Sunday Night 03.08.09 — Sherry Milner and Ernie Larsen — Reclaiming the Future — Screening + Discussion

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Sunday Night 03.08.09 — Sherry Milner and Ernie Larsen — Reclaiming the Future — Screening + Discussion
1. About this Sunday 03.08.09
2. About “Reclaiming the Future”: a screening and discussion of key films from “Border-Crossers and Trouble-Makers” a series of programs of experimental political films/videos originally screened at the 2008 Oberhausen Film Festival, co-curated by Sherry Mllner and Ernie Larsen.
3. About Sherry Milner and Ernie Larsen
4. “Reclaim the Future” Catalogue Essay from 2008 Oberhausen Film Festival by Millner/Larsen
5. “Border-Crossers and Trouble-Makers”: Program Descriptions
1. About this Sunday 03.08.09
Who: Anyone interested is invited
When: 7.00 pm, Sunday 3.08.09
Where: 16 Beaver Street 4th floor
What: Talk / discussion
We’ve wanted to host an evening devoted to the work we’d heard Sherry Milner and Ernie Larsen were doing organizing this screening program since we heard about it last year. In some ways this program follows the questions we articulated for the “Signs of Change” screenings and discussions this fall, and we’d originally wanted to hold it in the days or weeks following that weekend. This is not to say, however, that these programs do not come with their own set of questions and stakes, or own (even broader!) transhistorical and transnational set of juxtapositions. Both are articulated by Milner and Larsen in their text below. We feel that we share much with the ethos of their programming, as it is one which seeks to be about more than the works, practitioners, or sites and struggles represented–rather there is a very overt attempt to think through these programs as useful in formulating political strategies in the present, toward the future. The combination of media forms, activism, and radical research described here is one familiar to us but too often out of place in film festival programming.
Finally, we are very happy to present this type of work when it means making visible what New York-based cultural practitioners are up to outside of this city. While we often host reports from those outside New York City drifting through, in our cultural moment it is equally necessary to make visible the range of practices affiliated with the local but occurring sometimes very far afield. In a slightly better world, the programs below would be required viewing in public schools. As it is, we are happy to convene and discuss key films from them and see where we can take it from there.
2. About “Reclaiming the Future”: a screening and discussion of key films from “Border-Crossers and Trouble-Makers” a series of programs of experimental political films/videos originally screened at the 2008 Oberhausen Film Festival, co-curated by Sherry Mllner and Ernie Larsen.
The full title of this event, written above, obviously gives much of the “about” for this event, in which Sherry and Ernie will share what they feel are the most important highlights
The slate of films Sherry and Ernie will show is less certain, but will include films by Jorge Furtado (“Isle of Flowers”), one or two films by Zelimir Zilnik (perhaps “Black Film” or “Tito Among the Serbs for the Second Time”) and several others depending on time, probably, Chen-Chieh Jen’s “The Route.”
3. About Sherry Milner and Ernie Larsen
Sherry Millner and Ernie Larsen are anarchist artists who produce STATE OF EMERGENCY, an interventionist series of video projections in the windows of a New York loft. They began collaborating in the mid-seventies with a performance about the Weather Underground and then made the two-screen situationist Super-8 Disaster (1976), recently restored on DVD. They produced two 16 mm anti-documentaries on crime, and then a series of satiric semi-autobiographical videos focusing on the nuclear family as the originary site for the the reproduction of the authoritarian structures that support the public sphere. Millner’s multimedia installlations have explored domestic space as a battleground, first with the theory and practice of camouflage as the controlling aesthetic and then re-creating the designs and plans in U.S. army manuals on how to boobytrap the home. Larsen is also a novelist (Not a Through Street) and a media critic. Their conceptual video, 41 Shots, based on the police murder of immigrant street peddler, Amadou Diallo, examines the implicitly racist ‘broken windows’ theory of criminology. They are currently editing the installation and single-channel versions of Sight Gags which depicts patriotism as a collective outbreak of hysterical blindness. Millner is a professor at College of Staten Island, CUNY.
4. “Reclaim the Future” Catalogue Essay from 2008 Oberhausen Film Festival by Millner/Larsen
The essay and program descriptions can also be downloaded from our website at:
Sherry Millner/Ernie Larsen
“You could be in DANGER.” (Copyright 2004) Barneys New York
“All systems of domination, we assume, are ‘leaky’; the point is to turn such leaks into a flood.” –Ella Shohat and Robert Stam
“Still, the garbage pile is where we wanted to land…” –Avital Ronell
“We are given a social examination of garbage; the truth of a society is in its detritus.”
–Ella Shohat and Robert Stam
“In Colombia, March 1 is designated the Day of the Waste Picker to commemorate the murder of waste pickers 15 years ago in a body-snatching scandal.”
– Henry Mance, OneWorld US
“Since the Ice Age…streams of images, of so-called associations, have moved through the human mind, prompted to some extent by an anti-realistic attitude, by the protest against an unbearable reality. They have an order organized by spontaneity. Laughter, memory, and intuition—hardly the product of mere education—are based on this raw material of associations. This is the more-than-ten-thousand-year-old cinema to which the invention of the film strip, projector and screen only provided a technological response.”
