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Interview with Verena Berger, UC3M CONEX professor

“The road movie is the audiovisual continuation of literary tradition’s initiation journey”


The hispanist Verena Berger carries out research into the road movies of Latin America, Africa and Asia to analyze their adaptation into cultures alien to the western canon or that which is typically American. She undertakes her work at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) department of Journalism and Audiovisual Communication within the framework of CONEX (CONnecting EXcellence), the program to attract talent to UC3M, with funding from the European Union (FP7 Marie Curie actions), the Ministry of Economics and Competitiveness, and the Banco Santander.

Entrevista a Verena Berger, profesora CONEX de la UC3M

Why is it precisely road movies that you are researching?

Generally speaking, the road movie is one of the most representative film genres of American culture. However, as an audiovisual continuation of literary tradition’s initiation journey, this type of narrative has been adapted by filmmakers throughout the world.  It is, as such, an ideal format for analyzing its adaptation to cultures alien to the western prototype or that which is typically American.  In my case, I am undertaking a comparative analysis of the generic conventions of road movies produced in Africa, Asia and Latin America. 

What is it about this genre that attracts you?

I am especially attracted by its parallelism with the legend of the “wandering Jew”, with life itself, with human beings in search of their origins, the meaning of existence, and with a destiny.  Secondly, reflection upon these themes and their representation in film, because of their being inherent to any culture, are a universal topic both historically and geographically. For that reason, the road movie seems to be an ideal format for researching the similarities and differences, globally speaking. 

What can a road movie tell us about a society?

Most of the time, the protagonist’s identity crisis reflects the identity crisis of culture or a nation, strictly speaking.  The script is a reflection of the era, its controversies, problems and issues.  It is film genre whose narration understands the road trip as a cultural critique and as a search for identity, be it for the individual, society or the country itself.

What methodology do you employ in your research?

It is a balance between the concepts of a national cinema and transnational/post-national cinema to locate deterritorializaton and re-territorialization trends in the Deleuze sense, in the narration as well as the visual esthetic.  My focus is multi-disciplinary, based on mixed methods. I basically combine film genre theories with concepts of transnational and transcultural study methods, from World Cinema Studies, postcolonial studies, as well as visual culture and geographical cultural studies.

What results are you expecting to obtain?

The goal is to arrive at a deep understanding of the road movie  within the cinematography of the so-called “smaller nations”, such as, for example, Colombia, the Philippines or Algeria.  At the same time, the aim is to obtain a detailed classification of the makeup of a popular film genre, of its conventions and narrative as well as visual features in global cinema. It is a novel and non-conventional approach to the field of cinemagraphic genres.  Based on the polycentric film theories, it is a comparative perspective of a sole film genre at the global cinema level.  Its originality lies in the transnational and transcultural analysis of the road movie that would close a gap in existing film studies.

What is most difficult when tackling and analyzing these themes?

What is probably most complicated is accessing film material, above all films from Africa, but sometimes even Latin America or Asia.  Many films from these cinematographies are never commercially distributed, and stop being reproduced or simply are not accessible to an international market. This implies a lot of work in archives or accessing the possibility of seeing a movie by directly contacting directors or other researchers who have them in their possession.  After that, likewise complicated is synthesizing and processing the enormous amount of data extracted from a large and diverse corpus, in addition to relating them to heterogeneous cultural contexts. 

What advantages does researching this area within the CONEX framework bring?

Because of the complexity of my focus and the broad scope of the film corpus with which I work, the UC3m CONEX program allows me to dedicate myself to long term full-time research.  The University also offers excellent services such as the Linguistic Service and translations of scientific texts into English; the Getafe Campus Library is not only beautiful because of its architecture, but also it is very well equipped.  In addition, Madrid is undoubtedly one of the most attractive European metropolises because of its concentration of academic institutions and world class researchers.  As such, it is an ideal place to connect with colleagues, in theory as well as in practice, and that is, also in producing cinema.

Which university researchers are you collaborating with?

I had the pleasure of collaborating with the Tecmerin group from 2010 to 2013 in a scientific exchange program established between UC3M and University of Vienna.  From this project, headed by Dr. Manuel Palacio, several collaborations have already arisen in symposiums and conferences as well as in publications The scientific work of the researchers in the Journalism and Audiovisual Communication department – and in my case, especially those in the Cinema section- is noteworthy for its high quality, and the research lines pursued by my UC3M colleagues are very useful and inspiring.  I hope that thanks to the CONEX program these scientific exchanges can be expanded.