Dr Alexander Sergeant is a Lecturer in Film & Media Studies at the University of Portsmouth. He teaches on the BA (Hons) Media Studies and BA (Hons) Film Industries courses in the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries, focusing on various aspects of media history and theory.
Dr Sergeant’s area of research is the history and theory of fantasy cinema, and he is motivated by the fact that fantasy is the first to get criticised by conservative-minded critics and being a fan of the underdog, his viewpoint is to stick up for a much-maligned genre to argue for its complexity, richness and, often, punk spirit. He finds that most people are unable to name more than three or four fantasy films because the label is so elusive and it seems to have a different meaning for everyone.
The purpose of this research for him is to change the general outlook on the fantasy genre, “helping those who like it to understand why, and helping those who don’t, to appreciate it more”. Alexander justifies the importance of understanding one’s leisure time as the human impact of his research. His point of view is that many people disregard the significance of their time off, claiming it is just the filler in our lives, while in reality, we are most present when we relax in front of the TV or cinema screen.
“My research is about explaining the process behind labelling something as a work of fantasy, whether that be historically considering what cultural or political role fantasy fiction has served for those who have read and enjoyed it throughout the centuries, as well as theoretically, by thinking through some of psychological principles behind the act of imagination that fantasy seems to entail.”
Alexander runs a website called Fantasy-Animation.org, which publishes a weekly blog and bi-weekly podcast devoted to the relationship between fantasy cinema and the medium of animation. The site attracts an avid audience of academics, writers, animators and fans, and it has an on-going collaboration with the Cinema Museum in London to host monthly screenings. Recently, they showed The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Lotte Reiniger, 1926), and upcoming events include a 35mm version of Shrek (Andrew Adamson & Vicky Jenson, 2001) in November and Wizards (Ralph Bakshi, 1977) in January, which will be followed by a live podcast recording and Q&A with Dr Alexander Sergeant. The full programme can be found here.
Dr Sergeant chose to pursue a career at Portsmouth because he grew up in nearby Stubbington that holds a warm place in his heart, whilst being a fan of the University’s staff from the School of Film, Media and Communication who are specialists in horror, sci-fi and animation. He also enjoys the possibility of involving students in his activities by offering them the chance to write entries or reviews for the blog, as well as to edit the podcast from time to time.
Recently, Alexander also had a piece featured in The Conversation about Lotte Reiniger, the pioneer of feature-length animated films, who even went ahead of Walt Disney with that format. Here is an excerpt of the article, or you can read it in full here.
The oldest surviving animated feature was not made by Walt Disney, but by a German puppeteer named Lotte Reiniger who escaped Nazi persecution to move to London and make adverts for the British Post Office. Her film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), was a creative and technical masterstroke that would have a huge influence on the generation of animators that followed, including those working in the United States.