Over the past decade the documentary image in contemporary media art, post-cinema, and digital archives in/about/from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has emerged as an accelerated mode of knowledge and affect in networked collectives. The incentive of the documentary image becoming a collectively subjective form and method, artistically as much as mimetically, is part of a transformation of the documentary through data and digital technologies regarding time and new epistemologies of the real.
The interrelation of (new) media art, found footage material, and digital documentary archives transpires in a space of future practices and configurations that materialize the experiential, historical and geopolitical state of the art in the MENA region. This paper argues that a new documentary futurism in film and media art from MENA is shaping mediations of new material realities that embody the premonition of a crisis-ridden future and excavate hegemonic accounts. The contemporary aesthetic reconfiguration of the documentary image in an art and film context, given its long burden of signifying “truth,” “reality,” and “authenticity,” equals epistemological frameworks and methods of political and cultural crisis in a data operating world.
Digital archives, personal ones turned public and vice versa, found footage material in new performative arrangements, and documentary as well as Sci-Fi material in film and beyond craft and foreground speculative imaginaries of post-digital documentary images.This paper aims to explore the extent of an epistemological radicality of the documentary in a new aesthetics of crisis in the MENA.It argues that reconfigurations of the document/ary have constituted new material subjectivities and digital futurisms of a kind that excavate other narratives of critique and collective belongings amidst perpetual crises.
Rania Gaafar (PhD) is a lecturer in the Media Studies Department at University of Siegen (Germany), and has previously held positions at the American University of Beirut, Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Media (Media Studies Program) and the University of Art and Design/ZKM, Media Art Department, Karlsruhe (Germany). She has published on postcolonial media theory, contemporary media and film art and artistic research. Her main research interests are film and video art, postcolonial media art, affective media, and contemporary moving image art from the MENA. She has co-edited Technology and Desire. The Transgressive Art of Moving Images (2014). Forthcoming by her is: Phänomenotechniken des Films – Zur Medialität der Erfahrung des Anderen in postkinematographischen Bildreflexionen (2021).
Although Harun Farocki (1944-2014) and Errol Morris (1948- ) are preeminent documentary filmmakers of their generation, they have never been examined in relation to each other. Indeed, they had no interaction and had no familiarity with each other’s work—at least until I recently helped Morris see a couple of Farocki’s films. Certainly, they come out of two distinct traditions and utilize very different repertoires of techniques.
While this in itself is interesting, both filmmakers also worked against mainstream notions of documentary––Farocki with narration and montage and Morris with the interview. They both went through significant shifts in their approach to filmmaking. Farocki’s first two feature films, Between Two Wars (1978) and Before Your Eyes-Vietnam (1981) are a diptych not unlike Morris’s Gates of Heaven (1978) and Vernon, Florida (1981). Important shifts can be seen by exploring two breakthrough films in their work: The Thin Blue Line (1988) and Images of the World and the Inscription of War (1989).
Farocki and Morris shared similar interests in terms of subject matter—war crimes, Vietnam, World War II, the Holocaust, photography, the image, its construction and how it is understood and has been/can be used. This presentation is part of a larger effort to put the two in dialogue with each other albeit posthumously in respect to Farocki.
Charles Musser teaches Film and Media Studies at Yale University. His many books on early cinema-related topics include The Emergence of Cinema: The American Screen to 1907 (1990) and Politicking and Emergent Media: US Presidential Elections of the 1890s (2016). He has written extensively about documentary, including the work of Paul Robeson, Carl Marzani and Union Films. His documentary Errol Morris: A Lightning Sketch (2014) was presented as a work in progress at the 2011 Visible Evidence conference. His essay “Documentary’s longue durée: Beginnings, formations, genealogies,” was recently published in NECSUS (The European Journal of Media Studies).
Ossama Mohammed and Wiam Simav Bedirxan’s Silvered Water: Syria Self-Portrait (2014) works in a primarily “lyric” mode of voice-over, including song, protest chants, and first-person reflection before it becomes a correspondence. It also foregrounds digital communication’s auditory continuities with documentary contents, subverting the logic of disembodiment and distance in the “proxy” and imagining an ethics of hospitality in and of the digital. In doing so, it resists the essayistic impulse and with it the numbness associated with traumatized spectatorship, an arguably generalized modern condition (Elsaesser 2009).
Through a lyric lens (Culler 2015; Jackson 2013) and considering its proximity to the epistolary (Derrida; Gurkin; Rascaroli), the paper will hone in on verbal and physical gestures of invocation and apostrophe. It will consider how at least three types of “address to the other in documentary—invocatory, epistolary, and subtitle translation—pose questions about reception and community. It posits that such gestures lead to a constant awareness of the fundamental precarity at the heart of crisis, digital communication, and the encounter. The lyric poem has been described as a “message in a bottle” (Osip Mandelstam), not knowing when and on which shores it will land and thus far from instrumental communication; Letters initially have a more explicit addressee, context, and often, agenda. This paper questions the stakes of a lyric epistolary address more generally as a minor mode when working with documentary images, montage, and voiceover. I argue that the lyric-epistolary is a vulnerable framework necessary in times of crisis.
Simona Schneider is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the department of Cinema, Photography, and Television at l’Università degli studi di Udine, Italy, where she is a researcher on the material history project “Standard 16mm. Cultures, institutions, and politics of a film format (circa 1934)” with Andrea Mariani and collaborating on the Calgary-based Canadian SSHRC Amateur Film Database Project. She has been a filmmaking fellow at the Film Study Center at Harvard University and a doctoral student at the University of California, Berkeley. Her academic and practical research examines moving images, archival remediation, and mise en scène through lyric and transmedial theory within a transnational framework.
Abi Weaver is an award-winning producer/director who has worked across a range of visual media from independent feature to programming for major UK broadcasters (BBC, ITV, Channel 4, and Channel 5). Her latest film About a War (2018, Lebanon/UK) explores violence and change through the testimonies of ex-fighters from the Lebanese Civil War. Abi is a TECHNE-funded doctoral candidate at the University of Surrey and is also an affiliate of the Centre for Lebanese Studies. She is a consultant on academic research projects using documentary interview methods as tools for research and dissemination.