A few weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of helping to consolidate the academic career of a brilliant young scholar, Pablo Gómez Muñoz, whose excellent volume Science Fiction Cinema in the Twenty-First Century: Transnational Futures, Cosmopolitan Concerns (Routledge, 2023), I earnestly recommend. Pablo, who has been working for some years now at the Universidad de Zaragoza, was granted a permanent contract (not quite the same as tenure as a civil servant) by a board which I was invited to join.

            It’s simply marvellous to come across young academics (he is now 34) with such a solid career, though it is at the same time disheartening to see how absurd the qualifications required for tenure are. I am 100% sure that many of the full professors who earned their positions 20 or 30 years ago would not meet them, and this is simply unfair on the younger generations. It is also my impression that although the standards have been raised and, logically, the persons being awarded permanent contracts or tenure are much better trained, these are the same persons who would have qualified under any other previous system. The university has just made it far everything more difficult for them, though I grant that it is now harder for mediocre academics to access tenure.

            Anyway, my topic today is not that but Film Studies. The contract which Pablo won is for a position with a profile in that area (teaching and research) within English Studies. This is extremely unusual and, as far as I know, a singularity of the English Department at the University of Zaragoza, a department which, in my humble opinion, is the best one in Spain at least as far as Literature and Culture are concerned, no doubt thanks to the job that emeritus professor Susana Onega did there. I am fully aware that the grass always looks greener on the other side, but the fact is that Prof. Onega helped Celestino Deleyto become the first tenured teacher and later full professor of Film Studies and English Literature in Spain. Hence the Zaragozan singularity.

            Prof. Deleyto wrote his doctoral dissertation on playwright Harold Pinter in 1986. Seeing on Dialnet that he presented to the national AEDEAN 1988 conference a paper on Pinter’s script for the adaptation of John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman (the topic of my own MA dissertation of 1992), I assume that researching film adaptation was his strategy to open the way for Film Studies. By the early 1990s, when I met him, he was already well known as the main specialist in Film Studies within English Studies in Spain. The many dissertations he has supervised and the research groups he has headed (see Cinema, Culture & Society) have launched the careers of other Film Studies specialists in Zaragoza, like Beatriz Oria, Elena Oliete, Marimar Azcona, Luis M. García-Mainar, Juan Tarancón, Vicky Luzón, Hilaria Hoyo and, now, the younger generation to which Pablo Gómez or Mónica Martín belong. I am myself extremely grateful to Prof. Deleyto; his career has always been an example to me and his work in Film Studies has legitimated my own incursions in the field as a teacher and researcher of fiction films, documentary films and TV series.

            As I learned from Pablo’s presentation of his teaching project, the degree in English Studies of the Universidad de Zaragoza, has two compulsory semestral subjects called “Commentary of Audiovisual Texts in English” (I and II), both taught in the second year. The list of third and fourth year electives includes “Trends and contexts of Anglophone cinema” (I and II). I marvel that Prof. Deleyto has managed the feat to have these four subjects accepted by his department, and at the same I deeply lament that this is not standard for all English Studies degrees in Spain. I myself have taught a couple of times subjects on film adaptation, but using the label Cultural Studies, and I have been teaching cinema in the MA course, but using Gender Studies. I have never proposed that we include subjects similar to the ones taught in Zaragoza because Literature is an absolute priority for my colleagues, and it has been difficult enough to introduce and maintain the subjects on Cultural Studies and Gender Studies (I’m very much concerned that Transnational Studies will disappear from the BA and the MA after the retirement of my dear colleague Felicity Hand).

