18th SERCIA international conference
Université Montesquieu-Bordeaux IV
4-7 septembre 2013


The Contract in English-speaking Cinema

The 18th annual SERCIA conference (September 4th – 7th 2013) will be hosted by the University Montesquieu (Bordeaux IV), and the Institute of Business and Patrimonal Law (ITRDAP). It is this unique entry of film scholars into a law school that has suggested the topic of the contract in cinema.

According to the article 1101 of French Civil Law, “the contract is a convention through and by which one or several persons have an obligation towards one or several persons to give, do or not do something.” The contract is, then, the result of a willed written or unwritten agreement, and becomes the source of dues and obligations: hence, the obligatory force of the contract. Some contracts respect legal rules amongst which a compulsory formalism (or a solemn ritual); others are informal. Subject to the existence of special regulations (which may sometimes be confined to contractual directives or state intervention), the principle of contractual freedom enacts that each party is free to contract or not, that each party may choose the type of agreement passed and determine its contents. Behind the statutory definition, a philosophical, moral or religious conception can be identified which imposes the deference to the given word and, more generally, grants fundamental value to individual commitment.

Drawing on this general approach, it seems obvious that the cinematic medium abundantly reconfigures the contractual relationship as it is prepared through negotiations and protocol, as it is formed and formalised, or not. Papers can thus address:

- the formation drawing of the contract or its. The implementation of the contract can also be examined, just as the sanctions for the lack of implementation.

In this question, all domains or objects are possible realms of investigation:

- buying and selling,

- work relationships (Blue Collar, Swimming With Sharks), sometimes temporary (The Navigators) or lack of contract of employment (Riff-Raff),

- insurance contracts (Lloyd’s of London, Double Indemnity…),

- commercial contracts,

- marriage contracts (Pride and Prejudice, The War of the Roses), etc.

Another field of investigation is the content of contractual obligations: convergent or antagonistic, the determining of a common goal (company or institution), financial and economic consequences… The contract can be explored from a historical perspective through the specificity of certain systems such as legal settlements widely portrayed in English-speaking cinema. More largely, the notion of contract can be approached from a wide variety of angles, from the Faustian pact to the contract killer or hitman.

Please note that this conference does not address film contracts, those applicable to cinematic production from a legal viewpoint. However, these specific contracts may be addressed as they are depicted within the diegesis of a film, but also through various legal situations (the intervention of contracted individuals, for example, co-productions) if they are of incidence regarding the content or aesthetics of the cinematic work itself.

The manner in which cinema takes issue with the contractual relationship should also be addressed: simplifying effects or delving into the intricacies of legality, critical distance, symbolic approach, etc. The representation of contractual relationships and their elaboration can be questioned, just as the individuals concerned by the contract, the legal representatives who intervene, the environments in which the contracts are written.

Naturally, behind the contract is the human dimension of the agreement—the emotional and family ties in which the social dimension of the contract is grounded—and, on a formal level, the spectatorial contract, either implicit or the result of precise specifications, that accompanies the act of cinematic creation, based on a set of norms, which govern the practical relationship between filmmaker and audience, between actor and spectator, between character and viewer. These norms can either be respected, rejected, bypassed, subverted or transgressed by the filmmaker, thereby becoming part of the process of cinematic creation (Scream is an example of the mise en abyme of a generic contract whose rules are both given and criticised during the film.)


A 250 word summary of your proposal (with 3 or 4 keywords) with a short biography and bibliography should be sent to :


Deadline: February, 18th , 2013