In this conversation, filmmakers and researchers Ra’anan Alexandrowicz, Kevin B. Lee, and Ghalia Elsrakbi and Lauren Alexander of Foundland Collective discuss an emergent crisis over the perception and interpretation of nonfiction media in contemporary online media, evidenced in their respective works.
Leftist media studies has long carried the hope for greater transparency, critical understanding and progressive activism through nonfiction media practices. Yet in the contemporary online environment, the evidentiary properties of nonfiction media have become compromised by a combination of audience fragmentation and subjectivation via greater agency over media objects. Through social media filter bubbles and increasingly sophisticated postproduction tools, the forensic gaze has become weaponized, rendering the critical reading of nonfiction images from a means to decipher reality into a means to distort it.
The presenters will discuss how their recent films — Bottled Songs, The Viewing Booth, and Real Time History — explore these phenomena from complementary and contrasting approaches. They will reflect on how they relate their own positions as media professionals and academics to the greater sphere of media production, dissemination, and discourse, and try to imagine a way out of the distorted circle of media perception, belief and truth.
The Viewing Booth ventures into a space ostensibly off-limits to cinema — the internal experience of a viewer. Recounting a unique encounter between a filmmaker and a viewer the film is an exploration of the way non-fiction images are perceived and interpreted in today’s polarized media environment. In a cinematic laboratory set-up, Maia, a Jewish American student, watches videos from Palestine. Empathy; anger; embarrassment; innate biases and media literacy, all play out before our eyes, forming a one-of-a-kind cinematic testimony of the psychology of the viewer in the digital era.
Ra’anan Alexandrowicz is a filmmaker, writer, and teacher. His work on Israel and Palestine has challenged political and formal conventions and premiered at venues such as Sundance, Berlin, and Cannes. Alexandrowic’s latest work The Viewing Booth (2019) was screened at the forum section of the 2020 Berlinale, was shortlisted in the 2020 IDA awards competition and received the critics’ award for best film at HSDFF. Alexandrowicz’s film The Law in These Parts (2011), received the Grand Jury Award in the international documentary competition at the Sundance Film Festival, a Peabody award, and numerous other prizes.
Bottled Songs is an ongoing media project depicting strategies for making sense of online terrorist propaganda. Filmmakers and media researchers Chloé Galibert-Laîné and Kevin B. Lee compose letters addressed to each other, narrating their encounters with videos originating from the terrorist group the Islamic State (ISIS). They use a desktop documentary approach to trace and record their investigations playing directly upon their computer screens.
Kevin B. Lee is a filmmaker, media artist and critic. He has produced over 360 video essays exploring film, media and spectatorship as critical lived experience. His award-winning Transformers: The Premake introduced the “desktop documentary” format and was named one of the best documentaries of 2014 by Sight & Sound. He received the 2018 Sundance Institute Art of Nonfiction Award and is 2021 Artist in Residence at London South Bank University. He is Professor of Crossmedia Publishing and Co-Director of the Master’s Program in Artistic Research at the Merz Akademie in Stuttgart.
Lauren Alexander (1983, ZA) Ghalia Elsrakbi (1978, SYR)
Foundland Collective was formed in 2009 by South African Lauren Alexander and Syrian Ghalia Elsrakbi and since 2014 is based between Amsterdam and Cairo. The duo collaboration explores under represented political and historical narratives by working with archives via art, design, writing, educational formats, video making and storytelling. Foundland was awarded the Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship for research in the largest Arab American archive in 2015/2016 and was shortlisted for the Dutch Prix de Rome prize in 2015 as well as the Dutch Design Awards in 2016. In 2017 their short video, “The New World, Episode One” premiered at the Centre Pompidou, Paris and in 2018 was screened at the Rotterdam International Film Festival. The duo have lectured and exhibited widely in Europe, the United States and the Middle East including at ISPC, New York, Ars Electronica, Linz, Impakt Festival and BAK, Utrecht, London Art Fair, Beursschouwburg, Brussels, Fikra Biennial, Sharjah and Tashweesh Feminist Festival, Cairo and Brussels. Several of Foundland’s video works are preserved and distributed by the Dutch media art archive LIMA, Amsterdam.