Geography of Film (Geog 425)
Syllabus | Resources | Schedule | Site

Time & place: M 5:00 pm - 7:30 pm, Saunders 442
Instructor: David Strauch
Office & Hours: Saunders 421; after class or by appointment
Class Website:
Class blog:
CRN: 89438

Cinema is an essentially geographic art, a way of “writing the world.”
By bringing a geographical perspective to examine how films evoke place, we gain a better understanding not only of how films work, but also of the ways we construct place socially in our “geographical imaginations.”

This class is intended for students of both geography (for whom it satisfies the Human Geography requirement) and of film studies, and welcomes students from other disciplines. A diversity of student perspectives enriches our exploration of the material.

There are three ways we will consider the geography of film. The first is to consider film as a geographic practice. How have filmmakers developed a visual language to evoke viewers' experience of inhabiting and moving through space, to transport them to new places? We will closely consider the ways that various techniques of framing, camera movement, cutting, and assemblage of elements (mise-en-scène) construct cinematic space.

The second approach we'll take is to look at geography as a subject of film. We'll look at genres such as film noir, westerns, and road movies — which depend on certain conventions of framing space and motion — and consider themes such as cultural landscapes, mobilities, and the right to city.

Lastly, we'll consided film as a subject of geography, that is, as a spatially located phenomenon that circulates within modern economies. As cultural objects, films reproduce the social spaces in which we view them, whether these are theaters, homes or classrooms, so we'll plan to watch films in several ways, and pay attention to these contexts.

Goals & Student Learning Outcomes

At the conclusion of this course, students should be able to:
  • identify the spatial conventions a film uses to place its audience
  • draw on these techniques to effectively create sense of place in their own films
  • comfortably use cinematic language to describe compositions of shots and sequences
  • define the concept of genre and illustrate its application both to film and to writing
  • critically discuss the role of films as objects in circulation
  • know where to find resources for further research

Participant Responsibilities (for students and instructor)

  • Clear communication, including daily use of UH email
  • Regular and punctual class attendance, and prepared
  • Watching films in their entirety and with full attention
  • Doing the readings and being prepared to discuss them
  • Regular written contributions to the class blog
  • Courteous conduct and academic honesty
  • Willingness to spend some money (~$50) to see films in theaters
  • Readiness to investigate resources on and off campus


Our primary text for this class will be David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson's Film art: an introduction. I also highly recommend Timothy Corrigan's A Short Guide to Writing about Film.

Other short readings will be assigned and posted on Laulima and/or made available at the reserve reading desk in Sinclair library. These will include some of the following papers:

Bordwell & Thompson
Aitken & Dixon (2006) Imagining geographies of film. (from a special issue of Erdkunde)
Conley (2007) on Casablanca (from Cartographic cinema.)
Escher (2006) The geography of cinema: a cinematic world (from a special issue of Erdkunde)
Foucault (1986) Of Other Spaces. Diacritics 16(1):22-27
Gámir & Valdés (2007) Cinema and Geography: Geographic Space, Landscape and Territory in the Film Industry. Boletín AGE 45:407-410
Kennedy & Lukinbeal (1997) Towards a holistic approach to geographic research on film. PHG 21(1):33-50
Lukinbeal & Zimmermann (2006) Film geography: a new subfield. (from a special issue of Erdkunde)
Zonn (2007) Going to the Movies: The Filmic Site as Geographic Endeavor. Aether 1:63-67

Because we want to think about some of these readings fairly closely, you should bring copies of the assigned readings to each class. I used to require that students bring printed copies, but I am willing to accept electronic versions if you have a way to annotate them as you read (i.e. tablet or computer).


Watching the films is required, sometimes including specific viewing contexts such as multiplex, art film, and festival screenings. You should budget to spend about $50 watching films for this class. Please also budget enough time to watch two films a week without interruption, so that you get the sense of the film as a whole piece.

Our films are listed on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).

Content Advisory

This class will require watching and discussing films that contain violence, sex, foul language, sentimentality, subtitles, and experimental art. It may also make it impossible to watch movies uncritically in the future.

Grading & Assignments

Participation (30%)
Attendance (on time), preparation, participation in class discussions. Each student will also introduce one of the films in the second half of the class.

Quizzes (10%)
Short quizzes given at the beginning of class (5:00 pm sharp).

Journals and short writing (40%)
Students are expected to regularly add to the class blog, as a way of opening up conversations for the seminar. This includes contributing discussion questions for each of the readings and films we look at. Discussion questions should be submitted by Saturday night, so that other participants have a chance to read them, and perhaps comment on them, on Sunday and Monday. Blog entries can also be added for reflections on classes or other film events.

Unlike quiz questions, which often have short simple answers, discussion questions should be designed to open conversation in class.

  • In Do the Right Thing, how is the sense of scorching weather conveyed?
  • In what way is “the street” constructed or portrayed in Milk, and how does that element function within the overall film?
  • Who has a “right to the city” according to David Harvey?
Post each question separately, and when you write your post, check off the appropriate categories, and add any tags you’d like. Discussion questions should be posted by the day before the class. On the morning before class, look over other people’s questions, and add comments if you want to start the ball rolling.

Other short writings will be assigned:
  • Reflections on going to a cinema
  • Questions a geographer should bring to a film
  • Short reviews of single films (3)
  • Comparative review of two films
  • Close reading of a shot
  • Close reading of a sequence
  • Reflections on the spatial location of films
  • Reflections on the interaction of space and time
Because discussion questions and assignments are used as the basis for our seminar, you do not get credit for submitting these late (although you do get credit for them in the portfolio)

The portfolio: (20%)
At the end of the semester, students submit a physical (i.e. printed) portfolio of key writing assignments, revised as needed, accompanied by a short review essay introducing them and summarizing what you've gotten from the class.

Geography of Film (Geog 425)
Syllabus | Resources | Schedule | Site