Professor Paul Cooke

Professor Paul Cooke


I am a Centenary Chair of World Cinemas at the University of Leeds. I began my academic career in German Studies, writing my PhD on the work of the GDR dissident writer Wolfgang Hilbig. I then worked for a year as a Lektor at the University of Leeds, before moving to Aberystwyth, where I spent three happy years as a German Lecturer. In 2002 I came to Leeds, starting out in German, exploring the phenomenon of Ostalgie, or nostalgia for the former GDR in post-unification Germany. My focus then moved to German Cinema. In 2012 I moved to the Centre for World Cinemas (later the Centre for World Cinemas and Digital Cultures), where my focus initially shifted to European people heritage cinema and then on to the politics of representation in World Cinema, the concept of Soft Power and film policy across the BRICS. More recently my work has focussed on participatory filmmaking in a range of community development and public health contexts.

I have also had a number of management roles at Leeds, including Pro-Dean for Research and Innovation, Pro-Dean for Learning and Teaching and acting Dean of the Faculty of Arts (now the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures).

I am currently principal investigator on a number of  projects exploring the use of participatory arts in a range of public health and community development contexts. I am also a filmmaker and have produced a number of participatory documentaries with groups of young people in Germany, South Africa, the UK, Lebanon, Iraq, Bangladesh, India, Australia and Cambodia.


  • Director of the Centre for World Cinemas and Digital Cultures

Research interests

I currently lead CREATE - Creating Research Ecologies to Advance Transdisciplinary lEarning: Arts-based programs and the study of adolescent loneliness. Arts-based mental health research, using creative practices like music, theatre, dance, drawing, poetry is enjoyed by many young people and can bring new insights and understanding about adolescent mental health in ways that traditional, often adult-led, research methods cannot. There is untapped potential to improve understanding of mental health if we could bring arts-approaches together with science and youth perspectives. However, this potential is held back by many research barriers. Scientists can find it hard to understand the processes and outcomes of arts-based research, meaning art-science collaborations face challenges. Youth, scientists and artists also have different vocabularies and research values. We are also without a shared view, across youth, scientists and artists, on how to interpret the meaning of the art produced by young people about their mental health. An understanding of exactly how and why arts-based approaches can be helpful to youth mental health is also lacking. Finally, arts researchers and youth can find the use of standardized measures of mental health, which are popular in science, difficult. Project CREATE will address each barrier by bringing youth, scientists and arts researchers together. We first conduct reviews of the main barriers and potential solutions and take these ideas into Living Labs. These bring youth lived experience into exploration around methods and interpretation with researchers.

I am also the co-lead on CE4AMR  Community Engagement for Antimicrobial Resistance (CE4AMR) is a network of researchers and practitioners who use, or are interested in using, community engagement – in particular participatory and creative approaches – to tackle Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) in low and middle income countries (LMICs).  CE4AMR brings together artists, health professionals, engineers, social and environmental scientists and arts and humanities researchers to create a cross-disciplinary platform through which to share ideas, tackle research gaps and develop new skill sets to address AMR at community level.  Rather than regarding community engagement approaches as “add-ons” to research, CE4AMR views them as integral to meeting global recommendations on tackling AMR as stipulated by the World Health Organisation and country-specific AMR action plans.

Other recent projects have included  Changing the Story: Building Civil Society with and for Young People in Post Conflict Settings. This was a four-year AHRC Network Plus project, that involved a range of universities, INGOs, artists, grassroots civil society organisations and young people across the world. The aim of this project was to  deliver the first large-scale comparative study of CSO practice across a range of post-conflict societies, confronting the challenge of building strong institutions for the delivery of social justice for young people. 

CARAN (Community solutions to Antibiotic Resistance, using Art in Nepal). This aim of this project was to develop, pilot test and evaluate a high-quality intervention aimed at preventing and controlling antibiotic resistance in Nepal. Community-led solutions to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance were promoted through a participatory digital film-making intervention that led to a health-education campaign within communities, and to an advocacy campaign targeting policy makers. 

I led an AHRC-funded Open World Research Inititaive project Art, Language, Youth and the legacy of Conflict in Lebanon, in partnership with  British Council (BC)’s Global Research Team British Council Lebanon, its in-country networks and Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs. The project involved using participatory video to explore the legacy of Lebanon's past and its impact on young people today. How is the past filtered through the language that they speak and the art that they produce?

