During the last decade, international humanitarian organizations like the UNHCR, Amnesty, and Doctors Without Borders have famously utilized VR as an “empathy machine” to spotlight issues and raise funds. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), however, is unique in that it has not only commissioned VR works but built its own production capacities: The ICRC has its very own dedicated “Virtual Reality Unit” since 2013. A central aim of this unit is to develop virtual environments for more efficient “gamification” to train new ICRC personnel, but they also use immersive media to educate warring groups on international law. The ICRC even conducts its own internal research to understand how immersive media could be used for behavioral change.
What is at stake in the case of the ICRC, then, is not so much the ethics of representing the “distant sufferer” as the fraught idea of inciting and modulating behavior – both among those who witness from a distance and among those who live or work in war-torn regions. This compels us to construct a critical-theoretical framework that takes into account not just the humanitarian image of “the Other” but dynamics that operate on an altogether different level. As Pasi Väliaho would put it, “[t]he violence of this imagery may indeed originate not so much in what the images show but in their modular nature.” Using the ICRC as my main case study, I will argue that this kind of “modular immersion” opens up affects for modification by way of exposure to stimuli. It is not merely a question of individual emotional or biological response, but affective and behavioral patterns distributed across a population. Hence, I argue that bodily and political aspects of war should be seen as entangled on a prior bio- and necropolitical level; in a political physiology.
Christian Rossipal is a Ph.D. candidate in Cinema Studies at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University (NYU). He is also part of the Culture & Media Certificate Program at NYU’s Anthropology Department. His research interests include media, migration, war, and necropolitics. Christian’s work has been published in, among other journals and series, Social Text Online, The Global South, and Routledge Key Issues in Cultural Heritage, and he has forthcoming peer-reviewed articles in Film Quarterly; The Journal of Cinema and Media Studies; and the anthology Colonial Debts: Images of the Unseen (Manchester University Press).
Paraphrasing Grierson´s famous definition of documentary, I want to ask if, in a time of perceived crises, we might talk as well of what is “a humanitarian treatment of actuality.” Pooja Rangan has argued about participatory documentary, that suffering humanity is not only the sustainment of this production but it is its own raison d’être (2017). In my contribution, I investigate some media practices that explore migration not in a conventional documentary mode, but by promising us to shift our perspective and assume an empowered and distant view thanks to maps and data.
I engage with a “useful” media production of interactive maps and data visualizations powered by ESRI, one of the largest Geographical Information System software´s supplier. As part of their ArcGIS platform ESRI developed the Story Map tool, that offers users the possibility of combining maps and data in a coherent arc of storytelling. Although maps and other graphs claim for “factfulness” (Rosling 2018), as Johanna Drucker argues, “data are not simply given, but they are always the result of an act of interpretation.” Data indeed are part of practices of collection that are not a neutral activity but evidence a specific political rationality behind it. What kind of practices and material infrastructures are embedded within these maps and data visualizations? In my paper I propose, through several case studies, to investigate how this useful nonfiction media production evidences practices of rationalization and the use of “operational images” driven by a “humanitarian impulse”.
Nicole Braida is Postdoc researcher at Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, where she is currently working in a Digital Film studies project. She holds a Ph.D. in Media Dramaturgy from the same University and she has been a doctoral candidate in the research collective “Configurations of Film” at the Goethe University of Frankfurt. For her dissertation she researched Interactive Practices about Migration such as serious games, newsgames, interactive maps and data visualizations. For her next project, she is working on how data infrastructures within humanitarian aid are used to produce visualizations.
This documentary film addresses a topical and critical aspect of the interpretation of human rights in the context of the use of lethal force by security forces in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and UN peacekeeping missions in Cité Soleil, Haiti.
Following on from It Stays With You: Use of Force by UN Peacekeepers in Haiti (2018) our new film explores the links between the ‘shoot to kill’ militarized policing of marginalized communities in Brazil under its new President, Jair Bolsonaro, and the militarized policing of marginalized communities in Haiti by the Brazilian-led UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).
Using participatory practices, the directors, who have expertise in human rights law and documentary film, collaborated with survivors and relatives of those killed to produce a film that provides a platform for peripheral voices that call for acknowledgement of human rights’ abuses and demand recognition and reparation. These voices are backed up by expert opinion from Public Defenders, human rights NGOs, and local community activists.
A key objective of both films is to contribute to changing the narrative surrounding security forces’ operations so as to enable the experiences of the targeted community to be acknowledged and acted upon both in terms of recognizing harm done to survivors, and also in terms of developing policies and principles aimed at preventing similar harms from being inflicted in the future in other communities in other countries.
A core theme is the respect for international human rights law obligations protecting the right to life and the effect this may have on building inclusive democracies that respect the human rights of all citizens.
Cahal McLaughlin is professor of Film Studies at Queen’s University Belfast and director of the Prisons Memory Archive (www.prisonsmemoryarchive.com). He has worked on films in Ireland, South Africa and Haiti, exploring the legacies of state violence. His latest film is It Stays With You (2018).
Siobhán Wills is professor of Law at Transitional Justice Institute, Ulster University. Her latest film is It Stays With You (2018) and has published widely on human rights.
This paper discusses how Swedish foreign aid agency SIDA (1965–1995) worked to domestically shape public opinion as well as the image of the problems and solutions facing aid-receiving countries, though the production of documentary films.
SIDA held one of the largest spending plans for information among Swedish authorities. This can be linked to the ambition to reach and uphold the UN-proposed one-percent target. SIDA considered film a preferred information medium, understood to create an emotional experience of life in poor countries and give physical presence to distant problems. To bolster positive aid-attitudes, SIDA supported Swedish filmmakers in producing “films from the Third World”. This was part of a diversion strategy of “information-by-proxy” employed by agencies of the welfare state, where SIDA channelled information funds through external producers. By exposing strategically obscured links between funder and end product through archival research, I discuss the documentaries in relation to national foreign aid policies.
Merging theories of national information policies with postcolonial theory, this paper discusses whether state-subsidized production of images of the Other contributed in reproducing colonial representations. I question the standard point of departure, upheld by earlier research on Swedish foreign aid: that Sweden has no colonial past.
Postcolonial research on representation in foreign aid discourses have claimed that such images consistently have reproduced colonial stereotypes and portrayed the receiver as a symbol of “absolute difference”, inhabiting a world which houses the problem, while the solution lies in the West. My research shows a more complex result, as SIDA-funded documentaries often contained a representational critique regarding how the West (including Swedes) portrayed the poor majority world. It is suggested that the binary Other that is constructed in the SIDA-funded films is rather the former Western colonial powers, than the receivers of foreign aid.
Lars Diurlin holds a PhD in film studies from Lund University, Sweden. Diurlin’s thesis, The First Avant-Gardist of the Film Reform is an examination of the productional conditions of experimental films and the artist’s role within the framework of the Swedish welfare state’s cultural policy. He is developing a research project on SIDA:s audiovisual information strategies. Among his latest publications is a co- written article, published in the International Journal of Cultural Policy, on the Swedish National Board of Health’s collaborations with cultural workers during the 1970s.
Yvonne Zimmermann is Professor of Media Studies at Philipps-University Marburg (Germany). She is the author of Bergführer Lorenz: Karriere eines missglückten Films (Career of a Failed Film, 2005) and editor and co-author of a volume on documentary and ‘useful cinema’ in Switzerland (Schaufenster Schweiz: Dokumentarische Gebrauchsfilme 1896-1964, 2011). She has published widely on industrial film, screen advertising, nonfiction and nontheatrical film.