–Alexander Kluge
In the long, thus far, unending wake of 9/11 we began a video projection series titled “State of Emergency” in the windows of our loft on 23rd Street in Manhattan. This deliberately localized project, involving more than fifteen artists, was an anti-realistic protest against the the US invasion and thus far unending occupation of Iraq (and Afghanistan) along with a hyper-speed evisceration of democracy, in which rights and agency were and are glibly traded for the false promise of security. Let’s suppose that Kluge is correct that our collective mentality is not only inherently anti-realistic but inherently cinematic. In that case, maybe we were not so far off the mark to hope to re-organize that more or less spontaneous flow of nomadic associations known as street life and to condense its dilute power from the ten-thousand year (i.e. thus far unending) mental protest against an unbearable reality to an encounter with some visibly unmistakable moments of collective resistance. Producing several successive states of “State of Emergency” slowly but effectively sharpened our far from challenged sensitivity to how cultural resistance can be shaped.
So well before the programs grouped under the title “Border-Crossers and Trouble-Makers” came anywhere near the horizon we had our eyes out for films that reckoned critically with the distinctive character of this strange era. Consciously or not, we had a standard, a steep standard: films which, with something of the unreconciled intransigence of Bunuel’s Las Hurdes, took little or nothing for granted and grappled with the consequences, at whatever level, of the global monopoly of capital and its relation to terror—post 9/11 essays in human geography, as it were. All right, an impossible standard—but a useful one, nevertheless.
Soon enough, it became clear that an approach that set out toward the new was not limited to films produced in the past few (in our view, watershed) years. There were in fact films made in 1913, 1945, 1978, or whenever that still forced or facilitated distinctive reckonings with the historical moment in which we live. Often these were films that saw their own historical moment with a spirit of raw urgency and thus when screened have the feeling of unkept promises, of of a barely tapped—mostly banked–potential. (“The task to be accomplished is not the conservation of the past, but the redemption of the hopes of the past.” Horkheimer/Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment)
From this point in assembling our programs grew an interest in mixing the older and the newer, what still felt new or alive in the old, as well as what felt new in the new. Rather than consciously set out to slot films into pre-established programs, we expected to locate strong concepts for individual programs in the films that turned up in our research. This was risky, perhaps. It’s always a bit risky to place oneself in a position of not knowing, of exploring a terrain that might have turned out to be desert—and left us high and dry. In the end, roughly half the screened films are recent. And nearly half are produced or co-produced by women. We searched for films that critically and/or actively represented resistance to power, the status quo, especially in the tone, shape and manner of what is represented. As artists slash curators our object was to find out what precise shapes and what forms of motion such otherwise deliberately undefined resistance was presently taking in experimental political cinema. In looking now at the programs, with a critical eye, from their individual titles alone, it becomes clear that we see political film-making (of the kind represented in the programs) as both contingent and necessary experiments in risk-taking, experiments in reclaming the future, to paraphrase a picket-sign from a real protest that never occurred except in Chen Chieh-Jen’s film The Route. Today, when power so successfully exploits the apparent contradiction between terror and security to scare off concerted resistance, the concentration of political experimental film on the subject of history and the transformation of everyday life may be crucial. These programs aim to take up this question of the resisting subject at once from the point of view of the history of oppositional film and from current oppositional practices in film and video.
In the English language, the term resistance is commonly used to describe the concerted acts of people who take a stand, often against great odds, against the powers that be. In fact, the root of resist is stand. Such acts of opposing power, as the root word confirms, do not initially imply active violence. To the contrary, it is clear that this (resistant) motion of standing up together does no more than block the continuation of force (such as the legitimated violence of the state, at whatever level). There is always an alternative to resistance: not standing up—staying supine, a suppliant, a doormat. However, the gestural root of resistance appears to suggest the latent potential of a people or differentiated fraction thereof to take the risk of standing up. The films in these programs are the cultural equivalent of such gestures of intervention to block a forward flow at least temporarily, and perhaps to create an imaginative rupture.
The criteria of protest against an unbearable reality that Kluge connects to cinema are not about (“hardly the product of mere”) education, not about learned responses per se, which would seem to disqualify (for example) our usual experience of most (conventional) documentary work, of convention altogether. Instead Kluge specifies the work produced by a natural resource: spontaneity which effortlessly imposes its own order (in relation to “laughter, memory, intuition”). Is it possible to substantiate more precisely this apparent connection between cultural resistance and spontaneity? Spontaneity has not had a good press, so to speak—in fact, it’s acquired considerable notoriety, no doubt justifiably—it too readily causes surprise and hence trouble, since it is unpredictable. However, it is possible to conceptualize spontaneity (provisionally, simply) as a space between, a space where the unexpected (i.e. the lifelike) occurs, without securing any permission in advance, that is. Because if such permission was put into place (by whatever order of power, even biopower) it would no longer be perceptible as spontaneous. The spontaneous feels new, and of course there’s no insurance policy issued as such for its outbreak: it’s not a forseeable regime to which actuaries or computer wizards might successfully apply themselves, in advance. Adorno, Kluge’s one-time mentor, in his essay written in support of the Oberhauseners, “Transparencies on Film”, unexpectedly or not, valorizes the category of spontaneity and in the process further defines its operation:
“Film, therefore, must search for other means of conveying immediacy: improvisation which systematically surrenders itself to unguided chance should rank high among possible alternatives.” Following this lead, we would imagine that if cultural resistance has any hope of attaining its end it can not hew to any party line, can not be programmatic. It would seem then that this emphasis on immediacy and improvisation is therefore more tactical rather than strategic—which recalls Michel de Certeau’s emphasis on opportunity: “a tactic is a calculated action determined by the absence of a proper locus. No delimitation of an exteriority, then, provides it with the condition necessary for autonomy. The space of a tactic is the space of the other. Thus it must play on and with a terrain imposed on it and organized by the law of a foreign power.”
