During the higher education strikes organised by the University and College Union in the UK (2018-2020), a group of precarious feminist film researchers decided to make the collaborative short documentary #PrecarityStory. They aimed to expose the increasing precarity of academic labour at universities through the work story of one of them, who, at that time, was a cleaner, researcher, and teacher at the same British institution. This paper explores the complexities of an approach in which the filmmakers and the empowered film subject —who share an immigrant status— join forces to challenge the exploitative nature of the current academic labour market and showcase and interrogate the mode of production of collaborative documentary.
In the presentation, co-directors Lorena Cervera and Isabel Seguí reflect on 1) how the theoretical underpinnings of their shared research interests (nonfiction, indigenous and working-class women’s cinema; collective and participatory filmmaking) and perspectives (feminist, anti-auteurist, decolonial) have influenced their documentary practice; 2) the complexities and negotiations in the co-creation process (Auguiste et al, 2020), including its utopian horizon and boundaries; 3) the potential audience as co-creator (feedback and the work-in-progress); 4) the fragility of middle-class identity and its links to class performativity.
Lorena Cervera (BA, MA) is a filmmaker, researcher and lecturer. She is doing a practice-based PhD in Film Studies at UCL, funded by the LAHP. Her research looks at Latin American women’s documentary cinema from 1975 to 1994. She has published in peer-reviewed journals. In 2021, she co-organized the international conference Cozinhando imagens, tejiendo feminismos. Latin American Feminist Film and Visual Art Collectives. Since 2009, she has worked as cinematographer and editor of non-fiction films and has directed Pilas (2019) and co-directed #PrecarityStory (2020). Both documentaries have been showcased and awarded prizes at international film festivals, such as ZagrebDox, Alcances and Málaga Film Festival.
Isabel Seguí is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, where she is researching the history of women’s nonfiction filmmaking in Peru. She holds a PhD in Film Studies from the University of St Andrews. Her work has been published in journals and edited collections in Europe and the Americas and awarded by BAFTSS. She has co-organised the international conferences Latin American Women’s Filmmaking (London 2017) and Latin American Women’s Filmmaking II: Ways of Making and Doing (Madrid 2019) and is part of the steering committee of the research network RAMA.
This paper explores the intersection between digital media practices and documentary filmmaking in the Southern Indian state of Kerala and the way in which such convergences reimagine the audience of political documentaries. I map this through two inter-related case studies. One is the formation of “Indyscreen,” an OTT platform mooted by the collective Movement for Independent Cinema (MIC), a non-profit venture that works on a subscription model to empower the filmmaker as the beneficiary of this arrangement. Indyscreen’s intervention is an attempt to indigenize OTT experience by steering away from the corporate algorithm-driven power asymmetries of platforms such as Netflix and Amazon. Secondly, I analyze the film Mannu: Sprouts of Endurance (‘mannu’ meaning soil) directed by Ramdas Kadavallur, a member of the MIC. Mannu examines the women tea plantation labor strike in Munnar and the subsequent formation of the Pempilai Orumai (Women’s Unity), a women’s led labor union in India. Mapping the agitation of the plantation workers, Mannu interrogates the way caste operates in the extraction of labor and the double alienation of the women workers. Mannu pushes viewers to connect this moment as a part of the larger canvas of social movements which demands action-oriented responses towards resource extraction and mining practices that cause environmental degradation, thereby showcasing the activist, political potentials of documentary.
With their roots in the MIC, both Mannu and Indyscreen share a similar ethos that resists the extractive logics of crony capitalism and platform capitalism. Using Indyscreen and Mannu as entry points to understand the larger infrastructures of independent documentary production in India, this paper demonstrates how a certain spirit of the political documentary informs the ways in which digital media platforms are localized, while being critical of hegemonic media narratives and infrastructures.
Darshana Sreedhar Mini is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Communication Arts, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Supported by the Social Science Research Council and American Institute of Indian Studies, her work explores precarious media formations such as low-budget films produced in the south Indian state of Kerala, mapping their transnational journeys. Her research interests broadly include Global Media Cultures, Transnational Cinemas and Migration, South Asian Cinema, and Feminist Media. Her work has been published in Feminist Media Histories, Film History, Bioscope: South Asian Screen Studies, South Asian Popular Culture, South Asian Film and Media, Journal for Ritual Studies and International Journal for Digital Television.
Portrait of a Pawnee- Cree Moccasin Maker: John Murie’s Artistic Wisdom is a participatory documentary film about Native American artist John Murie, who is making a name for himself as a talented contemporary moccasin maker. Through the years, Murie has developed and refined his design unique aesthetic and beadwork techniques, finding new directions in which to take his art. Many of his designs favor a palette inspired by the seasonal changes in the landscape of Rocky Boy Reservation, where he lives. The art of fashioning beaded moccasins has become an identity-based creative expression for many contemporary Native Americans, who are increasingly embracing traditional arts and crafts to preserve their own cultures. To effectively convey Murie’s artistic vision, this short documentary was produced with the support of a small production team composed of Chippewa-Cree tribal members at Rocky Boy Reservation, my film students, and myself.
When developing stories about Native American cultures, non-Native documentarians very rarely establish meaningful and lasting relationships with members of Indigenous communities, leading to a widespread misunderstanding and misrepresentation of their cultures. Portrait of a Pawnee- Cree Moccasin Maker is intended to address these deficiencies by promoting intercultural, experiential learning opportunities for both Native and non-Native peoples.
Lucia Ricciardelli is an Associate Professor at Montana State University, where she teaches film studies and photography theory. Over the last two decades, Ricciardelli’s research has focused on the use of documentary filmmaking as an act of living resistance and sociopolitical action, resulting in publications, conference presentations and the production of documentary films that seek to raise awareness about cultural diversity. Particularly noteworthy is Ricciardelli’s cross-cultural partnership with Montana Indigenous tribes, which has led to the production of documentary films for the preservation and transmission of Native American oral stories, languages and cultures, contributing to their cause for self- determination.
This study is centred on the practice of repurposing documentary content across transmedia platforms. I explore this notion through a production commentary of my independent documentary project Obrero (‘worker’). The documentary tells the story of Filipino rebuild workers who migrated to Christchurch, New Zealand after the earthquake in 2011. Obrero began as a film festival documentary that co-exists with strategically refashioned Web 2.0 variants, a series of short-length native videos on Facebook and a web documentary.
In this presentation, I show film clips and excerpts of my project to demonstrate how transmedia storytelling meshes with political documentary’s nature of promoting social change. I argue that documentaries with political outreach need to re-create themselves in accessible formats, adjust their aesthetics, and tailor fit their narrative structure across media platforms. This routine ensures that transnational documentary publics are addressed amidst a fast-changing media ecology.
Norman Zafra is a Filipino documentary maker with an interest in political documentaries and transmedia storytelling. As a practitioner transitioning into academia, his research often straddles the border between theory and practice. Norman obtained his PhD in Media, Film and Television from the University of Auckland in New Zealand. He currently teaches media production and communication at De La Salle University in Manila.
Volker Pantenburg is professor for Film Studies at the University of Zürich. He has published on essayistic film and video practices, experimental cinema, and contemporary moving image installations. Book publications in English include Farocki/Godard. Film as Theory (2015), Cinematographic Objects. Things and Operations (2015, Editor) and Screen Dynamics. Mapping the Borders of Cinema (Co-Editor). In 2015, he co-founded the Harun Farocki Institut, a platform for researching Farocki’s visual and discursive practice and supporting new projects that engage with the past, present and the future of image cultures.