One of the most anticipated events of my academic year is the SCSMI conference, the annual gathering of film scholars interested in cognitive, philosophical, aesthetic, neurophysiological, and evolutionary-psychological approaches to the analysis of film and other moving-image media. This year’s conference was held in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, from June 11 through June 14, 2014 and was – again – quite an experience.
In contrast to last year’s SCSMI conference, which took place in the buzzing German capital of Berlin, this year’s conference was held at medium-sized Franklin & Marshall College in the City of Lancaster, one of the oldest inland cities in the United States of America. Thus (similar to the 2012 SCSMI conference in Bronxville) most if not all of the international participants were accommodated in the college’s residence halls, which added to the conference’s easy and informal atmosphere. The conference hosts, F&M professor Dirk Eitzen and his team, had done a wonderful job putting together the four-day program [click here for pdf, 8 MB] with about 50 papers, two keynote presentations, and one poster session.
The papers ranged from classical film studies to cutting-edge empirical research in cognitive psychology. Among the former was Murray Smith‘s presentation on the ‘Transparency of Cinematographic Images’, David Bordwell on ‘Block Construction Plotting Structures in 1940s Hollywood’ (as posted on his blog), or Carl Plantinga‘s paper on ‘Affect and Ethics in Narrative Film’. Particularly interesting was also Stephen Prince‘s paper on ‘Realism in Digital Space’ and the way real actors have been mapped to the virtual world in Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity.
Apart from these more traditional papers the society’s interest in cognitive psychology and social science approaches did also show in many empirical studies. Lester Loschky and colleagues presented a framework for ‘Explaining the Film Comprehension/Attention Relationship’, Stephen Hinde, Ian Gilchrist and Tim Smith used a ‘Dual Task Paradigm to Investigate Immersion and Attention’ while watching movies, Miruna Doicaru presented a recently developed scale for measuring aesthetic appreciation in film, and Katalin Bálint showed highly interesting results from interview studies demonstrating how participants frequently refered to embodied image schemas to describe their absorption in film viewing.
Finally, several colleagues from Hamburg did also attend the conference, covering not only a wide range of topics, but also different media: While my own paper dealt with ‘Video Game Aesthetics and the Emotion of Awe‘, Sebastian Armbrust discussed a ‘Cognitive Semantics of Plotting in Serial Television Drama’. Kathrin Fahlenbrach and Maike Reinerth, on the other hand, addressed film-related questions: While the former traced ‘Audiovisual Metaphors and Metonymies in Funny Moving Images’, the latter presented a cognitive film studies approach to analyzing memory flashbacks in film.
However, what made this conference special was not only the high quality of the presentations, but also having inspiring and/or entertaining discussions between and after panels, meeting valued colleagues from all over the world, and getting to know new ones. Special thanks go to the organizing team for a wonderful conference, to many colleagues for inspiring new ideas and to Katalin and Miruna for making the not-so-pleasant-thanks-to-Lufthansa return journey an awesome and memorable adventure!