can uniquely achieve your PhD research  through your skillset and record of achievement thus far. For me this was my experience of documentary filmmaking and appropriate academic study in a film related subject.

It may certainly include some details of your research proposal but remember this isn’t the research proposal this is a personal statement. Instead think of writing about your motivation for studying for a PhD and why you have chosen this institution and potential supervisor. It may not only be your supervisor who reads this statement, admissions and possibly the interview panel may read this statement in conjunction with the research proposal.

Don’t forget to discuss a little about yourself but avoid over stating your abilities and experience, for example you cannot be an expert in anything if you have only a years experience.