Collage of British cinema magazines

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

At a Glance

  • Live online course
  • 2 hours a week
  • Thursdays 18:00 - 20:00
  • 20 weeks: October to March
  • Tutor: Eleonora Sammartino
  • Fees from £230 to £420
  • Imperial College attendance certificate (T&Cs apply)
Booking link

Film is an art form that is part of everyone’s life and culture. Whether we prefer to watch movies at the cinema, on television, or on an iPhone or tablet, most of us watch films once or twice a week, and many of us more often than that. But what is the history of this art form? What kind of visual stories have filmmakers created in different periods and cultures? What connects the early experiments with moving images to the expansive sagas of contemporary superheroes?

On this course we will try to answer these questions by looking at the history of film, from the spectacles of silent cinema to the latest mainstream and independent art films. Guided by our expert tutor, we will analyse clips from some of the most celebrated movies ever made, as well as many lesser-known films, to understand how film forms and genres work, and how different technologies have influenced the way filmmakers create their stories and audiences watch them. We will also discuss the relationship between cinema and the socio-historical, political, and cultural contexts in which films have been produced, distributed and consumed. After exploring Hollywood and European cinemas, we will then focus on a wide range of global film industries, making connections between different cinematographic traditions and periods.

In each session, we will focus on a specific topic that will be explored through a presentation, including images and film clips. You will be invited to join in the discussion about the clips shown with the whole class or in smaller groups. The tutor will provide the slides and links to videos for the lesson before each session. Additional reading material and watching suggestions will be provided for further independent study after the class to allow students to explore specific interests at their own pace.

At the end of the course you will have a greater understanding of how movies work, how they have changed over time, and most of all, a real sense of the exciting diversity of filmmaking around the world.

No previous knowledge of film studies or film history is required.

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 might be subject to changes.

Autumn Term

Week 1: Introduction to Film Forms and Film History

In this session, we will introduce the course, taking a look at some of its main themes and topics. We will start by tracing the history of film from pre-cinema technologies, practices and popular culture, considering their impact on early silent films by Edison, the Lumières and Alice Guy-Blaché. In this lesson, we will also start examining film forms, focusing on mise-en-scène.

Week 2: Early Cinema History: From the Cinema of Attractions to Narrative Cinema

This week, we will cover the period of transition from the very early cinema spectacles to more narrative-driven films, particularly focusing on examples from Britain and the USA. This shift will be contextualised in relation to changes in technology, society and censorship in the first decade of the 20th century. We will also continue exploring film forms by looking at cinematography.

Week 3: German Expressionism and Soviet Cinema

In this lesson, we will focus on two of the most significative European film avant-gardes of the 1920s: German Expressionism and Soviet Montage. We will trace the main formal and stylistic characteristics of each one through clips from some key films. Both movements will be also connected to other forms of contemporary artistic avant-gardes as well as popular cinema produced in Germany and the Soviet Union respectively. Our exploration of film forms will continue with the examination of lighting and editing.

Week 4: The Rise of Hollywood: Stardom, Studios, and the Transition to Sound

In this first week dedicated to Hollywood, we will focus on the 1920s, tracing the emergence of the studio system and stardom through popular genres like slapstick comedy and stars like Clara Bow. We will survey practices in production, distribution and exhibition that provided the basis for the classical Hollywood period, reaching the transition to sound in the late 1920s. We will also consider independent filmmakers like Oscar Micheaux. We will conclude the lesson by focusing on the last film form: sound.

Week 5: Classic Hollywood: Popular Film Genres

In this session, we will examine the classical Hollywood period between the consolidation of the studio system in the 1930s and its decline in the 1950s. We will continue exploring some of the issues introduced in Week 4, particularly considering the work of specific production units in studios like RKO and MGM, distribution and exhibition practices through the lens of popular film genres.

