In their 2013 film Crop, Marouan Omara and Johanna Domke present a series of long-take static shots of the offices of Al-Ahram, the state-run Egyptian newspaper. In visual style, the documentary develops a “slow documentary” style pitched somewhere between observational cinema and structural experimental film. As such, Crop resembles work from filmmakers like Nikolaus Geyrhalter or Sergei Loznitsa, and Kay Dickinson has read the film as an exemplar of a transnational festival style of documentary.
Crop’s soundtrack presents a second film. In voiceover, a fictionalized composite of real Al-Ahram journalists recounts his own experience working at the paper and the reflection about journalism’s changing role in the post-Nasser Egyptian state. Crop is at once a festival-style documentary, an exploratory essay film, and a documentary fiction. Through an implicit dialogue between these forms, the film explores the impact of the Arab Spring.
Documentaries geared toward the film festival circuit have consistently addressed key political problems of an international scale — migration, modernization, globalization, and supranational governance. While these issues have their own specificity, festival documentaries have posed some interpretive problems for these depictions of political crisis. The refusal of traditional documentary exposition and the detachment of the formal choices require a spectator who is already informed of the national context in question. Moreover, this spectator must reconcile the ethical commitment of documentary with a narration that avoids a clear editorializing or point of view. This paper will examine Crop and two other documentaries: The Castle (Massimo D’Anolfi, Martina Parenti, 2011), which uses Milan-Malpensa Airport as a microcosm of the migrant crisis in Europe, and Village of Women (Tamara Stepanyan, 2019) which traces the impact of modernity on a rural Georgian village. Each has a different relationship to documentary detachment yet uses festival-film style to engage transnational spectator empathy.
Chris Cagle is Associate Professor of Film History and Theory in the Film and Media Arts Department at Temple University in Philadelphia. His book, Sociology on Film: Postwar Hollywood’s Prestige Commodity (Rutgers UP, 2016), examines the 1940s social problem film as both a form of popular sociology and a strain of middlebrow “prestige” cinema. His recent publications include essays in number of edited volumes, including Cinematography (ed. Patrick Keating, 2014) and Middlebrow Cinema (ed. Sally Faulkner, 2016). His forthcoming book, The Film Festival Documentary, is an examination of an international “festival film” style in contemporary documentary.
This work focuses on the first decade of 50-year-old Kartemquin Films, the media arts production house in Chicago that describes itself as “sparking democracy through documentary since 1966.” It is grounded in archival research in Kartemquin’s private archives, and with interviews with some of the leaders of the early years, including Gordon Quinn, Judy Hoffman, and Jenny Rohrer. Kartemquin began with a project to test the philosophical approach of American pragmatist philosopher John Dewey in what the group called “cinematic social inquiry,” for a more just and democratic society. It responded to both aesthetic and political movements in cinéma vérité, particularly observational cinema. During the politically turbulent late 60s and early 70s, it became a feminist collective, making pointed and sometimes didactic documentaries with and for local community activists. Although the work was often starkly different in form from the early Kartemquin films, it was nonetheless imbued with the philosophy of cinematic social inquiry.
The paper explores how this philosophy helped to shape the collective years. The group did not experience the factionalism and sectarianism that typified much left media work. Conflicts over power in the film process and skillbuilding were addressed in the conversational mode that Dewey described as public-making. The group was typified by grassroots and ad-hoc problem-solving rather than hierarchical structure. Finally, the group understood mediamaking as a contribution to building publics, communities that could address their problems together in public. The ultimate dissolution of the collective reflected largely economic realities, but also the end of a political era in which media efforts could intersect with other political movements. The next phase of Kartemquin saw a much smaller team continuing to work with labor organizations, making films for a more democratic union movement—continuing to evolve the concept of cinematic social inquiry.
Patricia Aufderheide is University Professor of Communication Studies at American University. She founded the School’s Center for Media & Social Impact, where she continues as Senior Research Fellow. Her books include Reclaiming Fair Use: How to Put Balance Back in Copyright (University of Chicago), with Peter Jaszi; Documentary: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford), The Daily Planet (University of Minnesota Press), and Communications Policy in the Public Interest (Guilford Press). She received the career achievement award from the International Digital Media and Arts Association and the Scholarship and Preservation Award from the International Documentary Association.
New Film Fund (Yeni Film Fonu – YFF) was launched in early 2015 in Turkey, where the only funding for film is provided by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism with a very minor share for documentaries. Established as a small but influential fund to provide (pre-, post-, and production) support for documentaries, YFF opened eight calls between 2015 and 2018 and supported over 70 films. With topics ranging from Kurdish stories to migrants’ lives to LGBTI+ communities, many of these films were screened at national and international festivals to very positive reviews, making YFF a significant actor within the documentary scene in Turkey and abroad.
However, the timing of the fund proved to be unfortunate. Established to support “films of solidarity that pave the way for change, adopt human rights in their broadest definition as their principle, and give a voice to minorities” (YFF press bulletin, 2015) at a time when the memory of the massive Gezi Park protests of 2013 was fresh and the peace process with the Kurdish separatists was ongoing, YFF experienced many setbacks during its brief history, reflecting the relentless authoritarianization of the Turkish government following the 2015 elections. Ultimately, it was suspended indefinitely.
YFF’s story is intertwined with many other contemporary events in Turkey: one of its founders, Osman Kavala, has been in jail since November 2017 with vague charges of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and espionage. The other founding partner, !F Istanbul International Independent Film Festival, was discontinued after CJ-CGV (the South Korean cinema chain giant) bought the festival’s rights. This presentation will look at YFF as a force that “empowered citizens to participate in the political process” as the conference CFP suggests, at a time when and in a landscape where the political process itself has been greatly hindered.
Melis Behlil is an Associate Professor of Cinema Studies and Chair of Radio, Television and Cinema Department at Kadir Has University in Istanbul, Turkey. She also writes film reviews for various publications, co-hosts a weekly radio show, and is a member of the Turkish Film Critics Association.
Court videography, produced at the behest of attorneys, has had a marked influence on documentary theory and filmmaking. Yet, as forms of industrial film, these videos have evaded scrutiny in film and media studies. This is the first study dedicated to the role of legal videographer itself, drawing on guidebooks and standards promulgated by the American Guild of Court Videographers and the National Court Reporters Association. After demonstrating how documentary film and legal videography define themselves in each other’s terms, the essay turns to a comparative study of court videography and documentary ethics. Instead of having a situated, open-ended standard, court videography expresses its ethics through enumerated aesthetic strictures and procedures of authentication. The essay concludes with critiques of court videography standards, both within training materials and elsewhere, including the myth of the independent third-party in an adversarial system.
Geoffrey Lokke is a theatre scholar, director, textual critic, and an editor of PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art. He is currently at work on critical editions of plays by W. H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, and Stephen Spender. He is a doctoral candidate in theatre and performance at Columbia University.
Leshu Torchin is Senior Lecture in Film Studies at the University of St Andrews, where she researches and teaches on documentary, witnessing, and activism. She is author of Creating the Witness: Documenting Genocide on Film, Video, and the Internet, co-author of Moving People, Moving Images: Cinema and Trafficking in the New Europe, and co-editor of Film Festivals and Activism. She has contributed to journals such as Third Text, Film Quarterly, and Film & History, and finds a shocking amount to say about Borat. She launched the Themed Playlist Initiative at the start of the pandemic and hopes to keep it going.