De Certeau readily acknowledged that resistant tactics in everyday life are the art of the weak: all victories are provisional, territory can be held only temporarily. (In de Derteau’s sense of the tactical we could say that art would be a tactic of the art of the weak—except that art is not only a practice, it is a production, i..e has shelf-life.) In a different sense Adorno (in “Transparencies”), picks up on and valorizes this perhaps contradictory power of the weak in film, in considering film which adheres to an artisanal rather than industrial mode of production: “works which have not completely mastered their technique, conveying as a result something consolingly uncontrolled and accidental, have a liberating quality.” Adorno’s embrace of the uncontrolled and the accidental enhances our grasp of Kluge’s compressed account of spontaneity. Further confirming this overlap, Adorno agrees with Kluge about the associational : “The aesthetics of film will do better to base itself on a subjective mode of experience which film resembles and which constitutes its artistic character.”
The ready avowal of the aesthetic strengths of the spontaneous, the weak, the uncontrolled, and the imperfect is also essential to Julio Garcia Espinosa’s impassioned argument for the the revolutionary movement ‘toward an imperfect cinema’, which in its way echoes Adorno’s unexpected warning against the temptation of technical and artistic mastery: “Imperfect cinema finds a new audience in those who struggle, and it finds its themes in their problems. For imperfect cinema, ‘lucid’ people are the ones who think and feel and exist in a world which they can change.” (Adorno: “The liberated film would have to wrest its a priori collectivity from the mechanisms of unconscious and irrational influence and enlist this collectivity in the service of emancipatory intentions.”) In returning to the question of reception, Espinosa reframes in a directly activist vein Adorno’s comment that “It would not be incorrect to describe the constitutive subject of film as a ‘we’ in which the aesthetic and sociological aspects of the medium converge.”
The constitution of the ‘we’ is no less critical on the other side of the camera. Collectively and cooperatively made film has always amounted to another sort of political experiment (with less easily discernible results). In the “Border-Crosssers and Trouble-Makers” programs there’s even something of a libidinal chord to the cooperatively-made film—since a considerable number of the films were evidently produced by couples. In any case, the premise of collective cinema is that common experience of cultural production is indispensable to the development of popular change. For instance, in researching these programs we found that as far back as 1913 a group of anarchist militants (including Sebastiane Faure) founded (obviously, on a shoestring) a cooperative called Le Cinema du Peuple, which may well be the first media collective. (Co-founder Armand Guerra, a Spanish anarchist, directed and acted in their first production, La Commune, in which the last living Communards briefly appeared, grouped around a banner reading Vive La Commune! Following a second film, the production plans of Le Cinema du Peuple were cut short by the outbreak of the Great War.) Suppose we thought of each of the programs in “Border-Crossers and Trouble-Makers” as amounting to collective representations of specific thematic questions. Then each of them might be said to test how artisanal ( that is to say, individual artist’s) works may or may not offer substantially different experiences from cooperatively and collectively produced works.
Convincing spontaneity requires the gestural seizure of the spirit of a moment. Fine, but how then to reconcile the tactical moment with that ten-thousand year history of mental protest, which would, by definition, be strategic? In “Esthetics of Resistance,” the penultimate chapter of Unthinking Eurocentrism, Robert Stam and Ella Shohat point out that “Oppositional cinemas in both the First and Third Worlds have explored a wide spectrum of alternative esthetics….such modes and strategies as the carnivalesque, the anthropophagic, the magical realist, the reflexive modernist, and the resistant posmodernists. These alternative esthetics are often rooted in non-realist, often non-Western or para-Western cultural traditions featuring other historical rhythms, other narrative structures, other views of the body, sexuality, spirituality, and the collective life.” A bit later, in the “Media Jujitsu” section of the chapter they go on to say that “many alternative esthetics have in common the twin anthopophagic notions of revalorizing what had been seen as negative and of turning tactical weakness into strategic strength.” The works in “Border-Crossers and Trouble-Makers”test this assertion. Some years ago we concluded an essay (“Toward an Impure Cinevideo”exploring the complications suggested by politicized hybrids of film and video) influenced by Espinosa’s “cinema imperfecto” and Mary Douglas’s concept of dirt as matter out of place, as follows: “The impure cinevideo thrives at the edge of disorder, indefinitely sketching a series of patterns that shift as the materials at hand themselves shift, privileging no single pattern, throwing the patterns themselves onto the waste pil as they threaten to fall apart, and yet trying never to escape, trying always to follow or to challenge the movement of contradiction. It’s an interventionist approach, not only more adequately attuned to the heterogeneity of daily life, to the multiple and shifting textures of reality, but also more pleasurable and not without the throb of danger as it tries to capture what it is that is changing or about to change or trying to change.”
