First delegated to Korea on behalf of a U.S. diplomatic mission during the rule of the U.S. Military Government in Korea (1945–48), the United Information Service in Korea operated for decades as an agency invested in American national interests by promoting positive understandings of U.S. policies and American culture on a foreign soil. Its aggressive ideological instrumentalization of visual media as containment targeted directly at the Korean masses during the Cold War took a form of distributing American state-sponsored films and later locally producing films in Korea. Commonly referred to as documentaries at the time, these films featured realistic portrayals of ideal performances by individual citizens, community organizations, and political institutions, all demonstrative of the agency’s efforts to spread “freedom and democracy” as tenets of a specifically American political ideology.
Since the systematization of USIS-Korea’s local film production after the Korean War, there were visible attempts at ‘modeling after’ what has already happened in American society and bringing it into a Korean context instead of presenting American society itself. Examining a body of such American state-sponsored films produced in Korea, I argue that the dominant representational strategy for naturalizing the American way of life and simultaneously alluding to an historical continuum of a sound nationhood was figural reenactment, which could be read as latent preenactment. The figural reenactment of the everyday life of Korea’s citizens is less a story of factual Korean citizens; rather, it is a conveyance of idealized/normative behaviors of Korean citizens that were translated from the American social imaginary, or, how Americans imagined how they ought to live their everyday lives as citizens. This paper will explain how the translation of American social imaginary is allegorically transferred through the embodiment of the imaginary in Korean bodies in USIS-Korea films such as The Ideal Citizen (1960).
Hahkyung Darline Kim is a doctoral candidate in the Film and Digital Media Ph.D. program at University of California, Santa Cruz. Her research and filmmaking practices focus on transcultural and transmedia articulations of documentary, experimental ethnography, state media, and immigration historiography. Most recently, her video artwork based on USIS-Korea films, MemoRandom, was exhibited at the Korean Media Art Festival in New York. Other films and video works have been screened and exhibited in Seoul, Madrid, and New York.
In the film NICHTlöschbares Feuer / Inextinguishable Fire from 1968/69, the German essay and documentary filmmaker Harun Farocki extinguishes a cigarette on his arm to demonstrate the torturous effects of Napalm on the victims of the Vietnam war. This now seminal moment in Brechtian documentary has been widely discussed with regards to the politics and ethics of representation in 1968 film activism and the role of the (film) author. In Farocki’s oeuvre, scholars have interpreted it as an embodied metaphor (Elsaesser, 2006) and initiation into representational art practices (Baumgärtel, 2002), which departs from the more direct, political action in his ‘68 student films. Yet, in 1969, Farocki described the film above all as a culmination of his collaboration with radical film collectives, like the Gruppe 3 at the dffb, and the student movement developing a counter-public sphere against mainstream media. For him, the political theme of the film was the “discussion on technology” (Farocki, 1969): a political debate in the 1968 student movement criticising the complicity of the techno-sciences in imperialist warfare and capitalist industries and the absence of ethical debate in scientific, technological research and innovation.
By considering Inextinguishable Fire’s historical context, my presentation will analyse its iconic performance as a transgressive gesture against the world of science and technology integrated within a critique of the representation and dissemination of Vietnam war images in TV media. I will argue that Farocki attends to the documentary image in reportage as a scientific form of vision and exposes the ideology behind factual representation of war on TV. As a commentary on TV’s influence on public opinion, I will further ask how Farocki explores documentary’s evidentiary claim and indexicality within a critique of scientism in the service of a pluralistic, democratic media landscape.
Laura Lux is a PhD candidate in the German Department at King’s College London with second supervision in the Film Studies Department. Her PhD research analyses the early films, media practices and texts of the German essay filmmaker Harun Farocki in the context of the West German 1968 student movement and the politics around technology and science.
