Dr Rachel Johnson

Dr Rachel Johnson


I am Lecturer in Film Studies, specialising in film exhibition and curation, film festivals, migration cinema and Italian cinema. I am primarily interested in institutions of cinema, their influence over the meaning of film, and how the production of these meanings may contribute to reinforce or challenge dominant cultural ideas. While my previous research focuses on European, competitive film festivals’ construction of notions of artistic value, humanist politics and geopolitical space, I am currently researching the ways in which film exhibition and curation might challenge or reinforce dominant discourses about migration and/or displacement.

I completed my PhD at Leeds in 2019. My thesis was entitled The Ideology of Film Festivals: A Psychoanalysis of European A Festivals’ Representation of Italian Cinema, 2000-2017. In this project, I developed a method of ideology critique to analyse the way in which major competitive film festivals influence the circulation of films, ideas and values through their awards and programmes. I am currently transforming the thesis into a monograph, Film Festivals, Ideology and Art Cinema: Politics, Histories and Cultural Value through Italian Cinema, which is under contract with Amsterdam University Press (expected publication 2023).

I have recently explored the question of exhibition, cinema and migration through the case study of “artivist” migration film, Iuventa, in the project “Challenging National and Social Imaginaries through Cinematic Art” (PI: Alessio Baldini). Alessio and I organized a film screening of Iuventa + Q&A with the film’s director, Michele Cinque, a masterclass with undergraduate students and the director, and a roundtable discussion reflecting on the realities of Mediterranean migration and the ways in which film can intervene – or empower us to intervene – in such realities. In a conference paper and forthcoming article, Alessio and I also investigate the activist strategies that have characterised the filming and distribution of Iuventa, including its cultivation of a “receptive vulnerability” through film screenings in activist and pedagogic settings.

I am developing research into the ways in which cinematic instutions have, and can, engage with the themes of race and migration through two projects. The first of these is a series of masterclasses with curators of migration film festivals, in which participants are invited to reflect on their experiences of creating, and curating, a festival dedicated to migration. The series has had its first pilot event, a masterclass with the London Migration Film Festival, held in July 2021. You can read the event report here. Meanwhile, I recently completed a post-doctoral project entitled “Film exhibition, race and migration in Leeds, 1957-1998”, conducted in collaboration with the Brotherton Special Collections. In this project I analyse archival material from the Special Collections to investigate the ways in which Leeds-based film institutions have engaged with race and migration over the last 60 years. Both of these projects aim to not only produce knowledge about the various ways cinematic institutions have re-inscribed and/or challengedthe politics of race and migration, but to open a discussion about the ways they might effectively intervene in these politics in future.

I also co-direct the city-wide film club, Leeds Cineforum. We collaborate extensively with the University as well as film institutions such as Bird’s Eye View: A Pathfinder for Films By Women and the Hyde Park Picture House. I consider my activities with the Cineforum to be co-extensive with my academic work, forming two halves of a wider practice of empowering film curators and viewers.

Research interests


Peer-reviewed monographs

  • Johnson, R. Film Festivals, Ideology and Art Cinema: Politics, Histories and Cultural Value through Italian Cinema. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. [Expected publication 2023.]

Chapters in peer-reviewed edited collections

  • Johnson, R., O’Leary, A. “Flow”. In Transnational Modern Languages: A Handbook. J. Burns and D. Duncan (eds). Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. [Forthcoming August 2021.]
  • Johnson, R. “On Studying Film Festivals and Migration: Borderlands and Beginnings”. In Contours of Film Festival Research and Methodologies. D. Ostrowska and T. Falicov (eds). Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. [Expected publication 2022.]

Articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals

  • Johnson, R. 2020. “A Brutal Humanism for the New Millennium? The Legacy of Neorealism in Contemporary Cinema of Migration”. Journal of Italian Cinema and Media Studies, 8, 1: 61–77.
  • Baldini, A., Johnson, R. “Challenging National and Social Imaginaries Through the Documentary Film Iuventa”. Italian Studies (Cultural Studies issue), 76, 4. [Forthcoming 2021.]
  • Baldini, A., Johnson, R., Petzold, S., Souter, J. and Wiegratz, J. “Challenging National and Social Imaginaries Through Cinematic Art”. Italian Studies (Cultural Studies issue), 76, 4. [Forthcoming 2021.]