5. “Border-Crossers and Trouble-Makers”: Program Descriptions
‘Dirty’ Movies
“Here we have a man who has to gather the day’s refuse in the capital city. Everything that the big city threw away, everything it lost, everything it despised, everything it crushed underfoot, he catalogs and collects.” –Baudelaire
“With the idea of defilement we enter the realm of terror. This sentence by Paul Ricoeur, sums up the entire role of dirt in society. Here something truly remarkable happens. That is, all dirt relationships are reinterpreted as power relationships. Anyone carrying dirt is powerful, and anyone in power utilizes dirt for purposes of control. The one who can defile others, whether clean himself or not, is the boss.” –Christian Enzensberger in Smut (New York: Seabury, 1972), p.47
“FILM—WEAPON OR SHIT?” Zelimir Zilnik, manifesto (1971)
Oppositional politics has sometimes been referred to as ‘The Great Refusal’ while an epithet often applied to the working-class was ‘The Great Unwashed.’ The common association of dirt with manual labor has become, in the presumably well-washed hands of the filmmakers
of this program, a radical and effective means of questioning the contradictory values that underlie urban existence. These films retrieve the political/ aesthetic reality and the metaphor of refuse, rather than refusal: trash, what’s thrown away and those who clean up, the discarded populations, the guest worker, the refugee, the unemployed. Anthropologist Mary Douglas defined dirt as matter out of place. These films question unexamined social definitions of the marginal and the dirty, that which is perceived by the powers that be to be out of place.
Put into contention:
–the troublesome question of the social definition and status of marginality in relation to
–the question of the inversion of high and low in artistic practice
–how does the liminality of garbage put into question the organization of urban existence
–the association among the poor, the counterculture, and artistic/bohemian subcultures
DARK SUN SQUEEZE Pawel Wojtasik 2003 10 min. video US/Poland
A wordless, unblinkingly precise, immaculate look at the machinic disposal of endless rivers of human excrement, with no humans in sight. A chillingly ironic portrayal of the absolute efficiency of the removal of human waste from the visual field and from urban existence altogether.
AUBERVILLIERS Elie Lotar 1945 25 min 35mm France
The only film directed by Elie Lotar, who was Luis Bunuel’s cinematographer on Las Hurdes. With a poetically allusive script by Jacques Prevert, Aubervilliers, in a sense extends Bunuel’s intention of calling the bluff of civilization, with Lotar’s corruscating portrait of suburban Aubervilliers, the poverty-stricken toxic dump site of postwar Paris.
THINKING GARBAGE Nancy Atakan & Ipek Duben 2005 2 min. 18 sec. video Turkey
Inspired by Zygmunt Bauman’s study Wasted Lives, this collaborative video, shot in the Galata neighborhood of Istanbul, bluntly shifts the responsibility for urban waste from those who clean it up to those who produce it. Humans made useless and functionless by the modern global system are also added to the pile.
GARBAGE U.S. Newsreel 1968 10 min. 16mm US
A radical film collective documents a collective action in defiant support of a New York City sanitation workers strike. The Lower East Side anarchist group Up Against the Wall, Motherfuckers carry their uncollected garbage on the subway up to the then new and pristine-white citadel of high culture Lincoln Center and dump it right there on the marble steps. The disjunctive soundtrack, a passionate post-dumping group critique of the action, permits us to experience theory and practice as inseparable parts of a single process.
ISLE OF FLOWERS Jorge Furtado 1989 12 min video Brazil
Described by Furtado as a “letter to a Martian who knows nothing of the earth and its social systems,” the film uses inventive animation and a parodic mock-lecture style of narration to link the urban bourgeois family to the rural poor who scavenge the garbage dump, the ‘isle of flowers,’ where pigs eat better than people. The truth of a society is in its detritus.
AUSFEGEN Joseph Beuys 1972 26 min. 16mm Germany
Following a May Day demonstration along Karl Marx Strasse in Berlin, Joseph Beuys and two students sweep up, wielding red-bristled brooms, in solidarity with guest workers. A rigorously performative argument for the radical democratization of art production and a reconsideration of its relation to work. The trash they clean from the streets is dumped on the floor of Beuys’s gallery: is the resulting installation truly matter out of place—or a messy re-situation of the demonstration–or…?
85 min.
“…certain concepts and descriptions put forward forty years ago by Guy Debord and the Situationist International…still possess explanatory power—more so than ever…in the poisonous epoch we are living through. In particular, the twinned notions of the ‘colonization of everyday life’ and the society of the spectacle…strike us as having purchase on key aspects of what has happened since September 11, 2001. “ –Retort, Afflicted Powers (New York: Verso, 2006, p. 17)
“No abyss separates us from yesterday, only the changed situation.” – Alexander Kluge
This program title, stolen from Kluge, raises some difficult questions of political process, particularly the multiple and sometimes conflicted approaches to political awareness, from a little French boy resistant to his schooling to a 75-year old African American activist whose grandfather was born into slavery. And then there are the pitfalls of limited or partial awareness, as noted in Zilnik’s production statement from Black Film, which spells out some of the consequences of the artist’s strategic naivete:
“This film depicts the misery of abstract humanism. It is a reckoning with anarcho-liberalism, with false avant-gardism, with social demagogy, with left-wing fraction. The author sees this film as an example of filmmaker’s exploitation of others’ misfortune, believing as they do that they belong to a higher social class than the victims.”
In Critique of Separation, Guy Debord says, “This dominant equilibrium is brought back
into question each time unknown people try to live differently.” This question remains alive: What routes lead from an individual’s understanding of a concrete historical position to an awareness of the potential for agency—and even on to the grasping of that agency in common with others? How does a subject who may well be resistant within everyday life to conscious knowledge of oppression grasp the potential of transformation? Some alternatives: a slow process, an awakening, sheer repetition, a shock, violence, empathy. These films capture something of this dynamic range–and how these alternatives can create new conditions, new situations, new outcomes, sometimes deadly ones. Queen Mother Moore sweeps up the attentions of her audience—imprisoned young black men—when she addresses how violence has been defined by the white power structure. And performance artist Rev. Billy and his choir hold the roots of Baptist rhetoric of redemption to the fire here and now by taking to the streets to defend a neighborhood shoemaker from being evicted by his greedy landlord.
