Research pursuits revolve around contemporary representations of iconic post-traumatic sites through creative practice-as-research; the city in film and visual culture; history and methodologies of documentary film and other forms of documentary imagery; representations of Holocaust-related sites and those associated with Jewish identity and the diaspora; visual anthropology and issues of ethnicity and the representation of indigenous peoples in documentary and popular film; variation in communication within and across cultures.
using and writing about film and visual culture
After making documentaries for British and American television including on such topics as cultural change in a Sami reindeer-herding community in northern Sweden in People of the Four Winds (1989), Marcus conducted doctoral fieldwork in four Inuit communities in the Canadian Arctic, which resulted in two monographs, Out in the Cold (1992) and Relocating Eden (1995), and a series of articles. This research explored issues of filmic and literary representations of indigenous peoples, and cross-cultural perspectives of landscape, homeland and sense of place. His work on visual anthropology includes Nanook of the North as Primal Drama (2006), which recontextualizes Robert Flaherty’s classic film set in the Canadian north. In the last decade, Marcus has made 15 research films on a range of topics, from investigating iconic post-traumatic sites to considering the relationship between works of art and the sites they represent.
post-traumatic site research
The In Time of Place project developed from research which led to making an experimental video installation, Beautiful Dachau (2006). The title of the film was drawn from a poster on a bus shelter outside the former concentration camp that announced: 'Beautiful Dachau, things to see and do'. The slogan encapsulates the challenges facing a town whose name is associated with the torture and murder of thousands of people. This video installation and the issues it explores are examined in published writings, including 'Spatial transfigurations in Beautiful Dachau' (2006) and 'Beautiful Dachau's Contested Urban Identity' (2008). The film foregrounds a traumatic space and the erasure and reappropriation of place. Following its debut installation at the TRANS visual cultural exhibition and conference in Madison, Wisconsin in 2006, a series of screenings, keynotes and invited lectures on the project were given in 2007 at the Constructions of Conflict Conference, Univ. of Wales, and at Harvard, Princeton and other institutions and venues. The next film on contemporary Dachau, In Place of Death, has had a number of screenings, including at Edinburgh, Liverpool, Haifa, Canterbury, Cambridge, Syracuse, Manchester and other universities and museums. Writings, including 'A Tale of Two Cities' (2010), explore the cultural, historical and political themes which underpin the film. His practice-as-research work extends the focus on post-traumatic sites to include One Market Day (2011) made in the Basque town of Guernica, One Hot Day (2011) set in Hiroshima, and In the Birch Grove (2012) in Auschwitz-Birkenau. A trilogy of research films set in Germany followed with Feininger's Window (2015) in Berlin, The Forgotten Jew in the City of Youth (2016) in Landsberg am Lech, and a work on the Weimar/Buchenwald paradox in Near the Palace (2015). Marcus's most recent work considers links between 9/11 and the Mexican/US border wall controversy in The New Colossus (2017), and he is completing a film on Nuremberg in City of Toys, that draws on an interview he conducted with Leni Riefenstahl on Triumph of the Will shortly before she died.
research and impact
The stature and systemic role of the urban environment in society as featured in Marcus's writings on film, photography, architecture, pictorial art and other forms of visual culture, occupies a key area of Marcus's current research. His co-edited book, Visualizing the City (Routledge, 2008), presents a range of interdisciplinary explorations that illustrate our fascination with the urban experience, modernity and different architectural idioms. His guest edited journal issues on various aspects of Visualising the City include History of Photography (2006), The Journal of Architecture (2006) and Film Studies (2007). His doctoral students engage in research on areas of documentary and ethnographic film, reflexivity, practice as research, representations of race, and various aspects of global film history. His research films have been the subject of over 50 keynotes and invited talks with screenings at museums and universities, including Harvard, Princeton and Cambridge. With a view to stimulating debate between practitioners, theorists and the public, Marcus devised the Director's Cut series of public talks, masterclasses and community outreach events in 2007 which explores paradigmatic work of leading and innovative filmmakers, broadcasters and visual artists. The diversity of the series is reflected in the range of guests appearing in 58 events, including Sir David Attenborough, director Gurinder Chadha, German flip book visual artist Volker Gerling, Indian filmmakers Anjali Monteiro and K.P. Jaysankar, actor and author Simon Callow, producer Zoe Heron and film composer Craig Armstrong. A number of the programmes are available on the Director's Cut site as webcasts and podcasts, and others have been broadcast by the BBC.