Call for Papers


Special Issue of Apparatus. Film, Media and Digital Cultures of Central and Eastern Europe, Spring 2022 

The Haunted Medium: Moving Images in the Russian Empire

Ed. by Oksana Chefranova, Natascha Drubek, and Rachel Morley

Send proposal by 8 March 2021

This peer-reviewed issue aims to expand the discourse on pre-revolutionary moving images from the “kingdom of shadows,” as evoked by Maksim Gorkii in 1896, to an empire of spectres. Gorkii’s powerful metaphor emphasised the immaterial traces that fin-de-siècle culture imprinted on film. The more capacious notion of empire, as a territory both geographical and imaginary, includes other kinds of traces: the numerous diverse presences of early cinema’s forgotten contributors, lost and incomplete films, fragments of archives, and more. The concept of the spectre also emerges as an interdisciplinary method of attending to critical issues surrounding early image production. The spectre both gives life, and even corporeality, to historical ghosts, while also actively communicating across disciplinary boundaries and between the past and the present states of cinema.

Since the 1989 screening of early Russian films at the eighth Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone and the publication by the British Film Institute of the accompanying catalogue Silent Witnesses: Russian Films 1908-1919,early Russian cinema has become an established field within Russian cinema studies. There exists a significant and varied body of academic work on this period of filmmaking, addressing such topics as the cultural background and reception of cinema in Russia, cinema architecture, the specificities of the early Russian acting style, technical and expressive developments in cinematic language, socio-historical analyses of what the films reveal about late-imperial Russian life, accounts of the roles of various professionals (directors, camera operators, actors and actresses, set designers, screenwriters, writers for the cinema press), and feminist and Freudian readings of individual films. The list of archival rediscoveries continues to grow beyond the best-known names of Evgenii Bauer and Iakov Protazanov, and scholars have also begun to reconstruct lost and incomplete films. Pre-revolutionary cinema has remained largely within the domain of Russian cinema studies, however, lacking a notable influence outside this specialised area.

With all this in mind, this special issue of Apparatus sets out to revisit the early period of cinema in this region from a wide-ranging interdisciplinary and comparative perspective that embraces film history, film theory and media studies. Our aim is to inspire new writing on the early period of moving images in the Russian Empire that exceeds the cinematic and the local, and advances for this area of study a new cross-disciplinary and cross-national reach.

The scope of this special issue is therefore broad – temporally, geographically, methodologically and theoretically. We aim to exceed the limitations of the established period of 1907–1918, by inviting contributions that explore the array of moving images of the ‘long nineteenth century’ and deal with moving images made and shown and shown across all the territories of the Russian Empire, such as Poland, Ukraine, the Baltic region, Belorussia, the Caucasus, and Central Asia among others. We seek also to address gaps in our knowledge about the early industry, by bringing to light the contributions of lesser-known people involved in moving images in the Russian Empire, and of those working in less-studied roles. We hope to foreground early cinema's almost forgotten participants, those suppressed by Soviet film history, those overlooked by their contemporaries, and those whose stories have not yet been extracted from the archives: the inventors and pioneers who contributed to the cinema culture of the Russian Empire, which was generated by diverse influences and produced by protagonists from numerous cultural and religious backgrounds. We also particularly encourage papers that apply new theoretical approaches, such as media archaeology, ecocritical perspectives, media theory, and archival studies. And we would also welcome proposals that adopt a comparative focus and seek to bring early Russian cinema into dialogue with work in early film studies generally. There have been numerous developments in this area during the past three decades – new approaches to the moving image, such as media archaeology, ecocritical studies of film’s engagement with the environment, and a focus on non-theatrical exhibition, for example – with which scholarship on early Russian cinema has yet to engage systematically. 

The proposed title of this special issue – The Haunted Medium: Moving Images in the Russian Empire – suggests additional areas of interest. Its allusion to the motif of haunting has many possible interpretations. It speaks, for example, to the ways in which early moving images were haunted by censors, by the snobbery of those suspicious of technical media, by the incomprehension of those confused by the ambiguities of stasis and motion, and by the prurience of those uncomfortable with the decadent imaginary of death and decay, the tragic “Russian endings,” and the pornographic exploitation of the medium. Thus haunting, and being haunted, emerge as metaphors for the ambivalent reception of the new spectacle as an uncanny medium and for the attempt to grasp the magical, as well as the potential political, power of cinema as a mass medium. 

The notion of the ‘medium’ is evocative. It suggests a conceptual anxiety across film and media studies in which the term is understood not simply as a channel for the transmission of information between two or more environments, but also as a distinct socio-psychological setting or environment that facilitates certain types of interaction, while constraining others. The notion of the medium – as something that literally ‘stands in-between’ – invites us to investigate how the ghosts of the past meet the phantoms of  the future and to examine the ways in which early cinema resonates with the contemporary state of the cinematic medium. In this themed issue, we hope to reveal a resonance between the beginnings of the haunted medium of film, which coincided with the final decades of a crumbling empire, and the haunting media of the digital and post-digital eras.

Finally, the use of the capacious term ‘moving images’ allows us to expand our focus beyond cinema to include other optical spectacles and visual media, such as lantern shows or the camera obscura.

Topics may include, but are by no means limited to:

  • the beginnings of optical media in the Russian Empire and their relation to moving images 

  • moving and projected images that preceded cinema in the Russian Empire: the magic lantern, the camera obscura 

  • the pioneers and inventors of cinema in Russia before 1907

  • photographers and their contribution to the beginnings of cinematography in the Russian Empire

  • the Tsar’s family, aristocracy, and cinema

  • production studies of early cinema in the Russian Empire

  • cinematography and camera operators, including the role of foreign camera operators

  • the film studio, the movie theatre, and other spaces of production and exhibition  

  • non-theatrical forms of exhibition 

  • film as a medium through which to explore the power of imagination 

  • the themes of animism and death 

  • the hauntology of early cinema in the Russian Empire: apparitions, hypnosis, spiritism, mediums, seances and their implications for the history of cinema and the development of cinema aesthetics 

  • ecologies of the image: cinema and the environment

  • film and science

  • cinema and the ‘other arts’

  • the role of women in the film industry in the Russian Empire (as directors, screenwriters, editors, set designers, colourists, performers, producers, theatre owners, pianists and so on)

  • theories of media (from Russian Formalism to contemporary media philosophy) as tools for exploring early film 

  • comparative perspectives on the cinema of the Russian Empire within the context of global silent film

  • the international distribution and reception of the cinema of the Russian Empire

  • filmmakers’ early international contacts and their traces in film archives worldwide

  • the archives of early Russian film as a medium of cultural memory and a tool of research 

  • curating early cinema produced in the Russian Empireas a cultural phenomenon.

The editors invite scholars at all stages of their career to submit paper proposals for this special issue.

Please send your proposals in English by 8 March 2021 (title, 400-word abstract, 5 references, 150-word bio, contact details, affiliation, if applicable) to: Oksana Chefranova (, Natascha Drubek ( and Rachel Morley (

Notifications of acceptance will be sent out by 8 April 2021. The articles (no more than 7500 words, including notes, plus 3–4 images) are due by 15 October 2021. For the article please use this template which you can also download in any format.