EN RACHACHANT Straub/Huillet 1982 7.5 min 16mm France
Based on a Marguerite Duras story (“Ah! Ernesto”), about a young boy who refuses to go to school because they teach him things he doesn’t know. His perplexed teacher and his parents attempt to intervene. A funny and all but unique anti-lesson on the young’s all-but-genetic resistance to institutional educational process.
PARTIAL CRITIQUE OF SEPARATION Sherry Millner & Ernest Larsen 2008 19 min. double-screen video US
This re-make of Guy Debord’s Critique of Separation juxtaposes Paris 1961 with New York 2008: “The only adventure, we said, is to contest the totality, whose center is this way of living, where we can test our strength but never use it.” The film proposes that the material conditions that separate each from all and self from self and that every moment militate against the imperative to resist persist.
BLACK FILM Zelimir Zilnik 1971 14 min 16mm Yugoslavia
In an attempt to ‘solve the homeless problem,’ the filmmaker invites ten homeless men (ignored by the government) into his own apartment in Novi Sad, and suffers the consequences and lives to tell the tale.
DESERT TRUCK TERMINAL Ursula Biemann 2007 13 min. video Swiss
From a series titled “Sahara Chronicle” this video sets out from Agadez, Niger, at a recently opened gateway for West African migrants desperately embarking toward Europe, a document “on mobility and the politics of containment” in the Sahara.
QUEEN MOTHER MOORE SPEECH AT GREENHAVEN PRISON The People’s Communication Network 17 min. video U.S.
A videotape of a live cable broadcast on community visiting day inside a federal prison that documents an extraordinary speech by 75 year old African-American civil rights activist Queen Mother Moore, who says such things to the increasingly stunned young black male prisoners as “you can’t steal from the white man, because everything he has is stolen from you.”
On the Lower East Side of New York, an Italian immigrant shoemaker is being driven from his store by a rapacious landlord. Political performance artist Reverend Billy and his choir come to the rescue. Promises are made and an aria is sung amid the shoes.
SIGHT GAGS Millner/Larsen 12 min. 2008 video U.S.
The post-9/11 premise is that patriotism and nationalism almost inevitably lead to severe distortions in vision, if not outright collective blindness, especially among the almost comically fearful citizens of the U.S. As Rudolph Valentino said, “an eye for an eye and a horse for a donkey,” or, as Helen Keller said, “the outer daylit world is stumbling and groping in social blindness.”
90.5 min.
Capital Crimes
“’All men are here, and all crimes.’
‘First the thieves,’ said Madre. ‘Those who steal in the street, from shop windows; purse snatchers, pickpockets, hotel rats. Burlars: professionals and amateurs. Con men, swindlers, crooked stockbrokers, bigshots who go bankrupt in style. Forgers and fortune hunters….We have thieves, all right.’
‘You can see,’ said someone, ‘that prisons are necessary!’
‘It’s too bad,’ said Laurent, ‘that you forgot all the thieves who will never be here, all the ones who don’t look like thieves and are the biggest thieves of all.’”
–Victor Serge, Men in Prison (Writers and Readers, 1972, p. 239)
“we need more complex ways of understanding the multivalence and tactics of power to understand forms of resistance, agency, and countermobilization that elude or stall state power.”
–Judith Butler, Who Sings the Nation-State (Seagull Books, 2007)
It has been suggested that the media’s obsession with criminality is an inevitable displacement
of the spectacular swindle of bourgeois capitalist society. Taken together these films
destabilize the still widespread notion that the state is based on some form of a social contract. Instead they concentrate on the state’s monopoly on legitimate violence in advancing the interests of capital. The relevant forms of such legitimate violence (of policing) decisively includes such ethical/cultural/aesthetic dimensions as: the self-policing psyche of the atomized individual known as the citizen, the aesthetic economy of the popular forms of cultural representation, the ever-increasing hi-tech surveillance of urban areas, the renaming of wars as police actions, the functioning of police as armies, the proliferation of private armies. This array is commonly greeted by the typical middle-class citizen with sincere appreciation for the visible increase in security. This program reflects on this deeply structural or perhaps viral dynamic —more from the vantage point of the policed than from the vantage point of the policing institutions.
CROWDED Alonzo Crawford 1978 10 min. U.S.
Shot, remarkably enough, with official permission in a Baltimore prison, CROWDED depicts without commentary the casual cruelties and routine humiliations visited upon the mostly young almost exclusively black prisoners. Statistic: 1/100 U.S. citizens are presently crowded behind bars.
ACCORDING TO Kevin Everson 2007 8.30min video US
Newsworthy stories of inter-racial murder in southern rural America are told in two distinct contradictory versions. Without commentary, the consumption of falsified news is concretely protrayed as a very old story against which one must always be on guard.
WHAT FAROCKI TAUGHT Jill Godmilow 1997 30 min. 16mm US
A remake of Haroun Farocki’s film, Inextinguishable Fire (1969), about the development of Napalm B by Dow Chemical during the Vietnam War, this time in color and in English, rather than in black and white and in German. Godmilow’s passionately critical introduction and epilogue, while concentrating on conventional documentary’s “pornography of the real”
raises and renews the question of corporate war crimes within the U.S. context.
