Sally received a Phillip Leverhulme award for her work in the field of Modern Language and Literature

Sally Faulkner

Professsor Sally Faulkner has been named a 'rising star' in the field of Modern Language and Literature by the Leverhulme Trust.

She recently won a prestigious Phillip Leverhulme award – which recognises the achievements of researchers at an early stage of their career who show exceptional promise.

Sally is an Associate Professor in Hispanic Studies and Film, Director of Research in Modern Languages and Director of the Centre for Translating Cultures.


What is your current research about?

My current research is on Spanish ‘middlebrow’ cinema. It is a very English term – connected to class and questions of taste.

I am currently editing a book called Middlebrow Cinema in which we will be looking at how the term works in different cultural contexts.

This volume explores the various ways ‘middlebrow’ has purchase across national and transnational cinemas in Europe, Latin American and Asia from the 1940s to the present day.

As well as my own chapter on the Spanish case, I’m including work by colleagues at Exeter, including Dr Will Higbee and Dr Ting Guo.

In January 2014 I spoke about Spanish middlebrow culture at a conference entitled ‘European Middlebrow Cultures, 1880-1950: Reception, Translation, Circulation’ at the Royal Flemish Academy for the Humanities and Art, Brussels.

It was stimulating to place my research on Spanish cinema in a wider Pan-European context, which is really important. It makes you think about cinema in a much wider context.

This relates to the idea of Translating Cultures, how what’s going on in the cinema of one country, with its own social, cultural and political circumstances, compares to other countries.

How did it feel to have your research recognised by the Leverhulme trust?

Fantastic! I was quite surprised because I know the awards are extremely difficult to get.

The award will enable me to start completely new research areas. It’s really exciting for a scholar at my stage in their career to be able to spend a decent amount of time pausing and pursuing new directions in research.

What do you think it was about your research that stood out to the Leverhulme Trust?

I try to combine being meticulous with being adventurous.

Reviewers often comment that my work is very closely argued and is particularly attentive - some might say obsessed with - film form; at the same time I place films in wider contexts.

These include:

  • theoretical ones - for example I bring the work of French theorist Pierre Bourdieu to bear on middlebrow film in my current work and my most recent book A History of Spanish Film
  • historical ones - the effects of dictator Francisco Franco’s cultural and foreign policies on film, the subject of my monograph A Cinema of Contradiction: Spanish Film in the 1960s and 
  • cultural ones - intermedial relations between film and literature and film and art.

How will the grant help your research?

I’m really looking forward to two years of research leave!

First I will complete Middlebrow Cinema, which, as well as chapters by Will Higbee, Ting Guo and myself, includes work by nine further film specialists from Europe and the States.

The leave will also help me significantly to advance my future research project on intermediality in silent cinema.

How has your background helped shape your research?

I read Modern and Medieval Languages(MML) at the University of Cambridge - Spanish and French. MML at Cambridge in the 1990s was particularly exciting because it was a period when the discipline was shifting before our eyes as students.

I was taught by highly-traditional literary scholars, as well as academics fired by critical theory, plus others keen to add Film Studies to Modern Languages degrees that typically combined Language work and Literary Analysis.

You are the Director for the Centre for Translating Cultures; what is this group interested in?

It’s a College centre; the idea was to bring together work not just in modern languages and in translation studies but work in all the Humanities which could be seen as translating cultures understood in a wide way.

We recently hosted a paper on the ways English literature was represented in a French literary journal; sometimes what we do is concerns how work is translated when crossing national borders and sometimes it’s about how it is translated over time – how a pre-war figure can be reused and their importance renewed in a post-war context, for example.

We’re quite an energetic centre; we have seminars going on and we host workshops and conferences.

What is it about Spanish Cinema that interests you?

I am fascinated by the ways Spanish film engages with political contexts and have spent much of my career - teaching and research - trying to explode the myth that art cannot flourish under dictatorship.

Spanish Film Studies is a young-ish discipline, and it began in the 1970s with a tendency to link the national cinema to the national culture only, yet an aspect of Spanish cinema that intrigues me is the ways the films are often also extraordinarily cosmopolitan.

Even in the darkest days of the dictatorship (the 1940s) Spanish films brilliantly inflected traditions like Hollywood melodrama or Italian Neorealism. It’s worth stressing that these films were enjoyed by huge national audiences.

Spaniards today tend to dismiss their national cinema - Pedro Almodóvar is more popular outside than inside Spain - but I think this is because of a focus on contemporary efforts. Pre-democratic Spanish cinema - both art and popular - is a treasure trove.

Do you have a favourite director/film that has been part of your research?

I switch favourites regularly, but am currently obsessed by an extraordinary film from 1950 directed by Luis Lucia, with a particularly suggestive title, De mujer a mujer - From Woman to Woman.

What makes you tick?

While I’m obviously a fan of film and culture in English, like all Modern Linguists I want to stress the richness and importance of culture beyond the Anglophone world!

I’m also intrigued by cultural translatability in the widest sense, which is why I founded the Centre for Translating Cultures.