Realism on Screen: Global Cinemas, Aesthetics and Social Change


What is realism? This is a question at the core of some of the key theoretical writings about cinema that have interrogated the function of this medium in the last century or so. Based on the mechanical reproduction of reality through the film apparatus, cinema seemingly has the ability to capture what is in front of the camera “as it is”. However, realism cannot be reduced to a mere mechanical function, something that has been further complicated through the introduction of digital technology in more recent decades.

During this day school, we will focus on realism as an aesthetic project that has characterised global cinemas across different regions and historical periods at moments of social change. Through the consideration of specific examples of narrative cinema, we will define and explore realism as an aesthetic style and highlight the close relationship between film forms and the broader social, political, economic and cultural contexts in which films have been produced, circulated and consumed. Realism thus becomes a fundamental way through which cinema has been able to negotiate and mediate social change, taking on political meanings, particularly in postcolonial contexts and in response to forms of neocolonialism.

The day will be divided into four sessions, each one focusing on a specific region and/or historical period. Yet, the global perspective adopted in this course will also emphasise the importance of transnational exchanges between filmmakers, industries and audiences in the understanding of realism. Each part of the day will also allow for interactive activities, such as the analysis of film clips and group discussion involving the audience.

No previous knowledge of Film Studies is required.

Image: Lamberto Maggiorani and Enzo Staiola in a scene from Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves), Vittorio De Sica, 1948

Programme details


Neorealism: a humanist perspective

We will start by trying to define what realism is as an aesthetic project in cinema through the specific case of Italian Neorealism, which emerged in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. Understood through its reception abroad, this film movement adopted a realist aesthetic to negotiate the suffering and destruction caused by the War through a humanist perspective that was shared by the filmmakers associated with it. Through some key examples, we will examine continuities and breaks in terms of style and themes with the films made under Fascism and explore the aesthetic heterogeneity that characterised the films of this period.

Tea/coffee break

New Waves across Eastern Europe

In this session, we will explore film movements (New Waves) that emerged across the cinemas of Eastern Europe in different periods and the impact of political upheavals on this medium, both as an industry and in terms of aesthetics. We will first consider the Czech New Wave as an example of the movements that emerged in the 1960s in response to the context of the Cold War, analysing aesthetic practices and techniques adopted by filmmakers to deal with censorship. We will then move to the post-1989 period, examining how realism has often been employed both as a means to negotiate the recent past and in dialogue with transnational industrial practices.


Political engagement in Latin American cinema

This third part will analyse the close relationship between political engagement and film aesthetics in the cinematic traditions that emerged in the Latin American region after the 1960s. As in the case of Third Cinema, whose manifesto was published by the Argentinian filmmakers Solanas and Getino in 1969, radical guerrilla-style filmmaking and realism were critically adopted to openly expose power relations, embracing an anti-colonial position and liberating film language. We will also consider the legacy of this tradition in more recent examples that negotiate colonial past and neocolonial present at once.

Tea/coffee break

Post-revolutionary Iranian cinema

In this last session, we will highlight the close connection between cinema and the socio-political and cultural changes brought about by the Iranian Revolution (1978-79). Whereas cinema has since been centrally controlled by the regime, Iranian filmmakers have established an ambivalent relationship with it, partly relying on forms of institutional funding, for example, while also adopting aesthetics that allow for a political critique. In particular, New Iranian Cinema has paired elements of realism with surrealism, allegory and open images that comment metaphorically on contemporary society.

Course disperses


Description Costs
Tuition fee (includes tea/coffee) £85.00
Baguette £6.10
Hot Lunch (three courses) £16.50


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit or are a full-time student in the UK you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees.

Concessionary fees for short courses


Dr Eleonora Sammartino


Dr Eleonora Sammartino is a Teaching Fellow in Film Studies at the University of Southampton and teaches in the adult education programme at Imperial College London. She has further taught at a variety of institutions including King’s College London and the University of Reading. Her publications include articles in the European Journal of American Studies, the Journal of Italian Cinema and Media Studies, Celebrity Studies Journal and the collection Musicals at the Margins (eds. Lobalzo Wright and Shearer 2021). She has worked for film festivals in Italy and UK and is currently the project manager of FILL – Festival of Italian Literature in London, for which she has also hosted film screenings.


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please contact us to obtain an application form.


Accommodation is not included in the price, but if you wish to stay with us the night before the course, then please contact our Residential Centre.

Accommodation in Rewley House - all bedrooms are modern, comfortably furnished and each room has tea and coffee making facilities, Freeview television, and Free WiFi and private bath or shower rooms.  Please contact our Residential Centre on +44 (0) 1865 270362 or email for details of availability and discounted prices.