Presenter: Damian Cox (Bond University)
Boyhood and Moonlight: the role of imagination in cinematic spectatorship

Watching Moonlight (dir. Barry Jenkins, 2016) ought to be a more powerful experience than watching Boyhood (dir. Richard Linklater, 2014). Moonlight is a compact and forceful story, told in an emphatic, communicative style. It is a story of bullying, of a beautiful mentor and a failed parent; of friendship and its betrayal; of growing up gay in a ferociously homophobic environment. It effortlessly builds identification with its protagonist and his impossibly difficult life. By comparison, Boyhood is a rambling story of a very ordinary boy going through a mostly ordinary boyhood. But the comparison doesn’t quite work like that. Boyhood achieves a level of engagement that Moonlight, for all its acclaim, doesn’t match. (Or so I think: generalising from a single case.) This paper is an attempt to explain the comparison using my preferred theory of imaginative engagement in the cinema and the phenomenon of imaginative resistance.

Presenter: Thomas Wartenberg (Mount Holyoke College, USA)
'The Problems of Three Little People': How Casablanca Does Philosophy

In his paper, "Consequentialism and Integrity," Bernard Williams introduces a thought experiment about "Jim and the Indians" to show the limitations of consequentialism and utilitarianism as ethical theories. In her paper, "The Philosophical and Cognitive Achievement of Cult and the Ethical Puzzle of Casablanca," Laura Di Summa-Knoop claims that Casablanca can be viewed as a thought experiment along identical lines to Williams'. In this talk, I assess the validity of Di Summa-Knoop's claim, showing the extent to which the film does present a thought experiment and the ways in which this cinematic thought experiment differs from the one in Williams' paper.

This paper considers the difference between the way in which Casablanca functions as a thought experiment and the way in which Bernard Williams' similar thought experiment about Jim and the Indians functions.

Presenter: Jane Stadler (UQ)
Embodied Cognition and the Epistemology of Perception in Arrival

Arrival (dir. Denis Villeneuve, 2016) engages with audiovisual communication and its effects in philosophically provocative ways. The film features Amy Adams in character as Dr Louise Banks, a linguist attempting to communicate with an advanced alien species that uses a semasiographic language resembling intricate mandalas with no beginning or end, no linear sequence, and no relationship to spoken sounds. “They use non-linear orthography,” says Banks. “Do they think like that too?” As she learns their language, Banks begins to dream in alien graphemes and to experience the world and its temporal structures in ways facilitated by this novel form of communication. To explain her insights into this alien mode of understanding, she invokes the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which suggests that language structures the way we think and behave. This paper investigates how the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis may relate to the audiovisual language of film, considering how the rhythms of editing and the embodied address of sound and image may elicit experiential modes of knowledge that augment narrative cognition. From very early in the history of cinema, narrative structure has dominated. As Philosopher Paul Ricoeur argues, the cause and effect logic of narrative is fundamental to organising human understandings of selfhood, behaviour, and events. Furthermore, in narrative film the codes and conventions of editing, cinematography, and sound also structure the way we think and these aesthetic techniques are at the same time informed by the way humans perceive, experience, and understand the world. Drawing on the phenomenological work of Vivian Sobchack and the contributions Walter Murch and Mark Kerins have made to editing and sound theory respectively, this paper takes an epistemological approach to cinema as a conduit for understanding others and their stories.


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