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Film, culture and heritage to be focus of newly created Research Chair’s projects

Dr. Sheila Petty

Over the next three years Dr. Sheila Petty, a film professor in the Faculty of Media, Art and Performance at the University of Regina will be engaging grad students in three projects as the newly-established SaskPower Research Chair in Cultural Heritage. 

“The overall goal of my research program is to lead dialogue and practice concerning living cultural heritage, memory, and identity politics in globalizing cultures, political and cultural sovereignty, control of representation in image production, and modes of resistance to colonialism in African screen media,” she said. “I am interested in what happens to knowledge, cultural expressions and creative forms that arise in Africa and then travel around the globe ending up in different geographical locations and reconfigured to local contexts – so that’s what the whole project is about.”

Dr. Petty already has more than 30 years of experience researching African cinemas and how globalization has an effect on cultural expression, and that will serve as the base for her future projects as Research Chair. 

“One of the main problems of imposing Western frames of reference on non-Western cultures is that you impose meaning that was probably never meant to be there or you end up imposing an outcome that you want to see but has nothing to do with the world sense of that particular culture, so that’s very dangerous.”

For the first project, Dr. Petty will be studying Moroccan Amazigh cinema and cultural heritage. This research project offers a new understanding of the role of cultural heritage in Moroccan Amazigh cinema, the importance of cinema as a medium of transmission of this cultural heritage and the cinema's importance and influence within North African and world cinema contexts. 

The second area of research is film festivals and transnational flows of living cultural heritage, specifically, Africa. She will be researching methodologies and practices of presentation, curation and festivalization, to create new spaces for exhibition, generate open-access documentation and sustainable archiving practices, to contribute to audio-visual memory, and train and mentor the next generation of curators as well as knowledge keepers. 

Dr. Petty will also be writing a cinematic history of the origins and legacy of “La Marche Pour l’Egalité et Contre le Racisme.” The project deals with the ways in which French and Maghrebi filmmakers have cinematically depicted the legacy of North African immigration to France during the period from 1983-2018. This research will analyze the ways in which contemporary Maghrebi-descended French filmmakers cinematically portray in their recent films the identities and complex relationships with European society, culture and history.  

To help with the projects, Dr. Petty will be engaging with grad students, who will, in turn, be getting training experience that will help them grow both as students and as professionals in the film industry.

Ricardo Jiménez, who is currently working on his MFA in film production, is one such student who will be looking to add to his already impressive resume. His fluency in English, French and Spanish has served him well during his time working at various film festivals, including last summer’s Brazilian Film Festival (Mostra de Cinemas Africanos 2021), in which he was able to participate remotely.

“This experience has been invaluable as a student,” he said. “While you are a student, you are looking for ideas and answers to a lot of questions. Having contact with films and filmmakers from all over the world has allowed me to find some answers, generate more questions about my craft and diversify the approaches I have been using in my own artistic research. I want to be able to continue working with festivals after I finish my education, and also be able in the future to create new spaces of divulgation and distribution of films that sometimes need more attention and are at risk of being forgotten, not because of its quality but because of external factors to which sometimes we are bound by the market and business logics.”

The work Dr. Petty has set out to accomplish along with the help of graduate students would not be possible without the support of SaskPower, who donated $120,000 to establish the Chair position. 

“I would sincerely like to thank SaskPower for this great opportunity because they are funding culture, in creative ways and I think this is significant because their investment will go a long way, and it touches many levels within the U of R and the province – more than we might even think of right at this point,” she said. 

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