Collage of silent cinema related material

"Cinema is not only about making people dream." - Nadine Labaki

At a Glance

  • Live online course
  • 2 hours a week
  • Mondays 18:00 - 20:00
  • 5 weeks: November
  • Tutor: Eleonora Sammartino
  • Fees from £60 to £105
  • Imperial College attendance certificate (T&Cs apply)
Booking link

Have you always thought that silent cinema means only black and white films, no sound, and overly dramatic acting? On this 5-week course, film tutor Eleonora Sammartino invites you to join in conversation to explore cinema in the period between its emergence in the late 19th century and the transition to sound. You will find out that there is more to silent cinema than comedians running at high speed!

Each week will explore a different theme, looking at different contexts in which films were produced, distributed, and consumed from a transnational perspective. Organised as part lecture, part film club, a film or programme of shorts will be assigned each week to be watched before the class and ample time will be given to engage in conversation about it with the other students during the session. This dialogue will be accompanied by a lecture and clips from other films to contextualise the topic, also situated from a socio-historical, political, and cultural viewpoint.

At the end of this course, you will have a better understanding of the historical and aesthetic richness of silent cinema and its role in early 20th century culture.

This course is open to all, whether you have previous knowledge of film history or have never studied it before.

Online Access to Course

This is a taught live online course which means you will be taught alongside other students on the course by a tutor at a specific time on a specific day of the week. To take part in the course you will need a suitably equipped and internet-enabled device. Please find full details and instructions below under 'Course Delivery'.

Attendance certificate

Those who attend at least 80% of the course sessions will receive an attendance certificate from Imperial College London upon completion of the course.

Course Information

Course Programme

This programme may be subject to changes.

Week 1: Between Science and the Supernatural

Film of the week: A programme of short films

In this session, we will introduce the course, taking a look at some of its main themes and topics. We will then focus on the emergence of cinema in the late 19th century, considering the connections between this new medium, science, and the late Victorian interest in the supernatural through a series of trick films in which ghostly presences often appeared. Techniques and aesthetics used to achieve such effects will be also analysed.

Week 2: Early Women Filmmakers

Film of the week: The Ocean Waif (dir. Alice Guy-Blaché, 1916, 40’) and Her Defiance (dir. Cleo Madison and Joe King, 1916, 21’)

This week we will focus on contexts of production between the 1900s-1910s, particularly looking at the key role that women played in the industry at this early stage. Through the case of some of the most well-known filmmakers of the period, as well as some less widely-known ones, we will look at how women in different roles, both in front and behind the camera, shaped cinema at the time. We will also analyse how both changes in the structure of industry and in the socio-political context influenced the production of films.

Week 3: Spaces of Contestation

Film of the week: Body and Soul (dir. Oscar Micheaux, 1925, 79’)

In this class, we will consider different contexts of consumption and look at how the spaces of the exhibition and reception could be taken up for the contestation of dominant culture. The case of the independently produced race films aimed at Black audiences will provide an example to explore this theme, with a particular focus on their circulation in cities like Chicago. The class will also briefly consider non-theatrical films from the same period, such as those made by Zora Neale Hurston, in relation to the socio-political contexts that were being interrogated at the time.

Week 4: City Symphonies

Film of the week: Berlin, Symphony of a Great City (dir. Walter Ruttmann, 1927, 79’)

This class will examine the city symphony, a genre of film that marked the 1920s. Through various examples, including films made in Germany, the Netherlands, and France among the others, we will trace the connections between this type of non-fiction film and contemporary debates on modern life in culture and the arts. This genre will also give us the opportunity to explore the experimentation undertaken by different avant-garde movements in this period, with which many of the filmmakers had close links.

Week 5: Nordic Landscapes

Film: Vampyr (dir. Carl Th. Dreyer, 1932, 73’)

In this final session, we will focus on Nordic cinemas to explore the transnational nature of this medium by looking at the close connections and exchanges in the production, distribution, and exhibition of films in the Scandinavian region, and beyond. Examples from other films will also allow us to consider the importance of nature from stylistic and aesthetic viewpoints, often in narratives of psychological exploration.

Additional Reading

There is no requirement to undertake specific reading for this course, but if you would like to look in greater depth at the subject the following books are recommended:

  • Gaines, Jane. Pink-Slipped: What Happened to Women in the Silent Film Industries? Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2018
  • Grieveson, Lee and Peter Krämer. The Silent Cinema Reader. London: Routledge, 2004.
  • Napper, Lawrence. Silent Cinema: Before the Pictures Got Small. New York; Chichester: Wallflower, 2017.

More suggestions on material for further study will be provided each week to allow students to explore different topics of interest at their own pace.

Your Tutor

Sammartino EDr Eleonora Sammartino is an experienced teacher in Film Studies. In addition to Imperial College, she has taught at undergraduate level at a variety of institutions, including King’s College London, University of Reading, and University of Greenwich. Eleonora gained her PhD in Film Studies at King’s College London in 2018, with a thesis on gender and the contemporary American film musical. She has worked for film festivals in Italy and UK and is currently part of the organising committee of FILL – Festival of Italian Literature in London, for which she has hosted film screenings.

