Professor William Higbee
Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor for Business, Engagement and Innovation. Professor in Film Studies
Will Higbee studied as an undergraduate at the University of Birmingham (BA French) and the University of Exeter (PhD in French Cinema). He was appointed to a lectureship at Exeter in 2002. His research focuses primarily on French and Francophone cinema, with a particular emphasis on immigrant and post-colonial cinema in France and the cinemas of the Maghreb. His research is also concerned with broader issues of national, transnational and diasporic cinema. He has published widely in these areas and has been invited to participate in film festivals and symposia in Europe, the USA, Hong Kong and North Africa. From 2006-14 he was an editor of the international peer-reviewed journal, Studies in French Cinema (now French Screen Studies) and now sits on the advisory board for the journal.
He is the author of Post-Beur Cinema (EUP, 2013) and co-editor of De-Westernizing Film Studies (Routledge, 2012). Between 2015-2018 he was the PI for an international research project on Transnational Moroccan Cinema funded by the AHRC. One of the outputs from this project was a monograph, Moroccan Cinema Uncut: Decentred Voices, Transnational Perspectives (EUP, 2020), co-authored by Higbee with Flo Martin and Jamal Bahmad. In 2019, Higbee secured following-on-funding for impact related activities linked to the original research project. This has led to the digitization and restoration of Door to the Sky (1989) a key film in the history of Moroccan cinema by pioneering feminist director Farida Benlyazid. As a result of this project, the film is being discovered by new international audiences through film festivals and online screenings.
He teaches on a range of film history and theory modules across the College of Humanities, contributing to the film programme in the Department of English and offering specialist cinema modules in the Department of Modern Languages.
He has successfully supervised (as first supervisor) ten PhD students to completion to date across a range of topics in history, theory and practice. His experience supervising PhD film practice students has led him to take a central role in the College’s partnership with the London Film School. He is currently the Academic link manager for the Exeter/LFS partnership and co-director of the MA in International Film Business, a collaborative, industry-facing MA taught jontly between the College of Humanities and the London Film School.
My primary research interests include:
· contemporary French cinema
· Francophone cinema (especially cinemas of the Maghreb)
· immigrant, postcolonial and diasporic cinema
· transnational cinemas.
To date I have written three monographs, co-edited three books, authored 18 individual book chapters for edited collections and published 17 journal articles in peer-reviewed, international academic journals.
My early research focused on representations of marginality and ethnicity in French cinema of the 1990s, such as 'Beur' cinema and the banlieue film. This led to the publication in 2006 of a monograph on director and actor Mathieu Kassovitz for the Manchester University Press French Directors series. I propose that Kassovitz's films function as both a site of tension and a point of intersection for debates surrounding the current state of ‘popular' French cinema, in particular its relationship to Hollywood, and a broader range of socio-political issues (racism, exclusion, violence) facing contemporary France.
A second, related strand of my research concerns Maghrebi-French and North African émigre filmmaking in France since the late 1990s. To study these films and filmmakers, I have employed an approach grounded in the debates surrounding diasporic, 'accented' and transnational cinema. The monograph that emerged from this research, Post-Beur Cinema (EUP, 2013), is the first book-length study of Maghrebi-French and North African émigré filmmaking in France in the 2000s and argues for the 2000s as a transformative decade for ethnic minority filmmaking in France. The book was described by Professor James Williams in his review for French Studies as “…a major study of one of the most exciting and vital areas of contemporary French cinema.”
My most recent monograph, co-authored with Prof Flo Martin and Dr Jamal Bahmad, is titled Moroccan Cinema Uncut: decentred voices, transnational perspectives (EUP, 2020). The monograph is the first book length study to consider the transnational dimension of Moroccan cinema. Featuring interviews with filmmakers and key figures from the Moroccan film industry, the book explores Moroccan cinema’s transnational reach through a focus on the cultural politics of international co-production, the role of international festivals as alternative distribution networks, piracy and digital disruption, film education and activism. For a recent online panel discussion of the book hosted by SOAS, click here.
The book was one of the outputs from an international research project on Transnational Moroccan Cinema funded by the AHRC (£482,132) between December 2015 and December 2018. Impact activity related to this project was extended by the award of a follow-on-funding grant from the AHRC in 2019 (£99,202) with a primary focus on restoring and digitizing lost classics from Moroccan cinema. The project begun with the restoration of Farida Benlyazid's pioneering feminist film Door to the Sky (1987). The restored version of the film was premiered at the national film festival in Tangier (Morocco) in March 2020 before an audience of 300 people. Since then, the film has been streamed at online festivals in Morocco, the UK, Switzerland and Brazil, introducing new international audiences to this key film in the history of Moroccan cinema.
