Visible Evidence 2021

Narrative of Self and Others

Slava Greenberg
Emily Apter
Michael Renov
Luís Costa
Chair: Ohad Landesman
Thu, Dec 16
90 Min
Mousonturm (Studio 2), Online
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Is That Really Me? Trans* Viewers’ Dysphoric Encounters with the ‘Before’ Image in Home Movies

While some trans* people find gender euphoria in sharing their transition in the form of ‘before’ and ‘after’ images for others, encountering their past bodies may evoke various degrees and modalities of dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is explained by Susan Stryker as a sense of unhappiness over the incongruence between how one subjectively understands one’s experience of gender and how one’s gender is perceived by others, and it suggests that this state is unhealthy and transient.

This paper uses Sobchack’s articulation of the uncanny in home movies as a methodology in investigating three possible dysphoric encounters between trans* viewers and the ‘before’ image in home movies, as they are represented in documentary film. I discuss the first, axiological dysphoria through an analysis of Burton Before and After, in which Burton is asking himself “Is that really me?” I explore the second, epistemological dysphoria, i.e. a quest to acquire more ‘objective’ knowledge of ‘myself’”, through the documentary This Man is Me in which a trans man is using the home movie as proof that this has always been “himself.” To expose the third, ontological dysphoria which arouses “the existential question ‘What really am I?. I read She’s a Boy I Knew’s use of home movies to reflect on the fluidities of family roles. This final encounter stresses the realization that we are all constantly and endlessly transitioning and transforming, and that gender dysphoria triggered by past body images is experienced with particular force in the trans* body but is a phenomenon shared by cis and trans* people.

Slava Greenberg

Slava Greenberg is a postdoctoral teaching fellow at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts and Casden Institute. His research explores the potential of mainstream and emerging media forms to offer transformative experiences in reference to disability studies, trans* studies, and gender. He is the author of Animation and Disability: Cripping Spectatorship (Indiana UP 2022) and co-editor of Fireflies: Journal of Film and Television II. His articles have appeared in Review of Disability Studies, Animation, TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly, Jewish Film and New Media, Frames Cinema Journal, and forthcoming in The Moving Image: The Journal of the Association of Moving Image Archivists and Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. He has also contributed to anthologies on disability, documentary, queer media, and Israeli new media.

'We Buried Your Ashes But Not You': Illness, Metaphor, and the Feminine Void in Anne Charlotte Robertson’s Reel 80: Emily Died

We Buried Your Ashes But Not You’: Illness, Metaphor, and the Feminine Void in Anne Charlotte Robertson’s Reel 80: Emily Died” revisits Anne Charlotte Robertson’s Reel 80: Emily Died (1994), one of the 80 Super 8 “reels” she made between 1981 and 1997, as part of her Five Year Diary project.

Drawing on Marxian theory of social reproduction, this piece explores the way Robertsons’s material conditions create a “crisis” or “void” of normative womanhood under capitalism.

In Reel 80, Robertson works within and against the diary film tradition to explore a number of life-long obsessions: gardening, finding true love, wanting children, losing weight, the financial instability of experimental filmmaking, her treatment regimen, and documenting the particularities of her illnesses, addictions, relapses, and recoveries. For Robertson, the film material is continuous with the disabled female body; her impulse toward self-negation and expression is bound up in the totality of her filmmaking techniques and life circumstances.

Robertson creates structural continuity between the social and economic forces that govern her behavior, artistic practice, and most intimate desires (the medication, the reliance on grant funding, the attachment to heteropatriarchal family structures). By doing so, she suggests her mental illness is less a medical condition than a social phenomenon—symptomatic of the class antagonisms and gender-based oppression, the grief and pathologies of the world around her.

Emily Apter

Emily Apter is a curator, archivist, and filmmaker based in Brooklyn, NY. She works as a Cinema Programmer & Development Associate at the Maysles Documentary Center, a nonprofit cinema founded by Albert Maysles. She previously worked as the Assistant Director/Curator at the NYC Film-Makers’ Cooperative, where she assisted with the distribution, archiving, and curation of their 16mm experimental film collection. Emily has curated in collaboration with the Museum of the City of NY, City College, and Peephole Cinema. She is a graduate of Wesleyan University’s Film Studies program. Image-making, archives, labor, and landscape are core themes of her work.