Course Delivery: Live Online Taught Courses

All our online courses are taught live which means you will be taught alongside other students on the course by a tutor at a specific time. To take part in the course you must be able to attend the online session at the time stated for the course description.

All times stated are British Standard Time.

To take part you will need a computer, or laptop, or tablet computer, connected to the Internet. The device you use will also need to have a camera, microphone and speakers. Most devices now have these built in, but if not you might have to buy them from a computer shop and to connect them to your device.


This course will use Zoom as its online delivery method. Zoom is very easy to use and you do not need to set up a Zoom account to use it. Near the date of your first online session you will be sent an email with a web address (or URL) that will allow you to access the course. This is called the Course Link. All you need do is click on the Course Link in the email and you will be asked to enter your name. This is the name that will be seen by your tutor and other students in the class.

Once you have entered your name you might be asked to enter a password to enter the class. The password will be included in the email sent to you. Once you enter the password you will either be taken directly into the class, or asked to wait in a virtual waiting room until the tutor is ready to let you into the class.

We have also produced a Handy Guide to Zoom [pdf] which gives you basic information on how to use it.

Course Fees and Rate Categories

HoursWeeksStandard RateInternal RateAssociate Rate
10  5  £110*
* There is no Early Bird rate available for one-term courses starting in October

Rate Categories and Discounts

Standard Rate

  • Applicable to all except those who fall under the Internal Rate or Associate Rate category, respectively.

Internal Rate

  • Current Imperial College students and staff (incl. Imperial NHS Trust, Imperial Innovations, ancillary & service staff employed on long-term contracts at Imperial College by third-party contractors)
  • Individuals enrolling under our Friends & Family scheme
  • Staff of the English Chamber Orchestra
  • Current Centre for Languages, Culture and Communication (CLCC) staff, current CLCC PhD students, Science Communication (Sci Comm) postgraduate students, and students enrolled on an Imperial College 'Language for Science' degree programme should contact before completing the online enrolment form

Associate Rate

  • Alumni of Imperial College and predecessor colleges and institutes
  • Austrian Cultural Forum staff
  • City & Guilds College Association members
  • Francis Crick Institute staff, researchers and students
  • Friends and Patrons of the English Chamber Orchestra
  • Harrods staff
  • Historic Royal Palaces staff
  • Lycee Charles de Gaulle staff
  • Members of the Friends of Imperial College
  • Members of the Kennel Club
  • Members of the London Zoological Society
  • Members of the South London Botanical Institute (SLBI)
  • Members of the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)
  • Natural History Museum staff
  • National Health Service (NHS) employees
  • Residents of postcodes SW3, SW5, SW7, SW10 and W8
  • Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council staff
  • Royal College of Art and Royal College of Music tutors and other staff
  • Royal Geographical Society staff
  • Science Museum staff
  • Staff of Exhibition Road Cultural Group (Discover South Kensington) organisations
  • Students (non-Imperial College)
  • Teachers and other staff of UK schools
  • Tutors and other staff of institution members of the Association of Colleges
  • Tutors and other staff of other universities and higher education institutions
  • Victoria and Albert Museum staff

Late enrolment

It is possible to enrol on many CLCC Evening Class and Lunchtime Learning programmes after the course has started. For non-language courses this is subject entirely to agreement by the tutor. For language courses it is subject to agreement by the language Coordinator conducting level assessment. If you want to join a course late do bear in mind there might be work you will need to catch up on, particularly in language courses.

Applicable terms & conditions

Please read the Terms and Conditions [pdf] before enrolling on any course.

Term Dates

HoursWeeksAutumn termSpring termSummer termSummer School
 10  5 1 - 29 Nov 2021* n/a n/a n/a
* This is a one-term course

Enrolment Process

Web enrolment starts 2nd August 2021

Enrolment and payment run through the Imperial College eStore. Please click on the blue booking link on the relevant course page noting below instructions:

  • Our rate categories are explained on the course page and your applicable rate category must be selected on the eStore
  • First-time eStore users please create an account by entering an email address and password. These credentials should also be used for future bookings. Imperial College users please note the eStore is not a single-signon College system
  • The booking process involves entering payment details after your course choice and applicant details are collected via an in-built questionnnaire
  • The following email notifications are sent:
What is sentWhen is it sentWhat does it contain
1. Payment confirmation Is sent instantaneously following submission of your online application
  • This is a receipt for your payment and includes payment date, order number and course title
  • Confirmation of your place on your chosen course will follow later
2. Enrolment confirmation Is sent within 10 working daysPlease treat your payment confirmation as confirmation that your applicant details and payment have been received
  • Re-confirms your course choice
  • Shows your course's term dates
  • Confirms the day and time of your course
3. Programme information Is usually sent on Friday late afternoon the week before term starts
  • Contains joining instructions for your course, incl. tutor contact details
If you need further help with the above information please ring 020 7594 8756

Any Questions?

If you have enjoyed this course, why not look at other arts and humanities evening class courses at Imperial College. This includes courses on the history of western art from ancient Greece to the nineteenth century, Understanding Modern and Design, the history of film and cinema and Greek and Roman mythology in art. We also run practical courses in art and photography and creative writing classes, and a growing programme of science based evening classes.