In the spring of 2009, Thomas Elsaesser asked his graduate seminar to jointly undertake a specific case study — of the British made, Hollywood-produced, India-claimed, surprise hit Slumdog Millionaire (2008) — in order to reconstruct the various discourses that are involved in locating and stabilizing the authorial, generic, ideological and national “identities” for a contemporary independent film of the kind that shows up at film festivals and makes up the loose category of “world cinema.” In this case, the seminar chose a film that started its life as an underdog but gradually emerged as a festival favorite. First spurned by the majors, even orphaned and sold as DVD-fodder by its parent production company, Warner Bros, Slumdog Millionaire went on to become a multiple Oscar-winner, an “issue” film and an international classic.
The purpose of the case study was to look at the way the meaning, title, perception and identity of such a hybrid festival film can (sometimes unexpectedly) change over a particular time period in the act or process of reception, especially if one factors in not only critics and commentators but nationally and linguistically specific, globally connected internet social networks and fan communities. Reception becomes not just meaning-making but involves acts of appropriation, of owning and disowning. These become integral parts of a film's identity and nationality, which are thus no longer pre-defined and static but evolve across dynamic processes of interaction, contestation and debate that internet tools now allow us to follow and track in real time. In place of the reception history of a film, we therefore propose to speak of its life-cycle, to indicate the multi-dimensional, fluid and dynamic processes which now must complement the analysis of the meaning or intention ascribed to a film by various communities, interest groups and experts.