Recent Film Projects include

  • ‘Roebourne’,, 24 mins, funded by AHRC. Award winner at The Impact Doc Awards and Documentaries Without Borders International Film Festival.

  • Operación Berlín: The children who fought war in Colombia 90 mins, funded by AHRC, launched at the Colombian Truth Commission, 12 February 2021. Shortlisted for AHRC best research film 2021. Award winner at The NewsFest (true stories); New York City IO Film Festival; Medellín International Film Festival; Los Angeles Film Awards; Festigious Los Angeles - Monthly Film Competition; A Show For A Change Film Festival; Rome Prisma Film Awards; Direct Monthly Online Film Festival; Documentaries Without Borders International Film Festival; Eurasia International Monthly Film Festival.

  • Taint in the Lush Green, 6 mins,, funded by AHRC/ESRC, Selected for The Art of Recovery Film Festival 2021, The Virtual Reel Recovery Film Festival 2021, Indian International Short Film Festival 2021, China Youth Film Festival. Award winner at Docs Without Borders Film Festival 2021, DMOFF 2020. 

  • Diary of a Recovering Drug Addict, 10 mins,, funded by AHRC/ESRC. Selected for DMOFF 2021, Docs without Borders, 2021, The Art of Recovery 2020, Changing the Story Film Festival 2020. Award winner at Docs Without Borders. 

  • One for the Other, 10 mins,, funded by AHRC/ESRC. Selected for LIFFT India FILMOTSAVand Awards, World Cine Fest 2021, Indian International Short Film Festival 2021. Award winner Docs without Borders 2021, Impact DOCS Awards 2020. 

  • A Different Path to Recovery,, 5 mins. Funded by AHRC/ESRC. Selected for Impact DOCS Awards, The Virtual Reel Recovery Film Festival 2020. Award winner at Docs Without Borders Film Festival 2021, DMOFF 2020. 

  • Wrestling Against all Odds, 8 mins. Selected for The Impact DOCS Awards 2021, DMOFF 2020. Award winner at Docs Without Borders Film Festival 2021. 

  • Ek Notun Probhat (A New Dawn),, 17 mins, funded by AHRC/ESRC. Selected by The Art of Recover Film Festival 2021, Indian Short Film Festival 2021, Spring Grove Caledonia Film Festival 2021. Award winner at Docs Without Borders Film Festival 2021, China Youth Film Festival 2021, The Impact DOCS Awards 2021. 

  • ‘The Art of Fremantle’., 28 mins, by AHRC. Selected by Dumbo Film Festival; The Impact DOCS Awards; MP Film Award; Melbourne Lift-Off Film Festival; International Shorts; UK Monthly Film Festival; FIFF-Filmstrip International Film Festival; After Hour Film Festival; Documentaries Without Borders International Film Festival; Direct Monthly Online Film Festival

  • ‘At first they don’t believe’: Surviving the Khmer Rouge, 22 mins,, funded by the AHRC. Nominated for 16 awards at various festivals. Winner of 6 awards. 

  • ‘Don’t Judge and Area by its Cover’, 5 mins,, funded by University of Leeds and Leeds City Council. Premiered at Leeds International Film Festival. 

  • ‘The Born-Free Generation, Phendulani’s Story and Me’, 22 mins,, funded through AHRC project, coproduced with Themba Interactive, South African Based NGO, 2018. Nominated for 9 awards at various festivals, including AHRC Research in Film Award and Best Social Media film. Won Best Global Impact Short at the Mindfield Film Festival Albuquerque and Best Short Documentary at the Move Me Film Festival, Belgium. 

  • ‘Nisha’s Story’,, 16 mins, funded by AHRC/MRC project, coproduced with HERD International, Nepali-based public health NGO, 2018.  Award winner at Model N Movie International Short Film Festival and The Impact DOCS Awards

  • ‘Voicing Hidden Histories’, 14 mins,, co-produced in India, Brazil and South Africa, funded through AHRC GCRF project.  

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


  • BA English and German, University of Birmingham
  • MA in German Studies, University of Nottingham
  • MA in Digital Filmmaking, University of Bradford
  • PhD in German Studies, University of Birmingham

Research groups and institutes

  • Centre for World Cinemas and Digital Cultures
  • Cinema and Television
  • Digital cultures
  • Development studies
  • Participatory research
  • Cultural studies
  • German

Current postgraduate researchers

<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="">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>