Week 6: Italian Neorealism and the “Golden Age” of Italian Cinema

In a detour from Hollywood, this week we will focus on Italian cinema. Starting with an overview of the socio-political history of the country, we will trace elements of realism and regionalism in cinema since the silent period. This will help contextualising the emergence of Neorealism in the 1940s, in response to the Second World War and the Post-War reconstruction. We will consider how distribution and reception have shaped the definition of Neorealism and look at the examples from films by De Sica and Rossellini, among the others. We will conclude by tracing continuities and differences between Neorealism and the Golden Age of Italian cinema between the 1950s-60s.

Week 7: French New Wave: Criticism, Authorship, and the Left Bank

In this lesson, we will focus on the French New Wave and the Left Bank filmmakers through the analysis of films by Truffaut, Godard and Varda. The session will start with an overview of French cinema before the 1950s, such as poetic realism and popular genres like the policier. We will then consider the fundamental connection between the New Wave and the emergence of film criticism and film culture in France in the 1950s-60s, which shaped ideas of authorship in cinema and a critical approach to film language.

Week 8: New Hollywood: Experimenting with Narrative and Aesthetics

This week, we are back in Hollywood, starting from the crisis of the studio system outlined in Week 5. The emergence of a new generation of filmmakers and new practices in the post-studio period will be connected with the determinant changes in production practices, technologies, censorship and the socio-cultural context in the 1960s. We will also trace the influence of Neorealism and the French New Wave in the work of new directors like Scorsese and Coppola.

Week 9: Black Independent Cinema: From Blaxploitation to L.A. Rebellion

In this final week of term, we will turn to independent cinema by Black American filmmakers in the period between the 1970s and the 1990s. Starting by looking at the Civil Rights Movement, we will be examining Blaxploitation cinema in the early 1970s through the key example of Melvin van Peebles. Alongside the more popular Blaxploitation, we will look at the work of the L.A. Rebellion, a group of Los Angeles-based filmmakers such as Charles Burnett, Julie Dash, and Billy Woodberry, who aimed to create an alternative to the dominant mode of Hollywood cinema.

***Christmas Break***

Spring Term

Week 10: Contemporary Hollywood: Media Convergence and Blockbusters

In this lesson, we are concluding our chronological examination of Hollywood cinema by focusing on the period between the 1980s and the present. The session will concentrate on blockbusters and the links between different creative industries, in the context of new technologies, media conglomerates, and emerging forms of distribution. Examples such as Jurassic Park will give us the opportunity to explore these connections in more depth.

Week 11: British Cinema: from the New Wave to the New Millennium

In this session, we will explore British Cinema, particularly focusing on social realism as a form of cinema that is closely connected to specific social and political conditions. We will look at examples from the 1960s British New Wave to start examining the main characteristics of social realism and trace some of its elements in more contemporary films. We will also consider the key work of the Black Film Movement in the 1980s and the mainstream success of British-Asian filmmakers like Gurinder Chadha in the 1990s.

Week 12: New Waves in Eastern European Cinemas

In this session, we will explore New Waves and film movements emerged in Eastern European Cinemas in different historical periods. We will start by considering the context of the Cold War and the impact of political upheavals on cinema. We will then look at the 1960s Czech New Wave more in-depth, through examples of filmmakers like Miloš Forman and Vĕra Chytilová. The lesson will then shift to cinemas in the post-Soviet context through the case study of the contemporary Romanian New Wave.

Week 13: Spanish and Latin American Cinemas

This week, we will focus on Spanish and Latin American Cinemas by looking at how different filmmakers have used cinema to reflect on the history of their countries. We will examine a wide breadth of perspectives, from responses to the Franco regime after the end of the dictatorship in Spain and retellings of the Spanish Civil War through popular genres to the anti-colonialist Third Cinema in Latin America and more contemporary reflections on cinema as a medium to frame Chilean history.

Week 14: Australian and New Zealand Cinemas

In this session, we will focus on the renaissance of Australian cinema since the 1970s and the soaring in production in New Zealand in the same period. We will consider how, previous to this period, cinema was closely connected to the British industry and subsequently became a means of assertion of cultural independence and transnational success. The lesson will also explore Indigenous and Fourth Cinema through the works of filmmakers like Merata Mita.

