Conference | Film Diplomacy in the Digital Age

Friday, April 18, 2014 - 9:00am

The Second Annual Dick Wolf Cinema Studies Conference

Film Diplomacy in the Digital Age

From the Lumiere Brothers to YouTube, moving images have served as important diplomatic tools, carrying ideas about the proper formation of nations and citizens. Today, film and video are front and center in efforts to brand nations and influence public perception. From protest videos released on social networks to countries’ official submissions to the Oscars, film is used to communicate elements of national identity that often can not be expressed through other channels.

Film Diplomacy in the Digital Age will look at the role of film and media in contemporary global politics. Leading scholars, filmmakers, and government officials will consider a range of recent political events, ongoing institutional projects, and current debates that reveal how film is being used as an instrument of political communication in Russia, Iran, Japan, Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the United States, and on the global stage.



9:00am | Registration

9:30-11:00am | Film Diplomacy Today | Moderator: Karen Beckman

Kevin M. F. Platt | The Soviet Story and Memory Wars in the New Europe
Edvīns Šnore’s 2008 Latvian documentary film The Soviet Story offers a catalogue of some of the darkest moments of Soviet history, cast in the worst possible light. It labors unrelentingly to equate Nazi and Soviet ideology and violence as two faces of an intertwined history of mass bloodshed and dictatorial totalitarianism. The film is a central salvo in the Eastern European “memory wars” that have grown more intense with each year since the fall of the Soviet Union, erupting this spring in actual movements of military forces and national borders. At whom, however, is this salvo aimed? In my contribution, I will examine the reception and significances of the The Soviet Story across multiple audiences: those of Europe as a whole, multiethnic Latvia, and the Russian Federation. Although highly effective at mobilizing memory, the divergent resonances of the film across these various contexts have led to contradictory and destabilizing results for political and social cohesion in the Baltic. Analysis of the film and its reception offers a revealing vantage into the contested field of memory and media in the region.

Anthony Kaufman | Endangered Cinemas: The Disappearance of Foreign Language Films on U.S. Screens
In the United States, foreign-language films have historically nurtured awareness for the lives of other peoples, bringing Americans closer to histories and cultures that they might otherwise not experience, such as Palestinians surviving in Nablus (Paradise Now) or Iranians living in contemporary Tehran (A Separation). But in the last five years, there’s been a precipitous drop in the number of Americans watching foreign-language films on U.S. screens, both large and small. While one could blame shifting popular tastes for this decline, the reasons have more to do with changes in the film industry landscape: the first concerns shifts in the business of theatrical movie-going; the second with changes created by the new digital marketplace. Far from saving foreign-language films from obscurity, new technologies in film distribution may have actually hurt their cause.

Monroe Price and Sandra Ristovska | Film and Dynamic Public Diplomacy
This paper problematizes the notion of cultural diplomacy by placing it in the context of the foreign language film category at the Academy Awards. Taking into account the process of foreign film production, the submissions of films to the Academy, and the process of nomination, we argue that the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film is a site of dynamic public diplomacy—a strategic theatre where the integrated actions of multiple states or stakeholders legitimize the status and perception of foreign narratives. In multiple contexts, especially in conflict or post-conflict environments, there are interacting agendas that attempt to establish a representation beachhead through film. As a case study, we use the movie The Third Half (2012), Macedonian official entry for the Academy Award. The film, inspired by the personal testimony of Neta Koen, a Holocaust survivor from Macedonia, raised controversy even at the European Parliament when Bulgarian members argued that The Third Half spreads anti-Bulgarian propaganda and manipulates Balkan history. Although the movie did not make into the final nomination list in 2013, it shows the various ways in which film can serve as a battleground for the legitimation and delegitimation of national narratives.

