Sarah Ann Wells

Society Fellow


Sarah Ann Wells (Associate Professor, English Department, University of Wisconsin, Madison) is the author of Media Laboratories: Late Modernist Authorship in South American (Northwestern, FlashPoints Series, 2017) and co-editor of the volume Simultaneous Worlds: Global Science Fiction Cinema (Minnesota, 2015). Her scholarship on Latin American literature and cinema has been published in venues such as Modernism/Modernity, South Atlantic Quarterly, The Global South, Comparative Literature, Luso-Brazilian Review, and the edited volumes Cosmopolitan Film Cultures in Latin America (Indiana, 2017) and Comintern Aesthetics (Toronto, 2020). She is currently writing a book entitled The Labor of Images: Strike Films, World Cinema, and the Collective Encounter, which has been supported by an ACLS Fellowship and the Institute for Research in the Humanities at UW-Madison, and editing a dossier in Hispanic Review on collectivity in contemporary Latin American literature and political theory. 

Research Focus

The Labor of Images

During the fervor of political filmmaking in late-1960s France, Jean-Luc Godard declared that “the men who know film can’t speak the language of strikes and the men who know strikes [can’t speak the language of film].” Engaging Godard’s provocation, I argue that the fraught encounter among filmmakers and other kinds of workers produces a new cinematic form, the strike film, the subject of the book I am writing during my residency at the Society for the Humanities. Not merely a topic — i.e., a film where strikes appear — the strike film is a struggle over how to represent collective resistance through the affordances and contradictions of cinema as a medium, artform, and industry. The understudied relationship between cinema and the strike lies in their shared preoccupation with collective labor. In the strike film, labor refusal by one set of workers —miners, teachers, watchmakers, autoworkers, agricultural laborers, hospital orderlies, and sex workers — motivates the labor of artworkers. In the process, the strike film stages myriad forms of crossing and crossing over, from picket lines to factory occupations to strategizing the cameraperson’s access to the jobsite. When prohibited from entering the factory, for example, documentary crews have devised creative solutions, from staging experimental reenactments to handing cameras over to workers. Exploring these encounters, The Labor of Images also examines the strike film as a world cinema form. Not only do strike films crop up worldwide, but many are also transnational in their production, circulation, and exhibition. Moreover, because the strike film seeks to transform local demands into international ones, positing an alternative community grounded in expansive solidarities, it requires multiscalar methods that challenge extant approaches to world cinema studies. At once a wager on collective organizing and a tarrying with the difficulty of coming together, the strike film is an aperture into the strike as a global cultural form.