Davina Quinlivan, Senior Lecturer in Film, Kingston School of Art, Kingston University, is a mother to two small boys and a carer for her elderly mother. In this piece Davina explains how and why film is such an important part of her life and how caring for others has co-existed alongside professional roles. The piece covers how Davina thrives and stays connected to their community within Film Studies.
My surname does not betray this, it belongs to my great-grandfather of Irish immigrant descent, but I am of a diverse cultural heritage, with grandmothers from ethnic minority states in Burma (Myanmar) and other Anglo-Asian ethnicities. I have worked in film and trained as a filmmaker (screenwriting), but I have carved out a career in Film as an academic. I am a mother to two small boys and a carer for my elderly mother. I want to tell you about how and why film is such a part of my life and how caring for others has now co-existed, alongside my professional roles, how I thrive and how I stay connected to my community within Film Studies.
These films haunted me as embalmed reminders of a Colonial past which I had not lived through, but still proliferated the edges of my life.
From a very young age, I sought out certain films as a means through which to negotiate, affirm, or acknowledge things which didn’t make sense to me, enabling comprehension of a world slightly off-kilter from others. Interestingly, as a child I was fascinated with Merchant Ivory productions such as Howards End and A Passage to India because they somehow evoked the rituals of an Empire my parents knew very well as children born in Burma (Myanmar), schooled in convents and monasteries in 50’s India. These films haunted me as embalmed reminders of a Colonial past which I had not lived through, but still proliferated the edges of my life. I knew no other Anglo-Asian children and experienced the typical ‘in-betweenness’ of this predicament; the trauma of their own foreignness and alienation as immigrants in West London remained unspoken for both my parents.
As Film Studies scholars, we all have films that are rather like blind spots, difficult and deeply personal, somewhat removed from an objective, analytical perspective.
While at university, I developed an appreciation of diasporic cinema and started thinking about Gurinder Chadha’s Bhaji on the Beach, a film I had seen many times before with friends and family, Bend it Like Beckham and the lesser known Canadian, queer film Chutney Popcorn (I grew up not far from the park where Bend it Like Beckham was filmed and around the corner from that the house where Freddie Mercury lived). Then, when I became a postgraduate, I watched experimental works by Mona Hatoum, John Akomfrah, Chris Marker and the films of Canadian-Armenian Atom Egoyan; these were complimented by the phenomenal writings of bell hooks, Richard Dyer, Catherine Constable, Gayatri Spivak and Hamid Naficy. The intricate thicket of signs and meanings created by a constellation of films, from Frears’ My Beautiful Laundrette and Carine Adler’s Under the Skin to Meet me in St Louis (my mother’s favourite) and the Bette Davis classic Now, Voyager, were slowly untangled.
Films such as Bhaji on the Beach were also kind of homely to me, you carry them with you. As Film Studies scholars, we all have films that are rather like blind spots, difficult and deeply personal, somewhat removed from an objective, analytical perspective; I am starting to excavate these experiences, of memory, time, nostalgia and my own personal history of film, like a private playlist, but I know this won’t be easy.
I know that writing about these films will be intensely personal and it feels right to speak of my relationship with them now.
As a young woman during my postgraduate years, I began to write about women’s filmmaking and female subjectivity, inspired by feminist writers whose analysis of the male gaze further gathered my respect and admiration. I have yet to write in detail about my own diasporic experience of cinema such as Chadha’s, but it remains an undeniable and innate part of my broader pedagogy as a feminist film theorist; this is a personal project which is yet to come, but I know it informs the cadence of all my writing and was the making of me. I know that writing about these films will be intensely personal and it feels right to speak of my relationship with them now.
Then, I had children. My partner is a musician so we take the children with us, backstage or in buggies at the back of a concert hall. I wrote my second book while my first child slept and carried him, strapped to me, while I wrote countless articles and bits of film journalism. I continued with determination and love, love of my work and of my child, co-existing, and supported through many friendships with colleagues sustaining a positive and nurturing environment. I am very lucky, I think. However, I cannot deny how hard this has been. A few years ago, my mother had a fall and then I took over keeping an eye on her, doing her shopping etc. She has smiled all the way through our isolation era, these past few months, and I realise now where I get my determination from; we are from a long line of survivors.
But I don’t just want to survive, I want to share knowledge and use the medium of film in the best way I can to teach and continue doing what I do; I get energy from that and in that way it is empowering. I have been teaching and writing about film for almost 15 years. Most of all my research, including two books, can be characterised through an interest in film as a potent expression of the communication of knowledge, embodied or otherwise, not necessarily voyeuristic or aligned with an exercise of power.
I want to share knowledge and use the medium of film in the best way I can to teach and continue doing what I do.
In addition to knowledge, film is about community and shared experiences. Through my entire education, on courses ranging from an MA in Film and Philosophy, an MA in Experimental Cinema and BA courses on Cinema and Spectatorship, my approach to film has remained largely based on an understanding of it as a form of knowledge written on the body, in the fabric of film, and how this particular medium expresses our identity, in whatever context, but especially in films which evoke the senses and the generative, positive aspects of such encounters, often through a framework of feminist writings. We must understand film’s many applications, interpretations, meanings, and values, its multi-dimensional implications, its history and technologies, and the aesthetic, social and political specificity of this form.
Caring is a part of my life, but I’ve rarely spoken about this. I have thought of zoom story-times for other mothers, especially, in film, where we each take turns reading, or particular ways in which support mothers in film academia, as well as filmmaking. I’m about to start a screenplay, after a long break, and I’m excited.
Davina Quinlivan is Senior Lecturer at Kingston University. She is author of Joanna Hogg: New British Art Cinema, Female Identity and Aesthetics (Edinburgh University Press, forthcoming) Filming the Body in Crisis: Trauma, Healing and Hopefulness (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015) The Place of Breath in Cinema (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, July 2012).
Davina is working to bring together a network on female BAME filmmakers and artists on mental health in the visual arts. Connect with Davina via Instagram