Visible Evidence 2021

Archives of Militant Cinema

Lorenzo Lazzari
Sima Kokotović
Kari Andén-Papadopoulos
Bentley Brown
Chair: Cecilia Valenti
Thu, Dec 16
90 Min
Mousonturm (Studio 2), Online
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Reconsidering Early Community Video: Seeking a Conflictual Common Space

In Subject to Change: Guerrilla Television Revisited, Deirdre Boyle reports on a selection of 1970s US and Canadian countercultural video collectives. For her, those works in-between art and documentary were situated in a critical relationship to commercial TV, but they failed to create a genuine alternative to it. Here, rather than focusing on a somewhat lost fight for the airwaves, Boyle’s assertion that making tapes was a mere byproduct of wider processes that fostered emancipation for the public involved will be scrutinised more deeply. Might it be possible to frame community video not as a screen-based activity but as a set of heterogeneous space-based practices for returning the social space that the hegemonic information media structure had privatised, thereby redelivering it for participative democracy? Rancière affirms that democracy is “the action that constantly wrests the monopoly of public life from oligarchic governments, and omnipotence over lives from the power of wealth.”

Influenced by this consideration of the term, we will revisit those early practices in which video was a tool able to activate a conflictual common space for the circulation of viewpoints, reconfiguring the boundaries of what is visible and sayable. The scope will expand to evidence the European milieu of the late–1970s, particularly focusing upon the so-called “video-interventions” of Video-Nou, a collective active in Barcelona during Spain’s transition. Its actions included documentary video, specifically to enable working-class communities to express themselves and thus reconfigure the visibility of power relations shaping that city. Could we reconsider video as a circulating document, able to enhance democracy by subverting a given ‘distribution of the sensible’ in which the inhabitants of marginalised zones are deemed incapable of speaking and organising by themselves?

Lorenzo Lazzari

Lorenzo Lazzari is interested in the relationship between the moving image and politics. His research is about those forms of display capable of generating dissent, questioning normalising patterns. In 2018 he was a research fellow at the Iuav University of Venice and in 2019 he won the i-Portunus Creative Europe grant. In 2021 he participate in the Guest Researchers Programme at MACBA—Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona. He is currently a PhD candidate in Art History, Film and Media Studies at the University of Udine.

Contemporary travels of militant cinema: Anticolonial resonances in Spell Reel and Off Frame

This paper analyzes two recent archival documentaries, Mohanad Yaqubi’s Off Frame (2016) and Filipa César’s Spell Reel (2017), the films that employ moving images from the Palestinian revolution and the Guinea-Bissau’ War of Liberation, respectively. The two films were created through several years long processes of researching, gathering, and restoring the militant cinema materials from the late 1960s and 1970s. As Yaqubi and César gave shape to these, mostly, collective projects, their aim was to not only resuscitate, but also reflect on resonances that impulses of the anti-colonial struggles, inscribed in these images, might have for the contemporary moment. In this capacity, the films instantiate a new historiographic turn through aesthetic means (Schefer 2016), which aims to counter, as Nadia Yaqub notes, the pervading understanding of these struggles as firmly situated in the past, that is, irrelevant for us, today (Yaqub 2018, 200).

Tracing the long research and production of the two films, while relying on extensive interviews with the filmmakers, in this presentation I outline the geographies and institutional contexts that undergird this documentary, archival filmmaking practice. Drawing on Eshun and Gray’s cine-geographies of militant cinema as a framework to chart the entanglements between film cultures, internationalism, and anti-colonial struggles (2011), I argue that Off Frame and Spell Reel point to the capacities that recent travels of militant cinema demonstrate in relation to the cultural decolonial projects in the present time. In that sense, I explore how the filmmakers’ intentions recast the contemporary documentary practices themselves as efforts to generate new formations of transnational solidarities from below (Featherstone 2012).

Sima Kokotović

Sima Kokotović is a PhD candidate in Film and Moving Image Studies program at Concordia University. His research investigates how a variety of film cultural workers have mobilized different aspects of circulation of films, peoples, and ideas to contribute to renewed impulse of struggles that have emerged this past decade across the globe. He is a part of MediaLabour collective, and he organized “Cinema in the Midst of Struggle,” as well as “Politics of Alternative Media,” projects aimed at fostering the exchange of ideas about grassroots, non-commercial and emancipatory practices using media as instruments of mobilization, empowerment, and community building.