            I told my MA class about my visit to Zaragoza and about Prof. Deleyto’s contribution to English Studies, because I wanted them to learn why I’m teaching a subject on cinema. As happens, I have among my students a graduate in Communication Sciences from the Universitat de Barcelona (now rebranded Communication and Cultural Industries). The current degree has a second-year subject called “Cinema and the Cultural Industry” and, as far as I can see, no electives on Film Studies. In my own university, where the degree is called “Audiovisual Communication,” there is a second-year subject called “History of cinema” and two electives, called “Film genres” and “Film theory and analysis.” I commented with my students how, back in 1984, when I was choosing a BA degree, I assumed that Film Studies existed in Spain and went straight to UAB’s School of Communication, where I was told that the only degree they taught then (including journalism and advertising) had just one subject on cinema. Nothing, then, has changed since then. I switched to English Studies because I love the English language and reading, but I have always remained frustrated that I don’t have a degree in Film Studies.

            My MA student, Meri, explained to us that her experience was similar: she wanted to train in Film Studies, but found there was no degree, and, after staying at UB she is now at UAB for an MA in English Studies. She also told us about the disappointment felt by many of her classmates, who took the BA assuming they could train to be film directors, only to discover that the practical subjects are very scarce. If you want to be a film (or series) director, you need to attend one of the expensive private schools, such as ESCAC (though I see that ESCAC offers now a BA in Film Direction, in association with UB, maybe that’s new). There is, in any case, no degree in Film Studies in Spain, as they are understood in the Anglophone universities, either at BA or MA level.

            This has strange consequences. Academic production in Film Studies is usually tied to Schools of Communication, whose researchers deal with films regardless of the language in which they are spoken. In English Studies, in contrast, we limit our academic output to films and series spoken in English. Discussing this situation with Prof. Deleyto during my visit to Zaragoza, he told me that this constitutes an obstacle, for he is mostly in contact with Film Studies specialists who are not limited by language. In my own MA subject on children in cinema I have excluded from our list The Quiet Girl, a beautiful film spoken mainly in Irish Gaelic, as I have excluded other marvellous films such as Monster (in Japanese) or Close (in French). I would accept BA, MA or PhD dissertations comparing film traditions, but the main text should be in English, because I do English Studies. Prof. Deleyto is considering breaking the language barrier, which is absolutely fine, given his position and expertise, but we agreed that if any of us in Film Studies within English Studies published on films not spoken in English, we run the risk of having our publications rejected for our official research assessment exercises, which organized by area. So, yes, it can be done, but as an extra.

            I asked Prof. Deleyto whether his academic work has ever been questioned by any scholar in the Schools of Communication of Spain, and he replied that this was never the case, but he had been criticised by colleagues specializing in History of Art. As I see, the corresponding degree in Zaragoza includes a compulsory third-course subject called “Cinema and other audiovisual media” and the third-fourth year electives “Audiovisual genres” and “Spanish Cinema.” The BA in History of Art of UAB has a second-year compulsory subject called “The theory and language of cinema” and an elective called “Photography and cinema: classicism and postmodernity.” It cannot really be said, then, that the Departments of History of Art (at least in Zaragoza and UAB) are very interested in cinema.

            The paradox is that the conversation we should all be having in Spain about why we don’t have Film Studies as they exist in Anglophone universities comes too late. Netflix started its streaming services in 2008, already 16 years ago, and this means that the students sitting in our classroom have been raised on a diet of mostly series. They have a much more limited interest in cinema for which they are not to blame 100%. Gone are the times when TVE educated us with its very didactic programming of films, from the Westerns of Saturday afternoon to the art cinema cycles of the evenings on La2 (or UHF as it was called). We still assume that learning about Literature must be part of the curriculum of secondary school, but cinema is very far from being integrated at a time when, as I say, teens spends whatever leisure time they have apart from social media, watching series (or playing videogames). I have not taught any subject on series, but I have already supervised BA and MA dissertations, and I assume there will be more to come.

            If you are wondering what is the good of offering BA or MAs in Film Studies at this point, my view is that they should exist, at least at MA level. By Film Studies I mean academic training in the analysis of films and series, perhaps even of videogames, not training to produce them. I also think that audiovisual texts should be present in all degrees in English Studies, though of course this means making room for them and excluding other subjects, always a major bone of contention.             Thanks again, Celestino, for your example and for helping the rest of us to legitimate our work in Films Studies. And good luck, Pablo, my very best wishes for your future career!