Alongside this interest in French and francophone cinema, my research engages more broadly with questions of how we might theorise cinema as a transnational, industrial art form. In 2010 I co-authored an article with Professor Song Hwee Lim entitled ‘Concepts of transnational cinema: towards a critical transnationalism in film studies’. The article was published in the inaugural edition of the journal Transnational Cinemas and has been widely cited by scholars, providing a significant contribution to shaping the direction of debates in the area of transnational cinema studies.
I have been invited to speak at various international conferences and festivals, including: the Arte East Film Festival, New York (2007), the JCC Carthage Film Festival, Tunis (2010), an international symposium on cinema and the crisis of globalization in La Bretesche, France, (2012) and in Chicago as part of a special panel on French cinema at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies annual conference (2013). More recently, I have been invited to deliver papers on ‘Digital Disruption and the European Film industry’ at Paris I, Panthéon- Sorbonne (2017), in Hong Kong (at both CUHK and HKBU in 2018, and in the University of Tetouan (Morocco) in November 2019.
In November 2015 I delivered the keynote address at the European Communication Research and Education Association’s (ECREA) ‘European Cinemas, Intercultural Meetings’ conference in Copenhagen (12-13th November, 2015) and in 2019 I delivered one of the two Keynote addresses at annual conference for the British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies (BAFTSS), University of Birmingham. In December 2018, I served as President of the Jury for FIDEC (International Film School Film Festival, Tetouan).
In August 2015, I was awarded a Research Grant from the AHRC of £482,132 to lead a major, three-year international research project on Transnational Moroccan Cinema.
In June 2019, I was awarded follow-on funding from the AHRC (£99, 902) for impact activity related to the Transnational Moroccan Cinema project.
Project partners for the two grants included:
The London Film School
Africa in Motion Film Festival (Scotland)
Moroccan Chamber of Film Producers (MCFP)
Abdelmalek Essaadi University (Tetouan) / the Tetouan International Film School Festival (FIDEC)
Dr Will Higbee welcomes enquiries about postgraduate supervision (MRes, MPhil, PhD) across a range of areas in Film Studies and French Studies, including research by (film) practice.
Specific areas of research interest include:
- Contemporary French cinema
- North African and West African cinemas
- Immigrant cinema in France and Europe
- Post-colonial cultures in France
- Diasporic or accented cinemas
- Theorising national, transnational and regional cinema
- Research based (film) practice
Postgraduate Supervision since 2003
- PhD ‘Representations of the Harkis in contemporary French culture', Nina Sutherland. Awarded 2006.
- PhD thesis (film practice) 'Rhizomes and Non‐linear Pathways: New Approaches to Narrative in the Competitive Hobbyist Documentary’, Dave Shaerf, Awarded in 2011.
- PhD (film practice) ‘Towards participatory documentary practice', Curtis Wilkinson. Awarded in 2011.
- PhD 'Transnational cinema and film genre', Lucyann Kerry. Awarded in 2012.
- PhD (film practice) 'Film genre and the "mental space" of the screenwriter', Jule Selbo. Awarded 2011
- PhD (film practice) 'Digital Fluidity', Ben Sherriff (AHRC studentship). Awarded 2013
- PhD, ‘A cinema in relation: Belgian Francophone cinema and the regional transnational’, Jamie Steele. Awarded 2014.
- PhD (film practice), ‘Surrealism as attitude in film practice’, Michaela Morning. Awarded 2020.
- MPhil, ‘Cinema, Migration and New Europe’, Sevastiana Angastopoulou. Awarded 2015.
- PhD (film practice), ‘Identity, race, representation: new documentary form in South African cinema’ (LFS/Exeter studentship), Teddy Mattera. Awarded 2020.
Current PhD students:
- PhD (film practice), ‘ The producer as creative force’, (LFS/Exeter studentship), Anna Sowa
- PhD, 'Heteroglossia, space and authorship in the cinema of Tony Gatlif', Tamsin Graves.
- PhD (flm practice), 'Off-sight - a new approach to cnematography',' Pierre-Alan Giraud
- PhD (film practice), The quest for a black diasporic (global African) film language – archives, montage and the black radical tradition' (LFS/Exeter studentship), Eva Munyiri
- PhD (film practice), 'Moveo: digital disruption and creative entrepreneurship in the film industry', (LFS/Exeter studentship), Emily Skoggard.
Papers given as guest lecture or invited speaker
- ‘Re-imagining national cinema as community in the films of Ferid Boughedir’, keynote address at the Society for Post-Colonial Francophone Studies, Postgraduate Conference, IGRS, Senate House, London, September 2012.