Following on from the found-footage compilation on the origins of the RAF group in Une jeunesse allemande (A German Youth, 2015), the young French filmmaker Jean-Gabriel Périot continued in his project exploring the contemporary legacy of the wave of political radicalisation in the 1960s and 1970s with Nos défaites (Our Defeats, 2019). In the latter film, he uses high school students from the Parisian suburbs to reenact French militant films from the May ’68 era. With filming taking place in May 2018, fifty years after the événements, scenes from Jean-Luc Godard’s La Chinoise, Alain Tanner’s La Salamandre, Chris Marker’s À bientôt j’espère and Marin Karmitz’s Camarades are all replicated by his teenage performers, who are then interviewed for their thoughts about the relevance of the politics of these films for their present-day lives. Through this technique Périot elicits a range of responses from the lycéens, from curiosity to disengagement, but the common theme in all of these exchanges is the cavernous distance separating the political utopianism of the ’68 films from the reality of contemporary French youth.
This paper looks at Nos défaites through the lens not only of the tradition of observational ethnographic cinema as practised by Jean Rouch, Raymond Depardon and Jean-Lous Comolli, but also in the context of what Enzo Traverso has called “left-wing melancholy” – the post-1989 loss of faith in any ability to fundamentally change society and a replacement of hope for the future with a wallowing in the honourable defeats of the past. In the case of Périot’s film, however, the course of historical events during the making of the film upends its initial political premise, as the student-participants’ direct engagement in political action overturns their previous state of apathy.
Daniel Fairfax is assistant professor in Film Studies at the Goethe Universität-Frankfurt, and an editor of Senses of Cinema.
Beginning with his early films made in collaboration with amateur theater groups in England, British filmmaker Peter Watkins’s projects have used cinema as a means of constructing public sites of contestation and political activism, both in the moment of profilmic performance amongst his films’ actor-participants and at the site of reception. In the former context, Watkins designs an encounter, a dialogue, and an active, collective sensibility through practices of highly anachronistic historical reenactment (in films such as La Commune (Paris, 1871) ) or through collective projects of research into contemporary media practices (in films such as The Journey ). These collaborative practices locate the historical past and the lived present through shared perspectives and co-creative strategies. Crucial to both of these projects is the extension of the collaborative project beyond the moment of production and into their distribution and reception. Working with activists and social justice groups around the world, Watkins and his collaborators use the films not only as pedagogical materials, but also to model new relations to contemporary representations and understandings of the historical past and to media practices.
This paper traces the evolution of these collaborative practices of productions and exhibition from Watkins’s engagement with amateur film workshops in the 1950s to his engagement with labor groups, activists, and actors in La Commune in the late 1990s. Using Negt and Kluge’s concept of an agonistic public sphere, Michael Warner’s conception of counterpublics, and Miriam Hansen’s scholarship on the “public sphere” of early cinema, I argue that Watkins’s attempts to use his films’ production and reception as a site of – and model for – new modes of public debate exacerbate certain contradictions—for example, between individual authorship and collective artistic control—and demand performances of public speech which themselves become objects of media production and media critique.
Leo Goldsmith is Assistant Professor of Culture and Media at Eugene Lang College, The New School. In 2018, he received his PhD from the Department of Cinema Studies at New York University, where he completed a dissertation on found footage and image circulation. He is a co-author of Keywords In Subversive Film/Media Aesthetics (Wiley-Blackwell 2015), by Robert Stam and Richard Porton, and his critical writing on film and contemporary art has appeared in Artforum, Art Agenda, Cinema Scope, and The Brooklyn Rail, whose Film section he edited from 2011 to 2018. He is an advisor to the programming team of the New York Film Festival.
Paul Fileri is a Professorial Lecturer in the Cinema Studies program in the Department of Literature at American University, in Washington, DC. He has taught at New York University where he received a PhD in Cinema Studies. His work focuses on documentary and nonfiction screen media, especially the place of audiovisual media in the critical historiography of race, nation, diaspora, and colonial empire. He is currently at work on a book about documentary media, state bureaucratic form, and struggles over the meanings of decolonization entitled “Unsettling Subjects: Documentary and Decolonization in the French Colonial Empire.” His writing has appeared in such publications as Film Quarterly, Film Comment, and Senses of Cinema, and he has an essay in the edited collection A Companion to Documentary Film History (Wiley-Blackwell, 2021).