"Extracting Ghosts: ‘Hollywood’ world-building through sites of ruination in South Africa"
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Jessica Dickson, PhD Candidate, Department of African and African American Studies, Harvard University.
Co-sponsored by the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University.
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Sheila Jasanoff, Faculty Associate. Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Harvard Kennedy School.
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The opening of the Cape Town Film Studios in 2010 ushered South Africa prominently into an intensifying transnational filmmaking economy, often referred to as ‘global Hollywood.’ Publicized as “the first custom-built high-tech film studio complex of its kind in Africa,” the promise of this infrastructure soon exceeded stakeholder’s expectations as demand for studio space by foreign production companies outpaced supply. One solution for this problem has been the creation of semi-permanent satellite studios and studio-backlots through the repurposing of neglected post-industrial and suburban spaces on Cape Town’s peripheries. By examining the techniques used by production designers, set-builders, and set-decorators to transform existing structures into cinematic space, I approach ‘the studio’ as a technology of extraction by which creative labor, local materials, and cityscapes are commissioned to produce raw visual material for processing overseas. I investigate the history and lost-future of one such capitalist ruin-turned-studio backlot—said to offer “the look and feel” of an apocalyptic setting—to show how international film and TV-productions mine an aesthetic created by (post-)apartheid conditions.
Jessica Dickson is a doctoral candidate in the Department of African and African American Studies at Harvard University, with a concentration in social anthropology. Her dissertation research focuses on the‘film-service’ sector of Cape Town’s film industry, which facilitates principal photography for media projects initiated by US and UK production companies (such as Universal, Warner Bros., Sony, Paramount, HBO, the BBC, and Amazon). Dickson’s work follows South Africa’s changing position within 'global Hollywood,’ paying particular attention to big-budget science fiction movies and TV-series that film in South Africa but are set in North America or Europe. She explores the social worlds of filmwork in Cape Town, and the visual extraction of South African landscapes and imagery in the production of popular imaginaries of US-European futures. Her related areas of interest include media anthropology, postcolonial science fiction, South African cinema, emerging visual technologies, virtual reality, and visual effects industries.