Visible Evidence 2021

Appropriation of Archival Footage and Photographs related to Historical Conflicts

Efrén Cuevas
Maria do Carmo Piçarra
Vicente Sánchez-Biosca
Respondent: Lúcia Nagib
Fri, Dec 17
90 Min
Mousonturm (Studio 1), Online
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Home movies as historical archive for public history? The case of Israel: A Home Movie

This paper seeks to explore the potential of home movies as archival documents, in the apparently paradoxical case of the documentary Israel: A Home Movie (2012). As I have studied elsewhere and expanded in a forthcoming monograph on microhistorical documentaries, there are very interesting cases of the use of home movies for microhistorical narratives, telling stories of unknown families to provide a different perspective on public history. Israel: A Home Movie looks like a similar case, with a visual track composed of home movies and amateur footage, from the 1930s to the end of the 1970s, and a soundtrack with voiceover testimonies from the protagonists of this footage. However, this apparent microhistorical approach is never fully explored, as the documentary increasingly focuses on the main events of Israel’s public history, very related to the three wars taken place during this period and its conflict with the Palestinians. As a whole, the film presents some ambiguity in its historiographical intent, due to the hybridity resulting from the use of home movies and amateur films to provide in fact a macro-historical chronicle. It is in this tension between family and historical document, between micro and macro-historical perspectives, between the truth value of home movies and their amplification through oral testimony, that Israel: A Home Movie is constructed, with both successes and limitations, but making a novel contribution to the panorama of Israeli historical documentary.

Efrén Cuevas

Efrén Cuevas is Professor of Film Studies at Universidad de Navarra. His main research interests include home movies, documentary cinema, and autobiography. On these topics, he co-edited the book La casa abierta. El cine doméstico y sus reciclajes contemporáneos (2010), and co-edited The Man without the Movie Camera: The Cinema of Alan Berliner (2002), and Landscapes of the Self: The Cinema of Ross McElwee (2008). He has also contributed to books such as Amateur Filmmaking: the Home Movie, the Archive, the Web (2014), and The Cinema of Me (2012). His latest forthcoming book is titled Filming History from Below: Microhistorical Documentaries.

An “ethic of the gaze” to unveil Portuguese colonial and fascist violence: reflection(s) on/through the analytical camera

The acclamation of Goran Olsson’s Concerning violence (2014) was partly due to its use of archival footage, announced as being newly discovered. A former colonial soldier, Fernando Matos Silva had already used some of this footage, filmed by Lennart Malmer, regarding the former Portuguese colonies, in Acto dos Feitos da Guiné (1980). But due to the lack of notoriety of Portuguese cinema and the difficulty of European countries to deal with their colonial memories, Matos Silva film was not projected worldwide and was not duly debated at the time of its release. In 2004, philosopher José Gil diagnosed a “fear to exist” responsible for the practice of “non inscription” in all dimensions of Portuguese culture. Gil characterized this as an effect of Europe’s longest dictatorship. However, the use of archival footage in Acto dos Feitos da Guiné broke this overwhelming silence cast down on the memory of dictatorship and colonialism. This is also the case in our day of Susana de Sousa Dias’s “analytical camera” (Gianikian/Ricci Lucchi) in Luz Obscura (2017), 48 (2010) or Natureza morta (2005).

This paper aims at analyzing how with her trilogy against memory erasure, Sousa Dias developed an action research methodology through films and how her archive research supported by a critical and aesthetical reflection fights silence and the “fear to exist” in Portuguese society. Considering that there is a film practice that merely aestheticizes archive footage, I retain Didi-Huberman’s (2004) proposal that the situation of survivors of history(s) places us in an ethical position of relationship with them. Based on the idea that the operationalization of the imagination is a “political faculty”, how can the academic debate contribute to film practices supported by an “ethics of the gaze”?

Maria do Carmo Piçarra

Maria do Carmo Piçarra is researcher at ICNOVA (Universidade Nova de Lisboa), Assistant Professor at the Universidade Autónoma de Lisboa, and film programmer. She is author of books on newsreels and documentary in Portuguese Estado Novo, about (anti)colonial propaganda and censorship and militant films. On these topics, she single-authored Salazar goes to the movies (2006, 2011, in Portuguese), Ultramarine Blues. Colonial propaganda and censorship on Estado Novo’s cinema (2015, in Portuguese) and she co-edited (with Teresa Castro) (Re)Imagining African Independence. Film, Visual Arts and the Fall of the Portuguese Empire (2017).

Reading perpetrator images of the Spanish Civil War: from self-denunciation to the archive affect

In the first days that followed the military uprising of July 1936 in Spain, the anarchist union CNT, which prevailed in Barcelona and had been at the avant-garde of putting down the rebellion, proclaimed the social revolution. Having taking control of the infrastructure of film production, CNT produced images of extraordinary international and long-lasting impact, embodying a new utopia come true. In one of these films, a documentary entitled Reportage of a Revolutionary Movement in Barcelona, were six disturbing shots representing the desecration of corpses of nuns interred in the basement of the Salesas convent. These hastily edited shots were soon distributed to international outlets, where the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War was considered breaking news. In a matter of weeks, some of these shots were incorporated a contrario into documentaries produced by the ‘enemy’, such as the propaganda services from Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and the Swiss Anti-Komintern association. In all cases, the shots were re-edited and presented as an apparent self-denunciation act of Communist barbarism. Both as a representation of the social revolution led by the anarchists and the embodiment of the violence implied in the war as such, these shots became icons, whose grammar and meaning have never ceased to change. This paper aims at analyzing the uses of this footage at each re-appearance, ranging from trophy-images to counter-propaganda, from abstract icon of barbarism to historic document, according to the evolving trends of documentary making, including the latest proposals of experiencing history.

Vicente Sánchez-Biosca

Vicente Sánchez-Biosca is Professor at the Universitat de Valencia (Spain), where he teaches Theory and Practice of Documentary Making. He has been visiting professor at NYU, Paris 3, Paris-Sorbonne, São Paulo, and the University of Montreal, and is the author of a dozen of books on documentary and newsreels in Spain, the Spanish Civil War, the Holocaust and the Cambodian genocide. He is currently leading a research project on the representation of perpetrators of mass crimes and genocide ( His forthcoming book focuses on “perpetrator images”, i.e, images produced by the agents of mass crimes as part of their aggression to the victims.

Respondent: Lúcia Nagib

Lúcia Nagib is Professor of Film at the University of Reading. She is the author of many books, including Realist Cinema as World Cinema: Non-cinema, Intermedial Passages, Total Cinema (2020), World Cinema and the Ethics of Realism (2011) and Brazil on Screen: Cinema Novo, New Cinema, Utopia (2007). She is the editor, among others, of Impure Cinema: Intermedial and Intercultural Approaches to Film (with Anne Jerslev, 2013), Theorizing World Cinema (with Chris Perriam and Rajinder Dudrah, 2011), Realism and the Audiovisual Media (with Cecília Mello, 2009) and The New Brazilian Cinema (I.B. Tauris, 2003). She is the writer and director, with Samuel Paiva, of the award-winning documentary Passages.