11:00-11:15am | Break

11:15am-12:15pm | Digital Diplomacy Today | Moderator: Timothy Corrigan

Amelia Arsenault | US Cultural Diplomacy in the 21st Century: New Media, New Technologies, New Directions
Long before Time Warner, Disney, or NewsCorp consolidated their global empires, the United States Information Agency distributed US cultural products on a global and a multi-media scale. Created in 1953 during a period when most of the world still struggled to build and/or rebuild its communication’s industries after two destructive World Wars, the USIA found local populations hungry for any American cultural products that they could deliver. The Agency not only distributed, but also produced hundreds of newsreels, films and documentaries designed for foreign audiences. Some of the most enduring images of the USIA from this period are of appreciative audiences greeting USIA-owned Jeeps and riverboats outfitted as mobile projection units. Although the USIA shut its doors forever in 1999, US government involvement in the distribution and promotion of US cultural products continues today and is increasingly focused on digital spaces. With a particular focus on current US government multi-media outreach activities in the southern African region, this presentation will discuss changes and continuities in US cultural diplomacy activities.

Reza Marashi | Iranian Government Digital Diplomacy Under President Hassan Rouhani
Upon entering office in August 2013, President Hassan Rouhani knew he was inheriting a difficult situation. Iran's politics had rarely been more fractured. Its economy was in shambles. And much of the Western world had unified around a global effort to isolate Iran politically, economically and socially. Rouhani knew also knew he had a mandate for change: Iranian voters gave him a landslide victory at the polls, and he deftly assembled the most inclusive political coalition in the 34 year history of the Islamic Republic. With most of Iran's population and political system behind him, Rouhani has embarked upon a coordinated public diplomacy campaign to project Iran's domestic change beyond its borders and push back against Western-led efforts to portray Iran in a negative light. In addition to savvy use of Twitter, Facebook and other social media tools, Rouhani's team has utilized short YouTube videos to proliferate his message of change and reverberate it beyond Iran's borders. I will analyze the Rouhani teams strategy, examine two of its most compelling examples, and explain why it has delivered important results thus far that have the potential to continue well into the future.

12:15-1:30pm | Lunch

1:30-3:00pm | Keeping Cool | Moderator: Meta Mazaj

Omar Al-Ghazzi and Marwan M. Kraidy | Neo-Ottoman Cool and the Geopolitical Drama of Arab-Turkish Relations
Since coming to power in 2002, the Turkish Islamic-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP) succeeded in improving political and economic relations with Arab countries following decades of tense relations. To capture Turkish public diplomacy with the Arab world, we coined the term “neo-Ottoman cool” that helps understand the strategies with which Turkey portrays itself as a non-threatening power— at once an Islamic and modern political and economic force. Film, television serials, broadcasting and their circulation via digital media, were key pillars shaping and reflecting this Turkish charm offensive towards the Arab-speaking region. However, following the 2011 Arab uprisings and their ensuing conflicts, relations between Turkey and various Arab countries regressed – and in some cases reached the brink of armed confrontation. With the sharp turn of events, Turkish media and popular culture bore the brunt of some Arab commentators' anger. Despite the shifting geopolitical grounds, Turkish TV and film retained their position as primary sites within Arab political discourse, through which relations with Turkey are articulated.

Nancy Snow | Japan: A Super Culture Power’s Pursuit of Cool
Snow, a Fulbright professor at Sophia University and Abe Fellow at Keio University, is completing a book on Japan’s nation brand image since 3/11. Now a part-time resident of Tokyo, Dr. Snow explores Japan’s image reconstruction amidst Abenomics, Womenomics, NHK World TV expansion, No Nukes, Fukushima, The Cove and Cool Japan.

Zala Volcic | Transnational Celebrity Activism and War Rapes in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Local Responses to Angelina Jolie’s film “In the Land of Blood and Honey”
In post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), dealing with past war crimes and accounting for mass atrocities has constituted a very intricate and contentious process. Many scholars have pointed to the insufficiencies of international and national judicial mechanisms and the inability to deliver justice to victims of the 1992-95 Bosnian war. In particular, they have been critical of the International Criminal Tribunal trials for the former Yugoslavia when dealing with rape crimes. Can instead cinema tell powerful stories of the war, its origins and its aftermath? This presentation focuses on the local understandings, responses, and interpretations of celebrity activist Angelina Jolie and the film she directed in 2011 about the war rapes in BiH: In the land of Blood and Honey. It aims to consider film’s potential as a catalyst for remembrance and dealing with a traumatic past. I first provide a historical context of the production and promotion of different local films on war rapes in BiH. In the second part, I look at how Jolie’s film has been received and interpreted in the region itself, since Jolie’s stated goal was to ‘raise awareness about war rapes.’ On the basis of in-depth interviews with Bosnian public intellectuals, I argue that the film’s story of war rapes and suffering did little to raise awareness about war rapes victims generally and was interpreted primarily within two discursive frameworks: celebrity and ethno-nationalistic ones that tend to reinforce the status-quo in post-war BiH (clear-cut narratives of ethno-national collectivities as victims and perpetrators) and perpetuate misunderstandings about war crimes. Jolie's activism, in other words, did not contribute to the reconciliation between different ethnicities in BiH, but has, on the contrary further fostered polarization that continues to plague the region.

