Reframing Space: Film as History (REFACE)

Reframing Space: Film as History (REFACE) focuses upon early documentary film in the period from 1896 to 1939 in the Yugoslav space. REFACE opens a new research area of examining film as history through the systematic research of works of the early cinema pioneers who rose from the ground up to ‘document the life’ around them.

REFACE introduces framing as subject of analysis through which we assess the historical meanings and the historical value of early film. It is through the concept of frame that we can examine film as history. It is within this frame (of the camera) that we examine people and events of the past are memorized, but the frame is also the final limit – we see only what is ‘framed’ by the film. REFACE examines history as something that frames the people and historical events in a specific way. Assessing those specific ways of framing requires a more integrative approach which in turn, REFACE argues, will inform us in more depth about the history of a specific time and its peoples.

To read film as history means to analyse the film language, its aesthetics, content and historical context, which arises from the way film is framed. Frame is both the space – what we see as recorded by the camera – and the way in which something is presented. Framing (and “reframing”) of the content, but also of the seen and unseen context (on-screen and off-screen space) is crucial for understanding film as history: understanding the ways in which a specific space is shown and the ways in which different spaces are connected within the film provides equally valuable information about the context as does the content of the film. Framing is important for the historical analysis that aims not just to identify whether or not something has happened, but how it happened and in what historical circumstances.

Frame is a still image among many, that constitutes a moving image: from 1927 the standard frame rate was 24 frames per second (fps). Although the eye of the viewer cannot distinguish each of these 24fps, frame is the basic unit that carries the information of the moving image.  Frame more widely stands for the limits of the camera – what is seen in the space – this is called a sequence, and the eye of the viewer is limited to the space that the camera frames. Usually film consists from a number of different sequences, and how these sequences – spaces are connected constitutes another level of frame: this type of framing will usually determine the meaning of the film. Therefore, frame is directly related to the space that camera records and to the ways in which spaces connect in the film – from which our understanding of the content arises.  However, there is another level of frame(ing) present in film: that is the ‘unseen’ frame, which are the historical and personal circumstances that surround the auteur and consequently the film. It is unseen yet it transcends into the film not just by the means of the ‘atmosphere’ that the film creates, but by the means of shot and montage, camera angles and movements, the film aesthetics – in other words it is present through the film language.

In establishing frame as the subject of analysis this Project explores the historical significance of the early documentary film. Methodologically this means positing frame as the focal point in which several methods meet: historical, archival and film analysis. Archival and film analysis supplement each other. While the former enables accessing data and determining its authenticity, the latter draws attention to the ways in which film narrates the history by the means of film language. The former compares the historicity of archival materials with the wider historical circumstances, the latter conveys the understanding of film language specific to the time period. In both cases frame is the foci point through which we test how historical events (as identified within archival analysis)[1] are reflected in the film language – its frame (film analysis). Historical analysis applies frame as a method of analysis: based on the reading of the film language, historical analysis looks further to identify what is in the frame that reflects the wider historical circumstances and how the frame transcends and corresponds to off-screen space.[2] Historical analysis is an integral part of the film and archival analysis seeking to establish the authenticity of the primary source: film as an artefact, and the content represented in the film, and the secondary source - the supplementary archival material with additional information about the film and/or the process of filming. The conjunction of different methods of analysis reflects a multidisciplinary methodological approach which nonetheless do not run in separate avenues but merge through frame as the subject of analysis.




[1] These are usually the documents and press releases referring to the immediate historical event recorded by a film.


[2] This means examining how the frame transcends the wider historical circumstances, including the production, socio-political, economic, and cultural contexts, in which specific events took place.