PROTOTYPE Martha Rosler 2006 1 min. video US
A deadpan single shot of a toy US soldier, playing ‘God Bless America’ on a toy trumpet,
who turns out to be an amputee. The all too scrutable wages of patriotism.
SUPREMATIST KAPITAL James T. Hong & Yin-Ju Chen 2007 5 min US/Tiawan
“A symbolic history of Kapital—a symbolic history of the West.” A speedy graphic montage: animated logo-mania, of a kind.
FIVE DOTS Tomas Ochoa & Andriana Meyer 2005 11 min. video Argentina
At a jail for juveniles in Mendoza Argentina, the young inmates perform songs of their own composing, which are filled with longing, desire, and the thirst for escape, alternated with their recitation of quotes about disciplinary technology drawn from Foucault’s Discipline and Punish. The inmates attempt to resist power tactically through their capacity to produce their own symbology.
FERAL Louis Hock 2003 5 min. video U.S.
In Southern California, not so far from the Mexican border, the imposing figure of a U.S. immigration officer in full regalia, that reads as unimpeachably sado-masochistic drag, stands
in the middle of Interstate 5, checking each approaching vehicle for illegal immigrants.
SHOPLIFTING: IT’S A CRIME? Sherry Millner 1979 15 min. 16mm US
An ‘educational’ documentary on the evils of shoplifting is itself shoplifted, mocked, and then remade or extrapolated on the Proudhonian principle that ‘property is theft,’ with the figure of the shoplifter freed from the zone of morality and re-situated as a vital part of an alternative economy. The dual aim is to shake up the disciplinary role of the educational doc as well as conventional definitions of criminality.
85.5 min.
“Even to summon a handful of emblematic instances of the new movement is dangerous, we feel: it risks folding the hiddenness and impermanence of the anti-vanguard into a few bright names…This opposition—and specifically, this opposition’s distance from the vanguard ideal—is as much a product of the present dynamic of capital as any other development of the past quarter-century. Its objects and tactics are a response to the logic of the neo-liberalism it is called on to resist.” –Retort, Afflicted Powers (New York: Verso, 2006 p. 192)
Films made by politically committed individuals about collective struggles for political and/or economic freedom and films made by collectives about collective struggles. This juxtaposition puts forward the complex question of collective vision, on both sides of the camera. In the early seventies, Julio Garcia Espinosa made an impassioned argument for ‘an imperfect cinema,” arguing against the temptation of technical and artistic mastery. Certainly, collective production has always compensated for its relative poverty of technical means with its directness and immediacy of commitment—and well before Godard coined the phrase making political films politically understood the political and aesthetic advantages of that intention.
This program includes a film made by Chris Marker who has a remarkable and complex history both as a director of his own idiosyncratic personal and political projects and as a producer and instigator of French collective production: SLON, the collectively produced Far From Vietnam, the Cine-Tracts series, his underwriting of Groupe Medvedkine, the non-profit distribution arm, ISKRA, etc. Is his exemplary career proof, if any is needed or desired, that many—perhaps all of us–possess some form of collective vision? This program considers the dynamics of representation (in art) in relation to the dynamics of self-representation (in politics) and vice-versa.
LA COMMUNE Armand Guerra 1914 13 min 35mm France
Staging of episodes from the Paris Commune (1971) featuring the appearance of the last living Communards, posed clustered around a banner reading Vive La Commune. Directed by a legendary Spanish anarchist, who later fought Fascism with a camera, Guerra helped found the anarchist film cooperative, The Cinema of the People.
EL SOPAR Pere Portabella 1974 47 min. 16mm Spain
A group of seasoned militants, all of whom have been imprisoned and even subject to torture under the fascist Franco regime, meet for a clandestine dinner on the eve of the execution of a militant anarchist. Their often heated discussion across the table dramatizes the psychic costs of their unabated political commitments. Portabella uses simple cinematic means to explore his subject: “You can’t understand liberation if you don’t begin with yourself.”
SOLIDARITY Joyce Wieland 1973 11 min 16mm Canada SEE NOTE BELOW
A kind of structuralist-political film. The title word Solidarity is visible throughout the length of this film made in support of a strike in Canada, while the underlying images are closeups of marching, marching, marching feet.
2084 Chris Marker 1984 10 min. 16mm France
Robots a hundred years after 1984 discuss the significance of collective labor struggle. Produced in response to the 100th year anniversary of labor union laws in France, this film melds sci-fi to the documentary.
NOUVELLE SOCIETE #6 9 min 1969 Groupe Medvedkine 16mm France
Everyday life issues are explored through the eyes of a child: she sees her family falling apart under the deadening effects of her mother’s work in a biscuit factory and her father’s work as a truck-driver.
THE LAND BELONGS TO THOSE WHO WORK IT Chiapas Media Project 2005 15 min. video Mexico
Collectively made, this film details an elaborately polite but equally tense confrontation between masked Zapatistas farming unused land in the north of Chiapas and federal officials who have sold the same land to a private company for ecotourist development. The future of the natural resources of Chiapas is at stake.
PLEASE NOTE: Take out “Solidarity” as long as we can get “La Commune” which would make the program 94 min.
