Mapping Canadian Cinematographic Territories: Sébastien Caquard

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In a lecture jointly sponsored by the Digital Humanities, IPLAI and the Geography Department’s “Geospectives” series; Dr.  Sébastien Caquard of Concordia University presented his current SSHRC funded project “Mapping Canadian Cinematographic Territories” on 2 November, 2012. Dr. Caquard’s work considers the understanding of place through its cartographic representation; he described the study as focussing on two broad questions:

  • What is the geographic structure of the narratives in contemporary Canadian cinema?
  • From a methodological perspective, how can cinematic narratives be mapped?

The study considered a total of 46 Canadian, contemporary films, which were chosen according to a set of 4 criteria defined by the researchers. Films had to be produced (at in least some part) by Canadian production companies; contemporary productions (2004-2008); show “real” places, and lastly meet a minimum revenue requirement as a way to measure impact. The films were further broken into categories according to language: Francophone; Anglophone centred, Hydbrids (which considered films directed by filmmakers navigating between their culture of origin and their Canadian culture) and Inuit.

Dr. Caquard’s team developed their own methodology inspired by literary scholars to conduct the study. Dr. Caquard described his research as taking place in 3 stages. The first, a systematic analysis of the places shown in the selected films and their frequency within the film categories. These results showed an overwhelming polarity of focus on certain places; Francophone films centred mainly on downtown Montréal, Anglophone productions framed Canadian places (except Montréal) and to a small extent western Europe and the Hybrid films considered Toronto, Vancouver and Asia.

The second stage addressed the challenge of creating a narrative map that considered both the geographic places featured in films and the geometric relationship between these areas. The resulting Geoweb tool (available at www.atlascine.org ) allows users to trace the places in a film through both space and time, creating opportunities to track and analyse the ‘unfolding’ of a film’s geography.

The final stage, interpretation and analysis of both the data and the Geoweb tool, is currently underway. Dr. Caquard noted the uni and bipolar nature  of the films within his test group; most focussed on only one or two geographic places within the narrative. His work has also shown category specific ‘blind spots’, for example Montréal features overwhelmingly in Francophone productions but is completely ignored in Anglophone ones.

Dr. Caquard finished with  his thoughts on the future applications of the Geoweb tool to literary and memory contexts and proposed further areas that needed to be improved. The lecture concluded with audience questions, many of whom were excited by the possibilities presented by his team’s study.