James Leo Cahill

Associate Professor

On Leave

July 01, 2024 to June 30, 2025
Innis College, IN-224E, 2 Sussex Avenue, Toronto, ON M5S 1J5


Department of French


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 held multiple SSRCHs, 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.


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

Books Edited

Cinema of Exploration: Essays in an Adventurous Film Practice, eds. James Leo Cahill and Luca Caminati. New York: AFI Film Readers/Routledge, 2021. 

Section editor, "Authors, Authorship, and Authoring Agencies," A Companion to Documentary Film History, ed. Joshua Malitsky (Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2021). 

Special Issues of Journals Edited

Co-edited with Weihong Bao and Brian R. Jacobson, "Media Climates" Representations 157 (Winter 2022).

Co-edited with Timothy Holland, "Derrida and Cinema," Discourse 37.1-2 (Winter-Spring 2015).

Co-edited with René Thoreau Bruckner and Greg Siegel, "Cinema and Accident," Discourse (Fall 2008).

Articles in Academic Journals

"Media Climates: An Introduction" with Weihong Bao and Brian R. Jacobson, Representations 157 (Winter 2022): 1-16.

“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.

"Introduction: Cinema and Accident," with René Thoreau Bruckner and Greg Siegel, Discourse, 30.3: Special Issue: “Cinema and Accident” (Fall 2008): 279-288.

“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

"Les mondes étranges de Jean Painlevé," in Jean Painlevé: Les pieds dans l'eau (Paris: Jeu de Paume / Lienart Éditions, 2022), 154-169.  

"Introduction: Authors, Authorship, and Authoring Agencies," in A Companion to Documentary Film History, ed. Joshua Malitsky et al. Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2021, 97-106.

"Cinema and Exploration: An Adventurous Film Practice and Theory," with Luca Caminati, in Cinema of Exploration: Essays on an Adventurous Film Practice, eds. Cahill and Caminati. New York: AFI Film Readers/Routledge, 2021, 1-19.

"What Remains, What Returns: Garbage, Ghosts, and the Two Ends of Cinema," in Ends of Cinema, eds. Richard Grusin and Jocelyn Szczepaniak-Gillece (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2020), 85-106.

“Absolute Dismemberment: Georges Bataille’s Burlesque Natural History,” in Abjection Incorporated: Mediating the Politics of Pleasure and Violence, eds. Maggie Hennefeld and Nicholas Sammond (Durham: Duke University Press, 2020), 185-207.

“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.

Other Articles

"Mathusalem ou l'éternal bourgeois," in Jean Painlevé: Les pieds dans l'eau (Paris: Jeu de Paume / Lienart Éditions, 2022), 184-85. 

with Maggie Hennefeld, co-editors of Media Pandemic, In Medias Res, April 2020

with Maggie Hennefeld, "Is Social Media Like the Coronavirus?" In Medias Res, April 2020

“Cannibals of Harvard Square,” Docalogue, March 2019

"Climate Chaos Surrealism," In Medias Res, February 2019

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.


PhD, University of Southern California
MA, University of California, Irvine
MA, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
AB, Occidental College



Administrative Service

Director, Cinema Studies Institute, 2019-2024
Undergraduate Coordinator, Cinema Studies Institute, 2018-2019