Mapping Movies

Steve Romalewski offered us a broad overview of the many tools one can utilize for mapping projects. It is astounding to consider the sophistication of programs like ArcGIS and QGIS when, as Steve noted, the majority of the functionality is never even used, and wonderfully complex, insightful maps are created nonetheless. Equally astounding, however, are more recent, smaller-scale tools such as mapbox.com, cartodb.com, and even ESRI’s Storymaps. While both ArcGIS and QGIS are powerful devices that are not particularly intimidating, a humanist may find one of the latter mapping tools more appropriate for his/her work. Intuitive and easily navigable, such tools can be remarkably effective for geo-plotting humanistic data. Since my background is in film studies, I am particularly interested in thinking of ways to map movie data.

Despite an abundance of work and theory developed around literary mapping (particularly the work of Franco Moretti), there seem to be relatively few attempts to synthesize cinema and maps. Of note, however, is Stephen Mamber’s digital work, as well as his 2003 essay, “Narrative Mapping”, which outlines potential approaches for mapping narrative films. Also notable is Jeffrey Klenotic’s current project “Mapping Movies” (see jeffklenotic.com). Narrative mappings of a film may be interesting, particularly when multiple settings occur and the geography itself has contextual meaning, but Klenotic’s project shows that other forms of mapping cinema are possible. Though unfinished at the moment, this project intends to map film exhibitions from an historical perspective in order to gain social and cultural knowledge regarding the movie-going population in certain locations at certain moments in time. Another conceivable approach could involve mapping production locations, if one was doing historical research on the business itself, or perhaps simply investigating how production locations contrast their fictional counterparts. Likewise, mapping a particular film author’s work (either by production location or fictional setting) might offer insight only attainable through geographical visualization. Suffice to say, the potential is vast.

ESRI’s Storymaps, though seemingly unsophisticated and geared toward a consumer-base, may in fact offer the greatest potential for mapping movies. If people haven’t tried this quick, easy, and fun tutorial, I would highly recommend it: http://www.computerworld.com/slideshow/detail/111965. The “map tour” template (and other templates probably have this functionality, as well) allows one to import web images and video (via flickr, youtube, etc.). This is great for geo-tagging photos from a road trip. But this could be equally valuable for a scholarly, narrative mapping project. Historical documents, manuscripts, etc. can be compiled, converted to image files, posted to a site like Flickr, then very easily mapped in Storymaps. For film study, one could rip a DVD using a simple, free tool like Handbrake (http://handbrake.fr), break down scenes according to setting (using QuickTime Player or simple editing software like iMovie), post each scene as a separate video to YouTube, then embed the URL to a pin in Storymaps (based, of course, on the geographic location in which the scene is set). Likewise, the video clip is viewable in a side bar, similar to National Geographic’s “Geostories” (http://www.geostories.org/portal/). One can, therefore, watch an entire film while simultaneously tracing the narrative geographically.

This process may seem a bit convoluted, but it is actually quite simple, and it offers a new way of looking at a particular film, or any story.

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