“Personal objects, including mass-produced objects, will necessarily go on being one main instrumentation of meaning and desiring in any human society we care to imagine. But they cannot and do not work the magic they are presently called on to perform.” –Retort,
Afflicted Powers, 2006, p. 179
“In some ways, Solanas shows up as a victim of the failed performative, as one who felt her verbal velocities could reach no one in a way that would truly mark or unhinge the brutal protocols of lived reality.” –Avital Ronell, Introduction to Scum Manifesto, Verso, 2004, p.4
Signs, icons, and media artifacts (museum exhibits, illustrations, a book, an audiotape, archival TV news, cassette tapes, old photos) can be keys to exploring the gaps between what we think we know and what we ought to know about the personal/political influences of the past on the present. But what exact doors or locks do such ‘keys’ really open? These filmmakers are by no means attempting to redeem or stabilize the past through the exploration of these artifacts, still less to shut off disturbing echoes. The objects and icons promote a filmic revisionism that resists any smooth or easily digestible version of the past while suggesting that in order to go forward it’s best to go backward. A mess is very likely waiting for us back there. But in each film the focus of investigation differs —autobiography, racial or national identity, exigent details—pitched at a different breaking point, and demanding somewhat differing tactics
(formal, emotional, conceptual, etc.) of re-examining the mess that many might prefer to forget. Yielded in each case is a somewhat different slice in the assessment of what has been left out of the account by design, force, or accident. Afterwards, the gaps remain intact and still very visible—there is no ultimate resolution.
FACE A FACE B Rabih Mroue 2003 9 min video Lebanon
Using simple delicate means (cassette tapes and old photos), exploring gaps between memory and knowledge, physical evidence and identity, recollection and survival, the autobiographical video moves through a childhood marked by the Lebanese civil war to the present.
POW 57187 Vahid Zara Zade 2007 29 min. video Iran
An Iraqi prisoner captured during the Iran-Iraq War has lived his entire adult life on the grounds of an Iranian prison. Though officially released, he continues to decorate the prison’s buildings with murals, continually changing them to fit shifting politics. With minimal supplies and great imagination, he has pieced together a museum of life-size sculptures and dioramas that reflect his experiences and those of his fellow prisoners.
How has the media made use of the photo-archives of the Holocaust? If, for instance, we haven’t ever investigated what’s on the back of these photos? In this purely textual (black and white and voiceover) video, Rosemarie Nief, librarian of the fotoarchives of the Wiener Library in London, critically examines the issue.
LET ME COUNT THE WAYS: Minus 6 Leslie Thornton 2008 1.5 min. video US
Imagery the Nazis ordered destroyed: Hitler practicing his repertoire of demagogic gestures for his speeches, a veritable template of the trained spontaneity of the Great Leader in action, to the present-day.
EMERGENCY NEEDS Kevin Everson 2007 7 min. video US
Was it a civil disorder, a riot, or a rebellion in the ghetto of Cleveland in 1964? Archival footage of black mayor Carl Stokes is strikingly updated and reframed with a young black woman (in split-screen) re-enacting Stokes’s extremely tense post-disorder news conference. The past, we must realize, is not over. It’s not even past.
SLA SCREED Sharon Hayes 2002 10 min video US
Hayes attempts a word for word performance of a message kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst sent to her parents during her captivity by self-styled revolutionary group Symbionese Liberation Army. Off-screen voices continually prompt the performer, correcting every mistake—a strangely compelling yet matter-of-fact resurrection of mid-seventies U.S. radicalism gone crazy, a past that cannot be squared with the present no matter how hard the performer works to correct every error.
SCUM MANIFESTO Carole Roussopoulos/ Delphine Seyrig 1976 28 min. 16 mm France
When Roussopoulos and Seyrig produced SCUM Manifesto, no publisher had risked making Valerie Solanas’s notorious screed available in France—it was truly matter out of place ( as per anthropologist Mary Douglas’s definition of dirt). Their film enacts a performance of ‘publishing’ Solanas while essentially allegorizing the dynamics of female labor in its depiction of dictation at a typewriter, a process increasingly interrupted by a ceaseless montage of state (i.e. patriarchal) repression (throughout the world) seen on a centrally placed television monitor.
89.5 min.
“Any honest man in America is separate, or separates himself, from the gloss of its image. But by being separate from that image a man is also setting himself up to be murdered, one way or another.”—Leroi Jones in Home: Social Essays, p. 185 (NY: William Morrow, 1966)
“Most seastories are allegories of authority. In this sense alone politics is never far away. The ship is one of the last unequivocal bastions of absolutism, regardless of the political system behind the flag that flies from the stern…” –Allan Sekula (Fish Story, Rotterdam: Richter Verlag, p.183)
Films that depict a distinctive range of resonant modes of cultural resistance to the extraordinary powers of colonization and its brood, including neo-colonialism and neo-liberalism and the colonization of everyday life. These modes may even include or sample ghosts, the spirit world, and the scars of war that mark the earth and the body. These films, though standing uneasily, as it were, on the shifting sands of history attempt nevertheless to contest the ground on which they stand. Chen Chieh-Jen has said of his strategy in The Route: “Taiwan has become a ‘fast-forgetting’ consumer society that has abandoned its right to ‘self-narration’ and this has spurred me to resist the tendency to forget. One of my methods of resistance is to view each film I make as an act of connection, linking together the history of people who have been excluded from the dominant discourse, the real-life situations of areas that are being ignored, and ‘others’ who are being isolated. In this way, I resist the state of amnesia in consumer society.”
