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Dr Davinia Thornley

MA PhD (N Carolina, Chapel Hill)
Senior Lecturer


Office: 3N8, 3rd floor, Arts (Burns) Building
Tel: 64 3 4794182

Google scholar

Research Interests

  • Adaptation
  • Audience / Reception Studies
  • Film Festivals
  • Indigenous Media
  • New Zealand / National Cinema

I am a cinema and media scholar who investigates cross-cultural creative practice, the circulation and reception of such practice, and the creative processes of storytelling in an international context. Further, two domains of inquiry connect all my work in order to challenge prevailing ideologies around race relations and power-sharing in creative practice: 1) the cinematic connections between indigenous and majority groups and 2) questions of methodology i.e. that what we know is shaped by how we know—or the methods that we employ. These foci encompass audience/reception studies through my research on:

a) Film Festivals. I was invited by Sonia Tascon, USC Australia, to contribute to Intellect's collection, Activist Film Festivals

b) Adaptation research. I made a successful Tourism NZ-supported bid for SRN2017, a Screenwriting Research Network conference, which saw Otago host attendees from five continents, connecting academics, industry, practitioners, and local/international specialists around the theme of “Fact and Fiction, Truth and the Real.”

c) Audience/reception studies methods, while firmly established in the USA / UK, are less used in Australasia; therefore, my experience in this area is a particular research strength of mine. I am often asked to contribute specific audience-oriented pieces, such as this one and this one, which are internationally-recognized Audience Studies research articles, the former invited by Karina Aveyard (U. of East Anglia).

I have published two books, one monograph and an edited collection. Cinematic Cross-Cultural Collaboration and Criticism (Palgrave, 2014) investigates filmic partnerships between indigenous/minority & majority groups in Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia, and Canada. The perspective I took closes a gap in indigenous media scholarship, while offering new, unique methodological tools for academics/practitioners to use in their collaborative projects. World-renowned indigenous studies Professor Arnold Krupat's review praised my model as "entirely persuasive," stating "this is a very fine book.” On completion, I was invited to address the longest-running national indigenous film festival (Wairoa) as “New Zealand’s foremost expert on global indigenous film” (Festival Director, Leo Koziol) and attracted an award-winning US filmmaker and Fulbright grant recipient to study with me (RM Metzler).

The essays in my next book all—in various ways—address the relationship between adaptation, “true events,” and cultural memory. They ask (and frequently answer) the question: how do we script stories about real events that are often still fresh in our memories and may involve living people? True Event Adaptation: Scripting Real Lives (Palgrave, 2018) contains work from scholars committed to interrogating historical and current hard-hitting events, traumas, and truths through various media. Each essay goes beyond general discussion of adaptation and media to engage with the specifics of adapting true life events—addressing pertinent and controversial questions around scriptwriting, representation, ethics, memory, forms of history, and methodological interventions. Further work of mine along these lines has appeared in Literature Film Quarterly.

My current research revolves around (mis)representations of childfree people, specifically the relationship between childfreedom, social ideologies, and community activism. In the collection I am editing, Childfree across the Disciplines: Academic and Activist Perspectives on Not Choosing Children, writers in various disciplines and movements riff on the childfree life: its implications, its challenges, its conversations, and its agency—all in relation to its inevitability in the 21st century. After all, “if a woman is not a mother, the patriarchal social order is in danger” (Avivi, 2017).



MFCO 216: New Zealand Cinema

MFCO202 Theory of Communication Studies
MFCO330 ST: Film Festivals

Conferences Organised

Leadership of the 2017 International Screenwriting Research Network conference.

Successful bid in conjunction with Tourism New Zealand [TNZ], Dunedin City Council, Enterprise Dunedin, New Zealand Writers Guild, and the New Zealand Film Commission, to hold the Screenwriting Research Network conference (via TNZ travel grant to fly to Potsdam, Germany in Oct 2014).

Expertise and Public Engagement

I am currently Vice-President (NZ) of the Screen Studies Association of Australia & Aotearoa New Zealand As convenor of SRN2017, I was profiled in national news sources (such as and on Dunedin local Channel 39, by Tourism New Zealand, and in the Otago Daily Times and Enterprise Dunedin press releases. I was also the recipient of a New Zealand Business Events award, based on the research and industry impact of the conference. I am profiled in two Tourism New Zealand videos: “Host It at Home” (Nov 2017), as well as a follow-up video (April 2019) on the ongoing impact of the conference in terms of new research collaborations, published papers, international profile, new business relationships, and professional advancement opportunities.

I have appeared in various media discussing my new Film Festivals class (The Star, 11 Aug 2016); work on the film, Out of the Blue, made about the 1990 local mass shooting at Aramoana village (Otago Daily Times, 19 May 2012); the loss of funding for TVNZ7 (NewsTalk ZB, April 2011); the New Zealand International Film Festival, (D-Scene, July 2009); and my New Zealand cinema research project at the time (National Radio’s “Nine To Noon” show with Maggie Barry, October 2007). Since 2010, I have regularly introduced directors’ films at the New Zealand International Film Festival.

Recent Completed Supervisions


Amie Taua: A Foot in Both Worlds: The Bicultural Audience and Film in New Zealand

Chloe Banks: United States of Shondaland: Investigating the para-social contact of white audiences with Black Lives Matter

Ryan Metzler: Creative Cross-Cultural Collaboration: Forging a New Path for Ethnographic Film in Aotearoa New Zealand


Owain Gwynne: Fan-Made Time: The Hobbit

Current Supervisions

Mariska Mannes: “When professional and cultural identities collide: working in a multicultural health team in New Zealand.