The utilitarian film dispositif

Deane Williams, Grace Russell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


In film studies in recent years, we have seen the (re)emergence of two fields of enquiry, both of which concern this essay. (1) The interest in what we have termed ‘client-sponsored, instructional and governmental filmmaking existing outside the conventional theatrical contexts by which cinema is usually defined’. We have seen a number of conferences and anthologies appear that attest to this. (2) The reconsideration of the notion of the dispositif, that emerged due to the translation of Jean-Louis Baudry’s seminal work in the 1970s. For us, research into what we term utilitarian filmmaking has been advantaged by the return to the dispositif, to what Adrian Martin calls ‘the social machine’ as well as Baudry’s basic cinematic apparatus. After defining the characteristics of the utilitarian film, we will explore the particular considerations for audiences and spectatorship as they pertain to utilitarian film. We discuss the resonances of these conceptions for genre, including documentary studies, and spectatorial pleasure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)219-231
Number of pages13
JournalStudies in Documentary Film
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Australian film
  • Dispositif
  • government and instructional film
  • utilitarian film

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