Dr Rachel Johnson

Dr Rachel Johnson


I am currently a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate Lecturer at the University of Leeds, 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.

I completed my PhD at the University of 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 2022).

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 masterclass with the London Migration Film Festival, in which the festival’s founders reflect on their experiences of creating, and curating, a festival dedicated to migration. We also discuss the relationship between curation and research – the ways in which curating migration cinema enables one to explore and reflect on the relationship between cinematic institutions, audiences and refugee activism. Meanwhile, I have recently begun 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 challenged racial and migration politics, but to open a discussion about the ways they might effectively intervene in these politics in future.

I also Co-Direct of 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 2022.]

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

Baldini, A., Johnson, R. “Interview with Michele Cinque”. Society for Italian Studies.

Johnson, R. 2021. “Film Circulation in Times of Coronavirus”. Curating and Exhibiting Visual Culture in Times of Coronavirus. Available from: https://ahc.leeds.ac.uk/downloads/download/230/sadler_blog_post_1_film_circulation_in_times_of_coronavirus

Johnson, R., Gilmore, A., Dunn, B. 2021. “Working with and supporting cultural organisations: local cultural policies and Newton’s Law of Cultural Funding”. Culture Hive. Available from: https://www.culturehive.co.uk/CVIresources/working-with-and-supporting-cultural-organisations-local-cultural-policies-and-newtons-law-of-cultural-funding/

Johnson, R. 2020. “Research Digest: Social Security for Cultural Practitioners”. Culture Hive Available from: https://www.culturehive.co.uk/CVIresources/policy-review-social-security-for-cultural-practitioners/

Johnson, R. 2019. “Book Review: Italian Pop Culture: Media, Products, Imageries, Fabio Corsini (ED.) (2018) Rome: Viella Libreria editrice, 192 pp, ISBN: 9788867289394, p/bk, €25,00.” In Journal of Italian Cinema and Media Studies, 7, 1. Pp. 309-312.

Johnson, R. 2017. “Book Review: Loredana Di Martino, and Pasquale Verdicchio, eds. Encounters with the Real in Contemporary Italian Literature and Cinema. Newcastle upon Tyne (UK): Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2017. Pp. 395.” In Annali D’Italianistica. 33, 1. Pp. 530-533.

Johnson, R. & O’Leary, A. 2016. “Workshop Report: Italian Cinemas/Italian Histories”. In Journal of Italian Cinema and Media Studies. 5, 1. pp. 139-143.

Johnson, R. “Three Forays into Ideology in the Age of Post-truth Politics”. Open Democracy. 12 April 2017. https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/can-europe-make-it/three-forays-into-ideology-in-age-of-post-truth-politics/

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:

Jun 2021         ‘Contested Spaces: Filming and Distributing Iuventa’, Besides the Screen. Nottingham Ningbo, China. Presenter.

Feb 2021         Acacdemic Filmmaking: Modalities, Experiment, Decolonisation, Leeds [online]. Co-convener.

Sep 2020        ‘Cultural Policy Responses to COVID-19: An International Perspective’. Workshop with the Centre for Cultural Value in association with the British Council [online]. Presenter.

Jan 2020          Reframing Film Festivals, University Ca’ Foscari, Venice. ‘Ideology and Film Festivals: A Method’. Presenter

Dec 2019         ‘Film Festivals’ Representation of the Social “Other”: Queerness and Migration’. Centre for World Cinema and Digital Cultures Work in Progress Seminar. Presenter.

Jul 2018           ‘Transnationalizing the Popular; Popularizing the Transnational’. American Association of Italian Studies Annual Conference, Istituto Sant’Anna, Sorrento. Presenter.

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. Organizer and presenter.

May 2018        The Battle of Algiers (1966) from ‘Yesterday’s Mujahiddin’ to today’s Postcolonial Classroom, University of Leeds. Co-convener.

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

As a Lecturer based in the School of Languages, Cultures and Societies, 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.

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.


  • Film Arts & Industries (PG), University of Leeds, 2020/21.
  • Independent Project (PG), University of Leeds, 2020/21.
  • Current Inquiries into Film Studies (UG), University of Leeds, 2020/21; 2019/20.
  • Introduction to Audio-Visual Cultures, University of Leeds, 2020/21; 2018/19 & 2017/18.
  • Cinematic Themes (UG), University of Leeds, 2019/20.
  • Italian Cinema: Genre and Social Change (UG), University of Leeds, 2020/21; 2019/20 & 2016/17.
  • Italian Language 2, University of Leeds, 2019/20.
  • Italian History from Fascism to the Present (UG), University of Leeds, 2019/20.
  • Introduction to Italian Cinema (UG), University of Leeds, 2018/19.
  • Italian Language 3, University of Leeds, 2018/19.


  • Film Studies Independent Project (PG, Written & Practical), University of Leeds, 2020/21.
  • Film Studies Final Year Project (UG, Written & Practical), University of Leeds, 2020/21 & 2019/20.

Research groups and institutes

  • Centre for World Cinemas and Digital Cultures
  • Cinema and Television