Archives Of/As Resistance: on the transformative power of activist image archives documenting the Syrian conflict

What are the possibilities of creating a site of resistance and restoration out of the vast crowdsourced image archives documenting and embodying more than a decade of revolution and struggle in Syria? How to maintain and revive the radical potential of these new forms of digital image testimony to help build a ‘living archive’, allowing for those who struggled to become active agents in the creation and contestation of power, memory and identity?

My presentation aims at analyzing and theorizing the renewed importance of archiving as a mode of political activism in the context of the post-2011 Arab uprisings. As civil wars and the restoration of old dictatorships continue to evolve, the question of archival and visual memory has attained a renewed and contested urgency in most Arab countries that experienced revolutions, including Syria, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya. In a context of increasing state repression and attempts at erasing all forms and histories of opposition, audiovisual archive-making has become an act of resistance in itself and a primary means for activists and protesters to fight the narratives of counter-revolution, to safeguard and, indeed, shape the memory of the protest movements and ensure that the voices of rebellion will resound and feed into future struggles.

Based on in-depths interviews with 15 anti-regime Syria video activists, this paper contributes to the growing scholarship on “human rights archives” (Casswell 2014) by extending our understanding of the power and affect of records and record-keeping in individual and communal lives during and after conflict. In thus re-focusing a conceptual lens to prioritize the narratives and meanings that Syrian image activists themselves attach to their hard-won records, the paper explores with them the potential of these extraordinary audiovisual archives in acting as a communal resource for the causes of truth, history, memory and, ultimately, justice.

Kari Andén-Papadopoulos

Kari Andén-Papadopoulos is Professor at the Department of Media Studies, Stockholm University. She has published internationally on photojournalism in times of crisis and war, with particular interest in grassroots visual practices and new digital media. Her recent research projects have focused on how the proliferation of citizen-created eyewitness imagery is recasting the production, reception and recollection of global crisis news; and on how forms and practices of camera-mediated activism in the Middle East contributes to produce and contest political power.

"Revolution from Afar": Disidentificatory Discourses in the Diaspora

In Sudan in the summer of 2019, after 30-year-ruler Omar al Bashir was deposed and the Internet blacked out as part of a military crackdown on popular protests, many in the Sudanese diaspora felt a burden to carry the revolutionary spirit on social media, where they could advocate on behalf of the country’s peaceful transition to a civilian government. This was matched by feelings of frustration, fear, and guilt as the prospect of retaliatory violence loomed over their friends and loved ones back in Sudan.

This presentation focuses on a five-minute scene from the film Revolution From Afar, centered around Sudanese-American poets and musicians in the United States, experiencing Sudan’s revolution through their phone screens. In the scene, they debate their belonging to Sudan–their “Sudanese-ness”–and whether they have agency in Sudan’s affairs from abroad. This presentation will work closely within Visible Evidence’s subtheme of “Documentary and Conflict,” asking questions such as: What stakes do dual-identity and third-culture individuals hold in the homeland of their parents, and are these two groups different? What lessons does the diasporic experience of Sudan’s revolution offer for the remote experience of conflict elsewhere in the world, particularly in the COVID-19 era?

Bentley Brown

Bentley Brown (PhD Candidate in Critical Media Practices, University of Colorado-Boulder) moved as a child with his family from the United States to Chad, where he grew up speaking an Arabic dialect very close to that of Sudan’s, and where he began making films. His filmography, largely in Arabic and French, revolves around subjects of third culture identity, loss, and belonging, and includes Oustaz (Berlinale 2016), First Feature (IFF Rotterdam 2019) and Revolution From Afar (New York African Film Festival 2021). Brown has also served as an international election observer, working in Lebanon, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, in addition to ten states across Sudan, and, prior to starting his doctoral studies, taught in a filmmaking in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Chair: Cecilia Valenti

Cecilia Valenti is a postdoc researcher in film and media studies at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and a film curator. Cecilia is the author of the book «Das Amorphe im Medialen. Zur politischen Fernsehästhetik im italienischen Sendeformat Blob» and has a strong record of journal publications in the field of non-fiction film, feminist film theory, and media of political mourning. She is the co-editor, with Nikolaus Perneczky, Fabian Tietke and Lukas Foerster, of the anthology «Spuren eines Dritten Kinos. Zu Ästhetik, Politik und Ökonomie des World Cinema». As part of the film collective «The Canine Condition» she has organized several film series based on extensive archival research at Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art, the Zeughauskino and the Austrian Film Museum, among others.