- ‘Indignation in Fortress Europe: immigration and globalization in contemporary French film’, paper given as part of an international academic symposium funded by the Borchard Foundation at Chateau La Bretesche, Brittany, France, 3-6 June 2012.
- 'The (Maghrebi-) French connection': cinemas of the North African diaspora in France since 2000’, A medium in transition?: changing contexts and cultures in cinema production and consumption, international symposium to be hosted by Department of Theatre, Film and Television, University of York, 24-25th May 2011.
- 'Le fabuleux destin des cinéastes maghrébins en France dans les années 2000', Cinémas du Maghreb colloquium held as part of the 23rd Carthage Film festival (JCC), Tunis (Tunisia), 27-29th October 2010.
- 'Couscous and class struggle: reframing the North African diaspora in La Graine et le mulet’, School of Modern Languages, University of Bristol, February 2010.
- 'Accented cinema and return journey narratives', Screen Conversations: Symposium on World Cinema, University of Bristol, December 2008.
- ‘New cartographies of Maghrebi-French filmmaking', ArteEast ‘Beur is beautiful': an international festival and conference on Maghrebi-French filmmaking, New York, November 2007.
- July 2007: Co-organiser of an international conference entitled ‘Re-presenting Diasporas in cinema and new (digital) media' at the University of Exeter, supported by the British Academy, Migrations Research Network (Exeter University) and Information Society Network (Exeter University).
Selected Conference Papers (2006-present)
- ‘Class struggle and religious difference in the workplace: The politics of representing Islam in Dernier Maquis (Ameur-Zaïmeche, 2008)’, Society for French Studies , Nottingham, 1-3 July 2013.
- ‘New Historiographies of French cinema: the case of immigrant cinema in France’, Society for Cinema and Media Studies, Chicago, USA, 6-10 March 2013.
- ‘Indigènes and Hors la loi: mainstream, middlebrow and counter heritage cinema’, AHRC-sponsored symposium on Middlebrow Cinema, University of Exeter, June 2012.
- 'Tenja (Legzoiuli 2005) and the myth of return: inverting the accent in post-beur cinema', Bicultural Literature Conference, University of Surrey / Institut français (London), December 2010.
- 'Diasporic identities and cross cultural exchange in Tenja, Bled Number One and La Graine et le mulet', Association for the Study of Modern and Contemporary France, annual conference, Portsmouth, September 2009.
- 'The Mainstreaming of Maghrebi-French filmmaking in contemporary French cinema', European Cinema Research Forum annual conference, University of Exeter, July 2010.
- 'Re-placing the accent: intercultural exchange and the myth of return in recent journey films by directors of the North African diaspora in France', Screen Studies Conference, Glasgow, July 2009.
- 'Displaced audio: exploring film sound in Maghrebi-French filmmaking', Studies in French Cinema annual conference (Kings College London), April 2009.
- ‘From old to New Europe: reconfiguring European identities in Le Grand Voyage (Ferroukhi, 2007)', University of Manchester, Creolising Europe, September 2007.
- ‘Mathieu Kassovitz: Reframing the popular in contemporary French cinema, University of Manchester/Manchester Metropolitan University, Issues in Popular contemporary French cinema, January 2006
External impact and engagement
Over the past five years, I have been involved in a range of impact and engagement activities linked to the Transnational Moroccan Cinema project, including:
· Organising a symposium for Moroccan filmmakers to discuss the current state of the Moroccan film industry at the Marrakech International Film Festival in December 2016
· Working with project partner Africa in Motion Film festival (Edinburgh and Glasgow) to organise workshops, screenings and panels with a specific focus on Moroccan cinema at the festival between 2016 and 2019. This includes an entire programme devoted to contemporary Moroccan Cinema in 2018.
· Working with project partners FIDEC (the International Film School Film Festival, Tetouan) and the London Film School to organise workshops for emerging Moroccan filmmakers on pitching, producing and documentary cinematography.
· In November 2018, I served as President of the festival jury at FIDEC (the International Film School Film Festival, Tetouan).
· In 2019 and 2020 with the support of the AHRC follow-on funding, I led a project to restore, digitise and bring key films from Moroccan cinema that were currently ‘lost’ or outside of circulation to new international audiences. The first film selected was Farida Benlyazid’s pioneering exploration of Moroccan feminism and Islam, Door to the Sky (1989). The restored version of the film was premiered at the National Moroccan Film Festival in Tangier in March 2020 to an audience of 300 people. The film was then selected by the Moroccan Film Council (CCM) as one of 20 key films from the history of Moroccan cinema to be streamed for free to online audiences during the national lockdown caused by Covid-19 in May 2020. The film has also been selected for screening at festivals in 2020 and 2021 in the UK, Europe and Brazil – bringing this key film from Moroccan cinema to new international audiences.