3:00-4:00pm | Producing Diplomacy | Moderator: Peter Decherney

Catherine Collins | Film Diplomacy: Engaging and Empowering Voices around the World
For more than 60 years, American films have been an important part of U.S. government cultural exchange programs to foster dialogue and mutual understanding. U.S. government film diplomacy has evolved over the years and today’s film outreach focuses on people-to-people exchanges that bring American independent filmmakers and their films to international communities. The U.S. Department of State’s American Film Showcase travels to approximately 20-30 countries each year with filmmakers leading discussions and workshops with diverse groups from emerging filmmakers, to youth groups to NGO leaders. Working with American embassy partners abroad, each program is different and each is tailored to address local, on-ground interests. Even as individual programs vary widely, universal themes emerge: that film transcends borders, that film encourages dialogue and that film exchange programs allow filmmakers, artists and storytellers to create lasting cultural connections. With a practitioner’s point of view, Catherine will speak about designing film programs that support the art and craft of film making, empower local filmmakers and promote engagement around issues that reflect American contemporary society and U.S. foreign policy such as climate change, disability rights, conflict resolution and women’s empowerment. She will also talk about how virtual exchange programs are furthering the reach and engagement of cultural programming.

Peter Almond | For a change: Films and Media Projects Before, During and After
Media content and all preparation and production are one thing, but how  do you build in audience impact and focus? Several cases on story development to the nuts of major studio marketing and production concurrent with full-scale public information campaigns. Filmmaking is a kind of privilege - hard work but rewarding in all sorts of ways. Do filmmakers have a role beyond release of their work? Is it incumbent on filmmakers working with public issue content to consider the outcome and uses of their work once completed and even once distributed. Then what?  How does a film make an impact on diverse audiences after Hollywood (or anyone) has done the basic "roll-out?" Several cases of story research, development, production cooperation, and project communication over a forty year period.

4:00-5:00pm | Reception

5:00pm | Keynote

Alec Ross | Inform, Inspire, Incite to Action: Film Diplomacy in the Digital Age
Alec Ross provides an expert’s point of view on topics ranging from social media to the President’s innovation policy to cyber security. He pulls from his firsthand experience implementing strategies at the State Department to present a perspective on the country’s current issues that audiences can’t hear from anyone else…



Alec Ross | Keynote Speaker, Author & Senior Advisor for Innovation to Hillary Clinton
He is a Senior Advisor for Innovation to the Secretary of State, a role created for him by Hillary Clinton to maximize the potential of technology and innovation in service of America’s diplomatic goals and stewarding the Secretary of State’s 21st Century Statecraft agenda. In this role, Ross advanced the State Department’s interests on a range of issues from Internet Freedom to disaster response to responding to regional conflicts. Previously, Ross served as Convener for the Technology, Media & Telecommunications Policy Committee on Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and served on the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition Team.

Omar Al-Ghazzi | University of Pennsylvania
He is a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication. His research interests include global communication, Arab journalism, and the intersection of politics and popular culture. His dissertation examines Arab discourses on memory and history and their relation to collective action and political identity formations. His work has appeared in Popular Communication, International Journal of Communication, and Media, Culture and Society. A former Fulbright fellow, Omar holds a Master’s degree in International Communication from American University in Washington DC and a BA in Communication Arts from the Lebanese American University in Beirut, Lebanon. Omar comes from a journalism and media analysis professional background and has previously worked for the BBC and Al-Hayat Arabic daily.

