Professor Interview: Dr. Tijana Mamula, Professor of Communications

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Tijana Mamula, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Communications, has been teaching at JCU since 2009. She received her Laurea degree from the University of Rome “La Sapienza,” and her M.A. and Ph.D from King’s College in London. Her primary research is focused on the relationship between cinema and language, particularly as it pertains to transnational cinema and film theory. She has published work in the journals Avanguardia, Bright Lights Film Journal, Scope, Studies in French Cinema, Transnational Cinemas and is also a contributing editor at NERO Magazine. Prof. Mamula recently published a new book, Cinema and Language Loss: Displacement, Visuality and the Filmic Image (Routledge, 2012). 

Where are you from? That’s not such a simple question for me to answer!My parents are from Serbia, I lived there until I was 8, and then we moved to Zurich, Switzerland. We spent 4 years there, then we moved to Milan where I went to high school. Later I came to college in Rome and then I went to London to do my M.A. and Ph.D. before coming back to Rome and to JCU.

What language do you feel is most yours? I feel like I have different competencies in different languages: for some things I feel more comfortable speaking Serbian, like telling jokes for example, but I could never write an academic essay in Serbian! I think the language I feel most comfortable with is probably English, because I spent a lot of my childhood and my adulthood speaking English.

Tell us about your book, “Cinema and Language Loss.” The book came out of my Ph.D. dissertation, which grew out of my M.A. thesis. It basically looks at the relationship between language loss and visuality in cinema, particularly in the works of many directors who were displaced, who immigrated into a non-native linguistic environment during their adulthood. For example, there is a chapter on film noir, which looks at directors like Billy Wilder, Otto Preminger, Robert Siodmak, Edgar Ulmer, a whole generation of Austrian and German emigrés in Hollywood who ended up making the classic film noir, really shaping that genre as we know it.

So what we consider mainstream cinema was actually created by migrants? In some ways, yes, and this is one of the reasons it doesn’t make sense to me to restrict the migrant cinema discourse to marginal productions, because Hollywood is the most mainstream cinema we know! A good portion of it was built by migrants, both directors and producers, including the Jewish migrant community mainly from Eastern Europe, but also from Germany, Austria, France, etc. The film noir directors that I am looking at are indeed part of that broader phenomenon. A lot of books that look at the question of migration, or displacement or exilic cinema, tend to look at very marginal histories because migration is equated with marginalization. In my view, displacement and its linguistic aspects, something that never really gets talked about, have actually shaped film history to a greater extent than is generally acknowledged.

There is also a chapter dedicated to Italian Cinema. Yes, specifically post war Italian cinema. The linguistic situation during these years in Italy was very fragmented, most people still spoke dialect and inter-regional migration, which was very common in that period, was really also linguistic migration. Somebody moving from Puglia to Milan was going into a completely different language. This was an important problematic for many Italian directors, especially Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Tell us about the Cinematic Rome course. The course looks at the representation of Rome in both Italian and American cinema. Of course we take advantage of being in Rome and visit the Cinecittà studios, where many of the Italian films were made. One of the assignments is for students to go around the city of Rome and visit three of the locations they saw in films and write a letter to the director, explaining whether or not the scene that was shot in that location could still be shot today. The course is a good choice for study abroad since you get to know the city better and really interact with it while learning a lot; you see certain aspects of Rome through cinema that you wouldn’t learn about otherwise.

How do you like teaching at JCU? I like the fact that John Cabot is small and friendly, everybody knows each other and there’s a welcoming atmosphere. I think it’s a great place to teach because classes are small and for me the smaller the better, you can get more of a dialogue going with students.

What would you say to a student who’s looking for a place to study communications? The professors in my department are excellent, they know so much and are passionate about what they teach, so the quality of lecturing at John Cabot is great.

Any advice for students thinking of studying abroad? Studying abroad is a great way to learn about another culture, which is extremely useful in life. This is something that I learned from going to international schools as a kid; I was constantly surrounded by people from different countries, religions, and languages. Contact with different cultures is a learning experience that turns you into a more tolerant and open minded person. So if you can have that kind of experience at college, take advantage of it!

Click here to find out more about earning a Bachelor of Arts in Communications at John Cabot University in Rome, Italy.

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