Introduction to Issue 11
The Video Essay: An Emergent Taxonomy of Cinematic Writing

The Cine-Files, issue 11 (fall 2016)

Vicki Callahan and Virginia Kuhn, Editors


This issue of The Cine-Files emerged from a year-long collaboration focused on the possibilities of the video essay. It was initially sparked by a series of sessions at University College Cork (UCC), where Vicki Callahan was in residence as a Fulbright scholar, and quickly expanded to transatlantic venues. The conversations included faculty and graduate students at multiple universities, across numerous classes, and located on two continents. There were multiple points of entry: hands-on workshops, Skype sessions, a RealtimeBoard of curated work and resources, a shared Scalar book with works in progress and spaces for feedback, and a variety of shared documents on the possibilities of the form.

The essays represented here—both textual and video—are but a portion of what was produced as a result of the collaborative effort. While these pieces fall under the category of the “video essay,” differing approaches guided their construction. Unsurprisingly then, the videos vary greatly both in form as well as content. For example, while some works address specific historical or theoretical concerns in film and media, others speak to the expansion of the creative palette with essays that comment on how the form itself spurred a reflective turn, offered a new venue for personal expression, or presented the video as one component in a multimedia piece. Time and again, the boundaries between theory and practice and the creative and critical were challenged in exciting and unexpected ways. Indeed, in the only exclusively text-based essay included here, Jools Gilson explores these shifting boundaries and the processes of discovery gained by adding the video essay to her creative writing class.

Although there are many overlaps, the video essays featured here fall into three types: Videographic Criticism, Digital Argument, and the MEmorial. This emergent taxonomy is exemplified in the first three videos, each of which provide a brief description of the process or issues at stake in the category:

Christina Lane’s work, Carole Lombard: What Remains, provides an example of videographic criticism, a form that employs film texts to illuminate concepts or problems in film history and theory.  The videographic essay has flourished with the work of Film Studies for Free (Catherine Grant), [inTransition], and indeed in a prior issue of The Cine-Files (Fall 2014, Issue #7).  In Lane’s essay, the implicit investment of the film critic is made explicit through a juxtaposition of both Carole Lombard’s film performance and a fan aerial tour of the site of her fatal plane crash.  Here, the split of the sound and image tracks both enhances and defamiliarizes the aura of the Hollywood star, pointing back toward the workings of the cinema form and of fan engagement.

Virginia Kuhn’s piece, Images in, of, and Time exemplifies the digital argument, a rhetorical approach to the video essay that marshals all available semiotic resources in order to make claims and provide evidence in support of those claims. Thus, the digital argument is expressed across the registers of sound, text, and image, while it also makes liberal and strategic use of the unique affordances of digital media such as layering, textual effects and visual manipulations. These materials and techniques break down generic boundaries and embrace affect.

Vicki Callahan’s video essay, The Just War, reflects the MEmorial, an approach drawn from the work of Gregory Ulmer, which finds the media maker interacting with a social problem and striving to overcome the usual “compassion fatigue” produced by the spectacle of contemporary media through a personal intervention and connection with the issue in question.

The editors wish to thank all of the contributors to this special issue. And we also extend our thanks to all participants in this collaboration: Liz Greene’s Dublin City University class graciously shared their projects in our collective work space and participated in a thoughtful Skype conversation with UCC and USC students about process. Armida de la Garza, at UCC, was a lively interlocutor in our conversations via online commentary and with a parallel class that employed the video essay as one tool in a range of digital explorations on the Irish Easter Rising Centenary.  Konstantia Kontaxis and Alex Kalogeropoulos at the University of Miami, also shared work or provided feedback to our group.  We appreciate the hard work and insights of everyone who participated and look forward to new conversations and new projects that emerge from all of this group.



Vicki Callahan is Associate Professor in the School of Cinematic Arts, Division of Media Arts + Practice.  Her research and teaching is focused on the integration of theory and practice with attention to issues in film and media history, feminist studies, digital culture, media strategies for social change, and public scholarship.  She is author of Zones of Anxiety: Movement, Musidora, and the Crime Serials of Louis Feuillade (WSUP 2005), editor for the collection, Reclaiming the Archive: Feminism and Film History (WSUP 2010), and co-editor with Virginia Kuhn for the collection, Future Texts: Subversive Performance and Feminist Bodies (Parlor Press, 2016).   She was NEH fellow for the inaugural workshop, “Scholarship in Sound and Image,” on Videographic Criticism at Middlebury College, and in 2015 she was in residence at University College Cork, Ireland as a Fulbright Scholar with a focus on digital media praxis.

Virginia Kuhn is Associate Director of the Institute for Multimedia Literacy and Associate Professor in the School of Cinematic Arts, Division of Media Arts + Practice. In 2005, she successfully defended one of the first born-digital dissertations in the United States, challenging archiving and copyright conventions. Committed to helping shape open source tools for scholarship, she also published the first article created in the authoring platform, Scalar, titled “Filmic Texts and the Rise of the Fifth Estate,” (IJLM, 2010), in which she discusses teaching with the video essay.  Kuhn recently published (with Vicki Callahan) a collection titled Future Texts: Subversive Performance and Feminist Bodies (Parlor Press, 2016) and has edited two peer-reviewed digital anthologies (with Victor Vitanza), MoMLA: From Panel to Gallery (Kairos, 2013) and From Gallery to Webtext: A Multimodal Anthology (Kairos, 2008). She directs an undergraduate Honors in Multimedia Scholarship program, and a graduate certificate in Digital Media and Culture, and teaches a variety of graduate and undergraduate classes in new media, all of which marry theory and practice.