Peter Almond | Filmmaker 
has produced and consulted on a number of theatrical feature films, documentaries and media projects with political and social themes. Currently he is producing a drama about Frederick Douglass for Columbia - Sony Studios; preparing with Reine Bellivier projects for Old Trace Road Productions of Polina's Diary, a girl's account of the Russian Wars on Chechnya where she was growing up; and an account of life in alien North Korean society, Fujimoto and the Dear Leaders; and The Charming Alien, an account of the Hungarian scientist who brought the secret of nuclear fission with him as an emigre to Manhattan in 1939. Previously, Peter Almond produced the Cuban missile crisis drama, Thirteen Days for New Line Cinema - Warner Bros; Raspad, an epic melodrama about the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor disaster and the related political crisis in former Soviet Union, (an Ukrainian-US-Soviet coproduction); Virtual JFK: Vietnam if Kennedy Had Lived, a feature documentary about JFK's foreign policy; Forever Free, a feature-length TV pilot about America during emancipation and Reconstruction (co-writer and director); Forever Free, a book by Eric Foner and Josh Brown for Alfred Knopf Publishers; and consulting producer on The Armageddon Letters, a transmedia project. For the past three years Almond has lived in Budapest where he has made several documentary films on  the themes of the emerging institutions formed in the aftermath of political transition in the region.

Amelia Arsenault | Georgia State University
She is an Assistant Professor of communication at Georgia State University. She also serves as a research fellow at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy and the Media and Democracy Research Fellow at the Center for Global Communication Studies at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania and as a 2012-2014 Research Fellow at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy. Dr. Arsenault’s work on global media ownership and public diplomacy has appeared in edited volumes and in journals such as Information, Communication, & Society, International Sociology, and the International Journal of Communication. Her current book project explores the nascent industry of businesses offering online media advocacy services. She is also the co-managing editor of the Media Industries journal, a new online, open-access, peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the critical study of the media industries in global and comparative perspective. Prior to her academic career, she served as the film coordinator for the Zimbabwe International Film Festival Trust, a non-profit arts and culture organization dedicated to promoting visual literacy in Zimbabwe.

Catherine Collins | State Department
She is the Film Program Officer for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. She works with the American film industry and American embassies abroad in designing and implementing public diplomacy programs based on films and the people who make them. She oversees the American Film Showcase, the Department’s flagship touring program which each year brings contemporary award-winning American documentary, narrative feature and short films to audiences worldwide via the U.S. embassies in those countries. Currently, the State Department has a cooperative agreement with the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts in administering this program. Before joining the State Department, Catherine was an independent documentary film producer, writer, and researcher for award-wining documentaries. She has produced documentaries on a broad array of subjects, particularly on current affairs, science, history and literature for PBS, NHK and ARTE. Catherine has lived and worked overseas in Jakarta, London and Dubai.

Anthony Kaufman | Variety, Indiewire
He is a Part-Time Assistant Professor in Media Studies at The New School for Public Engagement. He has written about films and the film industry for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, The Village Voice, and Slate. He is currently a regular contributor to Variety, Filmmaker Magazine, The Utne Reader, and writes the ReelPolitik blog for He is also the editor of Steven Soderbergh: Interviews, which is currently being revised and expanded for the University Press of Mississippi, and the co-author of the forthcoming book Hope for Film: From the Front Lines of the Independent Cinema Revolutions, to be published this August by Counterpoint Press.

Marwan M. Kraidy | University of Pennsylvania
He is Professor of Communication and Director of the Project for Advanced Research in Global Communication (PARGC) at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, USA. The recipient of fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Kraidy has lectured worldwide and published more than 100 essays and 6 books, including Reality Television and Arab Politics (Cambridge UP 2010), which won three major prizes. Kraidy has been the Edward Said Chair of American Studies at the American University of Beirut, Visiting Professor at the Sorbonne in Paris, Assistant Professor of International Relations at American University in Washington, DC, and Assistant Professor of Critical-Cultural Studies at the University of North Dakota. A frequent media commentator on global and Arab media issues, professor Kraidy is currently writing Creative Insurgency, focusing on the human body as a locus of power and resistance in revolutionary times. He tweets at @MKraidy.