TALKING TO THE DEAD Soon Mi-Yoo 2006 35 min. video US/ South Korea
An impassioned personal essay on the little-known role of the 320,000 South Korean soldiers who fought for the United States during the Vietnam War, with fascinating archival footage of Korea and original material. Mi-Yoo visits a Vietnamese village once ravaged in a My-Lai style massacre by South Korean soldiers and encounters raw anger and the wounded recognition of the other. Ghosts still circulate wherever she looks.
LE GLAS Rene Vautier 1964 5 min. France
Made with Zapu (Zimbabwe African Party for Unity) about 3 African revolutionaries who are hanged in Salisbury. Banned in France when it was released, the film features voice-over by Djibril Diop Mambety. Visual poem on the victims of history. Vautier: “Write history in pictures—right now!”
TARRAFAL Pedro Costa 2007 16 min. Portugal
Shot on the haunted island of Fogo, site of the Tarrafal prison in which political dissidents were tortured and killed for nearly forty years. Maintaining an ironic yet terrifying tone, while evoking interchangeable anonymity among the already displaced residents, who are subject to arbitrary deportation by the state, Costa obliquely considers the desolate dreams and the ravages wrought upon the poverty-stricken population.
THE ROUTE Chen Chieh-Jen 2006 14 min. video (silent) Taiwan
In stifling heat, Taiwanese dock workers break into a dock and formally, with precisely choreographed gestures, enact their part in a world-wide dockers protest that was forbidden by the Taiwanese government, in order as one of their picket signs says to “Reclaim the Future.”
THE LOTTERY OF THE SEA Allan Sekula 2005 23 min video (overture) U.S.
A witty, deeply historical analysis of the dire impact of the powers of globalization on maritime existence, rapidly setting in collision elements of myth, Marxism, Hollywood, and the lore and lure of the sea. The film reflects on the globalizing effects of classical economist’s Adam Smith’s notion of the seafaring life as a form of gambling. Shot at locations from Barcelona to Japan.
93 min.
Excessive Behavior: Performance as Political Intervention
“No one can control the single circuit-breaking moment that charges games with critical reality. If the glass is cut, if the cushioned distance of media is removed, the patients may
never respond as normals again. They will become life-actors.”—Digger Manifesto 1966-67
“We were an advertisement for revolution.” –Abbie Hoffman, Revolution for the Hell of It (New York, p. 184)
The overlap between the performative and the activist (both so dependent on receptive public attention) is the crux of this program. This overlap has always been perceptible in the exemplary theatrics of resistance that enliven the parade, the protest, the demonstration, and the strike. This dynamic has extended to the event, the created situation (pseudo-event), the stunt/hoax as simultaneous aesthetic/political expression, which sometimes become a kind of shock therapy to confront power and the seductive/sedative sway of imagery.
Highlighting a tactical repertoire of inversion, masking, worlds turned upside down, excessive behavior, song, erotic transgression, collage, political pleasures, the carnivalesque, these films dramatize the at least momentary disruptive capacity of activists and ordinary
people to assume agency at unpredictable moments of crisis or accession to desire.
THE FLAG Koken Ergun 2006 9 min. video Turkey
Split-screen document of Children’s Day in Istanbul. How a child absorbs and performs the patriotic in a public celebration in a packed stadium. One little girl offers to “dig the grave of anyone who doesn’t look at the flag the way (she does).”
ON THE ART OF LOVING Karpo Godina 1971 11 min 35mm Yugoslavia
Using non-actors as foils to musical performance, Godina assembles a considerable part of the Yugoslavian army to forge an anti-war chorale in the mountains. Meanwhile in the next village dozens of women are alone and bereft while the soldiers are on maneuvers. Banned for the fun it makes of the Yugoslavian army.
YIPPIE! U.S. Newsreel 1968 10 min. 16mm US
Produced by the collective U.S. Newsreel, shortly after the notorious 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, this film rapidly montages the absurdist activities of the Youth International Party (Yippie!), prominently including the nomination of a pig to run for U.S. president.
TERRITORIES Isaac Julien 1984 25 min 16mm Great Britain
The Notting Hill Carnival (in London), the scene of police clashes in 1976 and 1984, becomes a privileged territory, as an event about resistance, that enables carnival participants to explore contradictions of race, class, and sexuality. In referring to the ‘his-stories’ and ‘her-stories’ contained in history, the film emphasizes the territory of the dialogical.
JACK SMITH Birgit Hein 1974 10 min 16mm Germany
At a zoo in Cologne the legendary performer/filmmaker writes checks to gorillas and then, while garbed in an elaborate feathered head-dress, expounds on the evils of museums and the exploitation of art by the rich. Richly satirizes and metaphorizes the artist-patron relation as a pampered pet.
SCHMEERGUNTZ Gunvor Nelson & Dorothy Wiley 1966 15 min. 16mm US
Vomit, trash, and excrement all play roles in this juxtaposition of TV images and the everyday life of the American housewife, a visceral critique of patriarchal society. Has been called “one long raucous belch in the face of the American Home.”
SEMIOTICS OF THE KITCHEN Martha Rosler 1975 6 min. U.S.
A classic feminist performative excoriation of domestic entrapment from A to Z. Rosler says, “An anti- Julia Child replaces the domesticated ‘meaning’ of tools with a lexicon of rage and frustration.”
NOW Santiago Alvarez 1964 6 min. 35mm Cuba
A rapidly edited montage of black struggles in the early sixties cut to the rhythms of Lena Horne singing (to the tune of Hava Negila!) a militant civil-rights song.
92 min