Dr Laura McMahon


Toby is a third-year PhD candidate at Cambridge Film & Screen. He obtained an MPhil in Film & Screen Studies from Cambridge in 2021, writing a dissertation on the performance of indexicality in recent documentary moving-image works about archaeology and geology. Other essays included a theoretical argument for a “geologic life” of media, an exploration national-ecological imaginaries in Chilean documentary film, and a discussion of a documentary moving-image installation film tracing cryptocurrency’s contested immateriality. Toby read Modern and Medieval Languages (2015-2019) and graduated with a First Class with Distinction.

Toby is, broadly speaking, interested in non-human nature and documentary film. In his doctoral thesis, he investigates creative documentary responses to geological materiality and temporality, with a particular focus on volcanoes. In so doing, he hopes to unpick the ways in which volcanoes, long a privileged documentary subject as both reality and metaphor, become a means for filmmakers to reflect on a broad range of questions including (geological) timescales, human relations to the earth, disaster and risk, and the processes of history. The thesis draws on a range of material including experimental, remediative and essay films as well as more conventional documentaries – from filmmakers including Diana Vidrașcu, Sara Dosa, Werner Herzog, Haroun Tazieff and Chris Marker – and foregrounds on the temporality of volcanism, the relationship of eruptive events to their mediatic and historical traces, and the way conditions of geological intimacy unfold within film. While centred on the interfaces of film and geology, the project further draws on insights from the history of science, cultural and physical geography, continental philosophy, and disaster studies.


  • Prize for best published essay by a doctoral student, British Academy of Film and Television Studies Scholars (BAFTSS) (2024)
  • Research grant, University of Cambridge Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics (2024)
  • Research grant, Robinson College (2023)
  • Vice Chancellor’s Award, Cambridge Commonwealth, European and International Trust (2021-2024)
  • Lewis Studentship in the Arts and Humanities, Robinson College (2021-2024)
  • Jebb Studentship (Honorary), University of Cambridge (2021-2024)
  • Albert Goh and Elizabeth Coupe Scholarship, Jesus College (2020-2021)
  • Ian and Marjory MacFarlane Prize in French, Gonville & Caius College (2019)
  • Lock Tankard, Gonville & Caius College (2019)

Conference Papers

  •  ‘Volcanic intimacy and archival matter(s) in Werner Herzog’s The Fire Within and Sara Dosa’s Fire of Love.’ Screen Studies Conference, University of Glasgow (2023)
  • ‘Love, death and volcanoes: the archival intimacies of Maurice and Katia Krafft.’ Visible Evidence, Università degli Studi di Udine, Italy (2023)
  • ‘Tectonic memories: indexing the volcanic archive.’ Screen Studies Conference (online) (2022)


  • ‘Tectonic memories: film, geology, and archives in Diana Vidrașcu’s Volcano: What Does a Lake Dream? (2019).’ Studies in World Cinema 3(1), 2023, 104-124. Winner of BAFTSS Award for best published essay by a doctoral student, 2024.
  • ‘Landscape and the Moving Image, by Catherine Elwes’ (book review). Alphaville 24, 2022.



  • CS7: Cinema and the Political (2023-24)
  • CS6: European Cinema (2022-23)
  • CS5: The Body (2024)
  • SPB2: Translation from Spanish (2023-24)
  • FRB2: Translation from French (2021-23)
  • FRC1: Translation to and from French (2023)
  • Optional Dissertations on European and Latin American film (papers CS7 and SP13)
  • Year Abroad Project dissertations on European fiction and documentary film
  • Year Abroad Project translations of 19th century French literature and 20th century Mexican literature

Seminar leader:

  • CS6: European Cinema (2023)


  • CS7: Cinema and the Political (2023)

Toby is happy to hear from potential supervisees for Optional Dissertations and Year Abroad Project dissertations related to his research interests, and Year Abroad translation projects from French, Spanish or Catalan.

Other activities and roles

  • Co-convenor, Cambridge Film & Screen Research Seminars (2023-2024)
  • Co-organiser, Film & Screen Studies MPhil conference (2023)
  • Panel chair, Film & Screen Studies MPhil conference (2023, 2024)
  • Co-head of Gallery, John Hughes Arts Festival, Jesus College (2022)
  • Tutor, Linacre Institute (2021-2022)

Cambridge Film & Screen

Tel: +44 (0)1223 335057