Reza Marashi | National Iranian American Council
He joined NIAC in 2010 as the organization’s first Research Director. He came to NIAC after four years in the Office of Iranian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. Prior to his tenure at the State Department, he was an analyst at the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS) covering China-Middle East issues, and a Tehran-based private strategic consultant on Iranian political and economic risk. Marashi is frequently consulted by Western governments on Iran-related matters. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, and The National Interest, among other publications. He has been a guest contributor to CNN, NPR, the BBC, TIME Magazine, The Washington Post, and the Financial Times, among other broadcast outlets. Follow Reza on Twitter:@rezamarashi

Kevin M. F. Platt | University of Pennsylvania
He is Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Term Professor in the Humanities, Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures and Graduate Chair of the Comparative Literature Program. He works on representations of Russian history, Russian historiography, history and memory in Russia, Russian lyric poetry, and global post-Soviet Russian culture. He is the author of Terror and Greatness: Ivan and Peter as Russian Myths (Cornell UP, 2011) and History in a Grotesque Key: Russian Literature and the Idea of Revolution (Stanford, 1997; Russian edition 2006), and the co-editor (with David Brandenberger) of Epic Revisionism: Russian History and Literature as Stalinist Propaganda (Wisconsin UP, 2006). His current projects include a critical historiography of Russia, a study of contemporary Russian culture in Latvia and a number of translation projects.

Monroe Price | University of Pennsylvania
He is the director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Global Communication Studies (CGCS) at the Annenberg School for Communication, where he works with a wide transnational network of regulators, scholars, and practitioners in Europe, Africa, Latin America, and Asia, as well as in the United States. Price also founded the Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy at Oxford University and remains a research fellow there. He also chairs the Center for Media and Communications Studies at Central European University. Price has served on the President’s Task Force on Telecommunications Policy and the Sloan Commission on Cable Communications (both in the 1970s) and on the Carter-Sagalaev Commission on Radio and Television Policy (in the 1990s). He was a long-time member of the International Broadcasting Institute (now the International Communications Institute). He is the author and editor of numerous publications including Media and Sovereignty: The Global Information Revolution and its Challenge to State Power, Owning the Olympics: Narratives of the New China, and the Routledge Handbook of Media Law.

Sandra Ristovska | University of Pennsylvania
She is a documentary filmmaker and a PhD Candidate in communication at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania. Her research explores the role of video in advocacy and public policy with a particular focus on human rights. Sandra is a recipient of the 2013 Herbert Schiller Prize from the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) and Top Paper Award from the Philosophy, Theory and Critique Division at the International Communication Association (ICA). Her work has appeared in the World Policy Blog, Public Books, American Journal of Sociology, and The Communication Review. Sandra is a co-chair of the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN) of IAMCR and an honorary, non-resident Research Fellow at the Center for Media and Communication Studies at the Central European University in Budapest, Hungary. Her films have screened at film festivals, museums and scholarly symposia in the US, Canada, UK, Germany, Serbia, and Macedonia.

Nancy Snow | California State University, Fullerton
She is a Professor of Communications at California State University, Fullerton, A former USIA and State Department official, and editor/author of nine books. Her latest is Propaganda and American Democracy (LSU Press). Snow has held visiting professor appointments in her expertise areas of public diplomacy and propaganda studies in China, Japan, Malaysia, Israel as well as Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School and the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. At USC Annenberg she served as faculty consultant for the the nation’s first Masters in Public Diplomacy program and Center on Public Diplomacy.

Zala Volcic | University of Queensland
She is a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies, University of Queensland, Australia. For the past several years, she has been teaching and publishing in the areas of media, social change, nationalism, and transitional justice. Her work brings together a range of interests and concerns related to national identity, including the role played by the media in the formation of nationalisms, and in covering war crimes. She is the author of Serbian Spaces of Identity, as well as several articles and book chapters on media memories, communist nostalgia, dark tourism, nation-branding, and social movements.



This conference, free and open to the public, has been made possible thanks to the Dick Wolf Cinema Studies Fund. No registration is required.

Organized by Peter Decherney with the assistance of Nicola M. Gentili.

Cinema Studies Program
209A Fisher-Bennett Hall ⋅ 3340 Walnut Street ⋅ Philadelphia, PA 19104 ⋅ (215) 898-8782