Reviews, reports and other publications

Recent Conferences and Workshops

I have presented at and organized numerous conferences and workshops. Here are the most recent events I have been involved in:

  • November 2021 – ‘Film Festivals and Borders’, Reel Borders project workshop, Vrijie Universitaat Brussels, Brussels.
  • June 2021 – ‘Contested Spaces: Filming and Distributing Iuventa’, Besides the Screen. Nottingham Ningbo, China.
  • February 2021 – Acacdemic Filmmaking: Modalities, Experiment, Decolonisation, Leeds [online].
  • September 2020 – ‘Cultural Policy Responses to COVID-19: An International Perspective’. Workshop with the Centre for Cultural Value in association with the British Council [online].
  • January 2020 – Reframing Film Festivals, University Ca’ Foscari, Venice. ‘Ideology and Film Festivals: A Method’.
  • December 2019 – ‘Film Festivals’ Representation of the Social “Other”: Queerness and Migration’. Centre for World Cinema and Digital Cultures Work in Progress Seminar.
  • July 2018 – ‘Transnationalizing the Popular; Popularizing the Transnational’. American Association of Italian Studies Annual Conference, Istituto Sant’Anna, Sorrento.
  • May 2018 – ‘Local Critique, Global Artworks: The Politics of Festival Cinema’. Digital Borders: The Politics of Film Distribution In and Beyond Europe, University of Leeds.
  • May 2018 – The Battle of Algiers (1966) from ‘Yesterday’s Mujahiddin’ to today’s Postcolonial Classroom, University of Leeds.

Public Talks Given

  • Introduction, Iuventa + Q&A with director Michele Cinque and Leeds Asylum Support Network, Hyde Park Picture House, Leeds.
  • Panel presentation, Shooting the Mafia, Hyde Park Picture House, Leeds.
  • Power and Exploitation, Fosse in Film: A Bob Fosse Retrospective, Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Leeds.
  • Panel discussion, Booksmart, Hyde Park Picture House, Leeds.

Introduction, Rome, Open City, Opera North, Leeds. 

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://ahc.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • PhD in Film Studies, University of Leeds
  • MA in European Culture and Thought: Culture, University College London
  • BA in English Literature and Italian, University of Leeds

Professional memberships

  • NECS (European Network for Cinema and Media Studies)
  • BAFTSS (British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies)

Student education

I teach on a range of modules on both the Film Studies and Italian Studies programmes. As well as delivering introductions to audio-visual cultures, film studies and Italian cinema, I deliver research-led teaching that focuses on film festivals, representation and contemporary cinema’s cultural and institutional context. Modules I have taught on include:

  • Film Arts & Industries (PG)
  • Independent Project (PG)
  • Creative Work (PG)
  • Film Programming and Curation (UG)
  • Current Inquiries into Film Studies (UG)
  • Introduction to Audio-Visual Cultures (UG)
  • Cinematic Themes (UG)
  • Italian Cinema: Genre and Social Change (UG)
  • Italian Language 2, University of Leeds
  • Italian History from Fascism to the Present (UG)
  • Introduction to Italian Cinema (UG)
  • Italian Language 3 (UG)


I have supervised a number of taught undergraduate and postgraduate projects in Film Studies. Topics I have supervised include: queer cinema, gender and genre, postcolonial and decolonial cinemas (Sembene’s films), race on film, drag and media, film history, Italian cinema. I am also currently supervising a number of practice-based projects, including videographic criticism (video essays) and podcast documentaries. I welcome inquiries from prospective PhD students with interests in: film festivals, film exhibition and curation, cinemas of migration/displacement/unsettlement and Italian cinema.

Research groups and institutes

  • Centre for World Cinemas and Digital Cultures
  • Leeds Arts and Humanities Research Institute
  • Cinema and Television
<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>