A Guest Blog by Chelsea Birks
Who am I?
My name is Chelsea Birks and I’m a second year PhD student at the University of Glasgow. I’ve been involved with planning the 2016 RFN Festival and Unconference since the very beginning, and I’m incredibly excited to see it come to life over the May Day long weekend!
When and where is the unconference?
9.30am – 3pm, 29 April – 1 May 12 2016, Gilmorehill Halls, University of Glasgow.
There will also be a RFN members’ meeting at 12 noon- 2 pm on Monday 2 May.
What is an “unconference”?
The 2016 RFN unconference is a radical re-working of the academic conference. We wanted to do something that fits the ethos of the festival not only in terms of content but also form. We really wanted to escape the traditional conference format, where a panel of scholars get up in front of a crowd and recite 20 minute papers — not very radical! Conferences can be alienating to non-academics, and we really wanted to make connections with people working as artists, filmmakers, and activists to incite a broader discussion about radical film culture.
We didn’t invent the unconference format, but we have adapted it to suit our needs. Unconferences are participant driven, and the agenda is decided by the attendees on the day rather than being sorted out in advance by the organisers. This format is intended to break down hierarchies and promote open discussion. There are no keynote speakers, and everyone is encouraged to participate. The organisers do not direct the discussion; our job is to facilitate the sessions and make sure participants have everything they need to share their ideas.
Some participants are coming with prepared materials to present, on any topic related to radical film. As a guideline, we have suggested that no prepared talk should be more than 6 minutes long so that we have enough time for everyone and for open discussion at the end of each session. Some sessions will probably be more focused on prepared talks, while others will be more free-form. Given the unpredictable nature of the unconference format, we can’t tell you exactly what the weekend will look like — but that’s what makes the event so exciting!
What does this look like in practice?
We will have an orientation on Friday April 29th to make sure that participants get a chance to ask questions before the event. Saturday will be devoted more to those participants who have prepared materials to present, such as short talks or audiovisual presentations. Sunday will be more focused on reflecting on the events of the festival. Each morning, participants will meet in the plenary space to approve our group agreement and decide on the day’s agenda. We have a total of 16 time slots available over the 2 days, and it is up to the participants to decide how to fill them. Anybody can propose a topic, and as long as enough people are interested and it meets approval from the group it will be added to the agenda. The agenda will be posted in the plenary space so that participants and latecomers can refer back to it over the weekend.
It sounds a bit chaotic, but the organizing team has put a lot of work into making sure the event will run smoothly. We took a facilitator’s training workshop with Tripod, a workers’ cooperative based in Edinburgh that specialises in training social justice groups in consensus decision making (you can find them at ). They taught us techniques to encourage discussion in a non-hierarchical way, so that everyone’s voice is heard but we still move the conversation forward and meet our projected aims for the day. We will do our best to make sure the event is fun and productive for everyone — all you need to show up with are ideas, and a willingness to engage in discussion!
Who can participate?
Everyone! You can come for just one session, or for the entire weekend. You can help us to determine the agenda in the morning, or else come later in the day and refer to the agenda posted in the plenary space. You do not have to bring prepared material in order to participate — though you can if you like!
We hope that the festival organisers and participants will exchange ideas about the festival events and screenings at the unconference, and, in turn, that the unconference delegates will engage fully with the festival.
We have organized a crèche in the Gilmorehill Halls but please let us know in advance if you will be bringing children.
Where can I learn more?
There, you will find more information about the unconference format and what you can expect over the weekend. There are also instructions about how to register and how to donate to the event, as well as posts from participants showcasing their projects, films, and publications.
Any questions can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org
See you in Glasgow!