Geography of the Film Industry

Mark Altaweel


Human geographers have studied how the film industry has developed in different countries and regions within countries.

The film industry has developed differently based on changing audience demands and global economic circumstances.

About two decades ago, an earlier study showed that how the film industry developed in Vancouver was based in part due to the relationships between individuals in Vancouver and international relations such as with people in the United States, where the city offered ideal locations for independent film producers and the fact it was not far away from major film producers in the United States.

This helped it to grow and compete with other film production markets in Canada, including those that received more government support.[1]

Creative industries, and film in particular, have been seen in the last two decades as important components in revitalizing once industrial cities that have since gone into decay as factories move to other regions.

In Johannesburg, inner city areas have been turned into film production areas due to the low price of property and the urban landscape provides a useful backdrop to many types of films.[2] These inner city areas are particularly attractive to entrepreneur filmmakers and freelancers.

Similar trends were found in the United States, where inner city regions were seen as important regions to encourage creative industries and filmmaking because it helped to revitalize these areas and many creative entrepreneurs found such locations attractive due to the cost and setting.[3]

Understanding the Film Industry with Interpretative Models

Interpretative models have been developed by geographers to understand meaning and shifting attitudes that relate to film and specific regions.

The author-text-reader (ATR) model has been one theoretical approach that is used to understand textual meaning, including conditions of production, conceptualization of the film, and its temporal context.

This post-structuralism method is used because it provides understanding of discourse that informs how film is intended to reflect places and where its production may reflect something about a place, such as an urban or rural setting. The theory is also used to understand the setting and place where a film might be shot, as this could provide cultural meaning and be useful in understanding how an audience is to perceive the messages of the film.

For instance, a dark, decaying urban setting vs. a natural or rural location would convey different messages to audiences.[4]

Trends in Film and Geography

Other trends in film and geography include how states sometimes use film as a form of “soft power” to influence regional countries around them.

A good recent example of this is in Turkey, which has exported many of its soap operas to other Islamic countries that have similar tastes and interests to those found in Turkey. This has had a positive influence on Turkey’s tourism sector while also giving it regional clout in political and economic affairs by helping to create a more positive image in some of its neighbors.[5]

In South Korea, similarly since the 1990s, there has been a large growth in the export of Korean films and soap operas. This was largely due to deregulation that occurred but it has also had the effect of creating a soft power approach for South Korea in its relations with regional powers.[6]

Economic Geography of the Film Industry

More than entertainment, geographers have demonstrated the economic and political impact of films and the film industry in general to different countries and regions.

Additionally, how audiences view and understand films affects where the film industry may develop in the locations in uses for productions and filming.

Over time, there has been a shift with how some locations gain prominence in film and film production, where financial support from states, deregulation, and entrepreneurs taking advantage of new locations have shifted how film is developed today.


[1] For more on Canada’s film industry and Vancouver specifically, see: Coe, N. M. (2000). The view from out West: embeddedness, inter-personal relations and the development of an indigenous film industry in Vancouver. Geoforum, 31(4), 391–407.

[2] For more on how film is affected by urban change, see:  Gregory, J. J. (2016). Creative industries and urban regeneration – The Maboneng precinct, Johannesburg. Local Economy, 31(1–2), 158–171.

[3] For more on inner cities in the United States and the creative industry, see:  Grodach, Carl. 2014. Urban policymakers need to reconsider the role of arts districts in cities’ economic development. LSE American Politics and Policy (19 Mar 2014).

[4] For more on the ART model and how it is used to understand the moving setting and the production process, see:  Sharp, L., & Lukinbeal, C. (2015). Film Geography: A Review and Prospectus. In S. P. Mains, J. Cupples, & C. Lukinbeal (Eds.), Mediated Geographies and Geographies of Media (pp. 21–35). Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.

[5] For more on how film can be used in a regional political setting, see:  Anaz, N., & Ozcan, C. C. (2016). Geography of Turkish Soap Operas: Tourism, Soft Power, and Alternative Narratives. In I. Egresi (Ed.), Alternative Tourism in Turkey (Vol. 121, pp. 247–258). Cham: Springer International Publishing.

[6] For more on the South Korean film industry and how it has developed since deregulation, see:  Berg, S.-H. (2015). Creative Cluster Evolution: The Case of the Film and TV Industries in Seoul, South Korea. European Planning Studies, 23(10), 1993–2008.


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About the author
Mark Altaweel
Mark Altaweel is a Reader in Near Eastern Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, having held previous appointments and joint appointments at the University of Chicago, University of Alaska, and Argonne National Laboratory. Mark has an undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Masters and PhD degrees from the University of Chicago’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.

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