The Autobiographical Supplement

In this presentation I explore the ways that Jacques Derrida’s notion of the supplement as developed in Of Grammatology, originally deployed as a tool in the critique of classical philosophy, can be useful in thinking about the character of the autobiographical documentary. Long acknowledged as an elusive cinematic form, the first-person film would seem to make claims on the “truth” of a life through filmic means. But Derrida’s account of the supplement alerts us to the inadequacies of any claims to unicity, wholeness, or presence. Instead, Of Grammatology outlines the supplement as compensatory and vicarious, a surplus, a plenitude enriching another plenitude.

It is my claim that the Derridean supplement, tendentious though it may be, offers inroads into a finer understanding of the autobiographical film. Is it not remarkable that the filmic type that seems to promise self-revelation through first-person testimony is so frequently shrouded in paradox, sophistry and dissimulation? Here I would cite the work of such admired practitioners as Chris Marker, Jonas Mekas, Chantal Akerman, Jean-Luc Godard and David Perlov. The supplement can offer a rubric for the analysis of the autobiographical film and an occasion for grappling with the limits of truth-telling.

To that end, I offer some in-depth discussion of several autobiographical films including Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell. In that film, the truth of the text as genealogical knowledge turns out to be a powerful lure to spectatorship and imagination that defers resolution or reconciliation with the past.

Michael Renov

Michael Renov, holder of the Haskell Wexler Chair in Documentary, is Professor of Cinema & Media Studies and Vice Dean for Academic Affairs in the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. He is the author or editor of several books on documentary including Theorizing Documentary, Collecting Visible Evidence, and The Subject of Documentary. Renov has had the pleasure of hosting the Visible Evidence conference on three occasions – in 1994, 2009 and 2019.

My Memory of Others: self-inscription in three Brazilian documentaries

This presentation focuses on three recent Brazilian documentaries – In The Intense Now (João Moreira Salles, 2017), The Edge of Democracy (Petra Costa, 2018) and I Owe a Letter from Brazil (Carol Benjamin, 2019) – that articulates threads of family remembrances in order to recover the social memory of recent social and political traumas in Brazilian society.

One intend to discuss a recent trend in the Brazilian documentary by which social wounds are evoked from a subjective perspective, in which the family history conducts inner discourses based on a self narrative brought about by amateur reels collected in private archives and – as one argue in this presentation – a “self-inscription” posture (Jean-Louis Comolli), that allows to identify features of an autocinema.

Comolli argues the self mise-en-scène, whose core idea relies on a pretentious self-control over the narrative, presents, instead, uncontrollable fissures, in a constant tension between the machine and the body. Furthermore, in our work we observe not only the autobiographical trend that Michael Renov highlights as a result of a broader scenario of affirming identities, but also a rhetorical mechanism by which filmmakers register themselves as social observers of the past, guided by their own family memories, which are treated in an apparent tension that highlights the ambiguity of this operation, given both by the testimonies of the archives and by the subjective curations of them.

By deepening the Brazilian social memory, the films come at the moment when disputes over memory of the military dictatorship (1964-1985) and its permanence intensify, driven by the far-right movement that broke out after the 2013 crisis and eventually led a former military officer and a repression enthusiast to the presidency.

Luís Costa

Luís Costa is a PhD candidate in Social History at Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), in Rio, Brazil, where currently develops a thesis about Brazilian direct documentaries in the 1960’s. He was visiting scholar at Columbia University, USA, from 10/2019 to 03/2020, at the School of The Arts.

Chair: Ohad Landesman

Ohad Landesman is a Lecturer in Film Studies at the Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at Tel Aviv University. He holds a PhD from the Department of Cinema Studies at New York University (2013). He co-edited the anthology Truth or Dare: Essays on Documentary Cinema (Am Oved Publishing House, 2021) and is currently writing a book on travelogues in Israel (forthcoming in SUNY Press). He has published broadly on documentary, digital cinema and animation in several anthologies and in peer-reviewed journals such as Visual Anthropology Review, Studies in Documentary Film, Projections: The Journal for Movies and Mind, and Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal.