Transferability, translatability

Yesterday Andrew and I were at the Media Literacy Experts’ Group, presenting on the research.  The Powerpoint we used is here:  Media Literacy Experts’ Seminar

There was some useful discussion about ‘translatability’ – this idea that the defining feature of film literacy is how it can be translated into different contexts: across platforms, like Youtube, cinemas, mobiles, galleries, and in classrooms – each time subtly changing what film literacy is required and made possible. But it also translates across subjects, across different social purposes and impacts, and itself is a translation of different artforms (music, speech, drama, visual design etc).

So yesterday, Patrick Verniers, of MediAnimation in Brussels responded to the ‘translatability’ question by asking whether ‘transferability’ or ‘portability’ might not be a better, clearer expression of the same idea.  And I said I didn’t think so, for two reasons:

First of all, translation is itself a fundamental principle of European culture – a culture whose foundation myths were (and continue to be) imported from outside.  In the Centre Albert Borschette yesterday, with its six booths for translators – French, English, Spanish, German, Italian (and Esperanto?), this was made very tangible.  Translation is something Europeans live with – maybe less so the English, but certainly everyone else.  For the English, the holy grail of a single, definitive, proposition is hard to let go of, but for other Europeans, the reality of translated culture is a daily, routine one, especially in our field..

Second, related.. Patrick asked why not ‘portability’.  Well, portability suggests to me the carrying of something from one place to another – across a border, perhaps – in a suitcase, or in one of those Greek haulage trucks with ‘Metaphor’ on the side – ‘metaphor’ being Greek for ‘to carry’.  The thing about this kind of haulage is that the thing being carried doesn’t change on arrival at its destination.  No translation happens.  This is fine if you’re transferring tomatoes, or chairs, or moving car parts from one Renault factory to another – where the thing carried has to remain the same in order for it be useful.  But if you’re transferring culture, then the objects will adapt, or be adapted to, their new home.

Alexis Nouss, a professor in Cardiff, uses this argument (but I have no references..).  He shows how the cathedral, the accordion, the opera (the film?) have been translated between European cultures across time so that Danish cathedrals are quite different from Greek Orthodox ones; Galway, Christ the King in Liverpool, Notre Dame in Paris – all quite different, while retaining the core features of ‘cathedralness’.

Film – as an artform, as a medium – goes through this transformation in its journeys through different cultures, so we can talk about the characteristics of different national cinemas – Iranian, as opposed to Mexican, or Canadian as opposed to American, or Scottish as opposed to English (and both as opposed to ‘British’), but all the while knowing what fundamentally ‘film’ is.

Shouldn’t film education then also be expected to change, as it migrates between countries, cultures, sectors (industry, culture, schools, youth services).  But the question is, what is the bit underneath that doesn’t change at all…


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