James Leo Cahill

Associate Professor & Undergraduate Coordinator
inema Studies Institute and Department of French

Office: Room 323E, Innis College
Phone: 416-978-6883
Email: james.cahill@utoronto.ca



Research and Teaching

James Leo Cahill’s research focuses on French cinema and cultural history, nonfiction and experimental media, critical theory, and historiography. He has a special interest in scientific cinema and animals and moving image media. His first book, Zoological Surrealism: The Nonhuman Cinema of Jean Painlevé (University of Minnesota Press) examines the tangled histories of cinema, Surrealism, and scientific research in the early work of French filmmaker Jean Painlevé and develops an account of cinema’s Copernican vocation, or its capacities as an instrument of scientific discovery and anti-anthropocentric displacement. He is working on projects on the postwar French cinema and literature of exploration and its conceptualizations of the world, the globe, and globalization in the contexts of collaboration, colonialism, and coca-colonisation as well as a set of essays on classical film theory and experiments in historical perception. He is general editor of Discourse: Journal of Theoretical Studies in Media and Culture. He has been residential fellow at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France and a visiting professor with the Franke Institute for the Humanities/Center for Disciplinary Innovation at the University of Chicago. Professor Cahill teaches courses on French cinema, international cinema history and theory, animals and cinema, and exploration and cinema. At the graduate level he teaches seminars on Surrealism and cinema, theories and practices of cinematic media, montage and/as historical method, film and media historiography, and the guillotine and barricade as cultural forms and figures of history.



Ph.D. University of Southern California
M.A. University of California, Irvine
M.A. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
A.B. Occidental College


Select Publications



Zoological Surrealism: The Nonhuman Cinema of Jean Painlevé. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2019.


Articles in Academic Journals

“Cinema’s Natural History,” In Focus: Film and Media History the Anthropocene, co-edited by Jennifer Peterson and Graig Ulin, Journal of Cinema and Media Studies 58.2 (Winter 2019): 153-157.

“Double Exposures: Derrida and Cinema. An Introduction,” with Timothy Holland, Discourse 37.1-2, special issue “Derrida and Cinema,” eds. James Leo Cahill and Timothy Holland (2015): 3-21. 

Translation and commentary essay for Émile Vuillermoz, “Concision,” Empedocles: European Journal for the Philosophy of Communication 5.1, special issue: The Short Film Experience, eds. Pepita Hesselberth and Carlos Roos (2015): 25-30. 

“Grafomanie und Zoophilie: Zwei Punkte auf Sergei M. Eisensteins Linie” [Graphomania and Zoophilia: Two Points on Sergei M. Eisenstein’s Lines], trans. Elisabeth Winkelmann, Kunstforum International 225 (2014): 90-99. 

“Forgetting Lessons: Jean Painlevé’s Gay Science,” Journal of Visual Culture 11.3: “Science and Documentary,” eds. Oliver Gaycken and Joshua Malitsky (2012): 258-287. Translated into Japanese by Harumi Osaki as “授レツスン業 を忘れること,” Ecce 3 (2012): 2-36. 

“Hors d’œuvre: Science, the Short Film, and The Perception of Life,” Framework 52.1-2: “Things Fall Apart: Peter Whitehead,” eds. Paul Cronin, James Riley, and Drake Stutesman (2011): 66-82.

“How It Feels To Be Run Over: Early Film Accidents,” Discourse, 30.3: Special Issue: “Cinema and Accident” (Fall 2008): 289-316.

“Anacinema: Peter Tscherkassky’s Cinematic Breakdowns (Towards the Unspeakable Film),” Spectator, 28.2 (Fall 2008): 90-101.

“… and afterwards? Martin Arnold’s Phantom Cinema,” Spectator: Special Issue: “Deaths of Cinema,” 27 (Supplement: Summer 2007): 19-25. 

“The Insurgency of Objects: A Conversation with Fred Moten” with Rachel Leah Thompson, Octopus 1 (2005): 45-66.


Articles in Books

“Animal Photogénie: The Wild Side of French Film Theory’s First Wave,” in Animal Life and the Moving Image, eds. Michael Lawrence and Laura McMahon (London: British Film Institute/Palgrave, 2015), 23-41. 

“A YouTube Bestiary: 26 Theses on a Post-Cinema of Animal Attractions” in The New Silent Cinema, eds. Paul Flaig and Katherine Groos (New York: AFI/Routledge, 2015), 263-293. Winner of the 2017 SCMS Award for Best Essay in an Edited Collection.

“Gross Anatomies,” in Martin Arnold: Gross Anatomies (Nuremberg: Verlag für Moderne Kunst, 2015), 6-15. 

“Anthropomorphism and its Vicissitudes: Reflections on Homme-sick Cinema,” in Screening Nature: Cinema Beyond the Human, eds. Anat Pick and Guinevere Narraway (Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2013), 73-90. 

“Substance Abuse, or, on the essence of cinema,” in The Prisoner’s Cinema, ed. Melvin Moti (Rotterdam, 2008), 4-35.

“The Cineseizure,” in Martin Arnold: The Cineseizure (Vienna: Index; Paris: Re/Voir, 2006), 2-10.


Book reviews

Review of Les Cinéastes animaliers: Enquête dans les coulisses du film animalier en France by Maxence Lamoureux for French Studies: A Quarterly Review 73.1 (Winter 2019): 164-165.

Review of The Shape of Spectatorship: Art, Science, and Early Cinema in Germany by Scott Curtis for Critical Inquiry (Winter 2018): 391-392.

Review of Shadows, Specters, Shards: Making History in Avant-Garde Film by Jeffrey Skoller for Octopus 2 (2006): 71-74.


Zoological Surrealism