Week 15: Bollywood and Indian Cinema Industries

This lesson will offer an overview of the wealth of film industries that have prospered in India since the silent period, tied to different languages and cultures, and concentrate more specifically on Hindi films. We will consider the emergence of Hindi cinema as predominant in the subcontinent after the Independence, looking at both popular genres and parallel cinema. We will then focus on Bollywood productions after the 1990s, tied to the diaspora, changing socio-cultural contexts, and the circulation of popular film imagery.

Week 16: Japanese and Korean Cinemas

In this session, we will focus on Japanese and South Korean cinemas, highlighting the connections between the two countries due to their history. We will first look at Japanese cinema in the period between the 1940s and 1950s, examining in particular melodramas (shomingeki) set in the contemporary period and the work of directors like Yasujirō Ozu. The lesson will then focus on South Korean cinema in correspondence with the transition to the democracy in the country in the late 1980s and the more recent international success of the Korean Wave.

Week 17: Chinese, Hong Kong, and Taiwanese Cinemas

This week, we will consider the close ties between the Chinese, Hong Kong and Taiwanese cinema industries, contextualising them in relation to the history and politics of these countries. After an overview of the main trends and cinematic movements up to the 1970s, we will focus on the post-1980s period, with the emergence of new generations of filmmakers in Mainland China and the international success of wuxia films. We will then consider examples of the Hong Kong New Wave, such as filmmakers Wong Kar-wai and Ann Hui, as well as directors working with popular genres like Johnnie To. Finally, we will turn to the second wave of Taiwanese filmmakers emerged in the 1990s.

Week 18: Middle Eastern and Arab Cinema

In this lesson, we will focus on films from the Middle Eastern region and the Arab world, including North Africa. We will first focus on Iranian cinema, from the Iranian New Wave in the 1960s to the more recent New Iranian Cinema. In examining Iranian cinema, we will consider issues related to censorship and stylistic elements used by filmmakers to sidestep it. The lesson will then turn to another fertile industry like that of Egypt, with filmmakers like Youssef Chahine and international stars like Omar Sharif.

Week 19: Sub-Saharan Cinema

In this session, we will look at the cinema from the Sub-Saharan region. Through a chronological approach, we will first consider the emergence of Sub-Saharan filmmakers starting from the 1960s, in the period of decolonisation, such as Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène. The lesson will then look at more recent filmmakers originally from this region, but often working transnationally, and popular in the festival circuit. Finally, we will focus on commercial industries like Nollywood, from the 1990s to New Nollywood, in relation to modes of production, distribution, and new media.

Week 20: Animation: From Pre-Cinema to CGI

In this last lesson of the course, we will focus on animation from its pre-cinematic origins to the contemporary digital forms. Looking at productions from different periods and countries, we will have a chance to revisit some of the main issues and themes discussed throughout the module. Examples will include films by the Fleischer brothers, Lotte Reiniger, Disney, and Studio Ghibli, among others.

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:

  •  David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson. Film Art: An Introduction. 11th ed. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2016. Previous editions are also good.
  •  Pam Cook. The Cinema Book. London: BFI, 2007.
  •  Geoffrey Nowell-Smith. The Oxford History of World Cinema. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Further optional reading material and suggestions will be provided by the tutor throughout the course.

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.

Eleonora 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 Method: Live Online (Zoom)

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
 40  20  £420    (≡£10.50 per hour)
£250    (≡£6.25 per hour)
£330 (≡£8.25 per hour)
All fee rates quoted and due are for the whole 2-term course. Part-payments are not possible. Equivalent to hourly rate is for comparison guidance only.

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
 40  20 18 Oct - 18 Dec 2021 (9 weeks)*  PLUS 10 Jan - 26 Mar 2022 (11 weeks) n/a n/a
* Followed by the Christmas break

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.