Christian Boltanski once mused that we are surrounded by a cloud of dead ancestors that are not simply relegated to the past, but present us with potentialities that actualize in time and space. Boltanski has spent his career haunted by images of the dead, by the possibility of capturing these wandering souls (“anamitas”), by having them materialize in us. But what dwells in the image is not memory, rather it involves the hand of the forger, who through techné pieces together unexpected and incoherent sets of relations—relations that as Raul Ruiz puts it “live their own lives.” Rather than capturing or allowing oneself to be carried away from numerous connections to the past, Ruiz reads the image (its gift or givenness) as “simply alive.”
This talk compares Boltanki’s 24-hour installation, Anamitas Chili (2014), with Ruiz’s 3-minute short film Le don (2007), and Patricio Guzmán’s Nostalgia de la luz (2010). All three cinematic works were set in Chile’s Atacama Desert—a site of memory (Nora) but also one of erasure—where Augusto Pinochet placed his most important detention centers (Chacabuco and Pisagua), and where many of the detainees may have (been) disappeared. These works ask us to think whether or not the image can “redeem” (Benjamin) memory by offering it up as an artifice (the gift, or given) of a moment lived? Here I would like to contrast Ruiz’s notion of the image that is “simply alive” with Jacques Derrida’s notion of “learning to live with ghosts.”
Kriss Ravetto-Biagioli is a professor of Film, Television and Digital Media at UCLA. She is the author of Unmaking Fascist Aesthetics (2001), Mythopoetic Cinema (2017), and Digital Uncanny (2019). She is currently working on a co-authored book with Martine Beugnet, The Trouble with Ghosts, and a book on public anonymity.
Ossama Mohammed and Wiam Simav Bedirxan’s Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait (2014) presents extremely unpleasant footage of violence and killings, shot on mobile phones by Syrians who found themselves on opposing sides in the early years of the Syrian conflict. Gradually, the film also establishes a dialogue between its two directors: Bedirxan is in Syria, trying to run a school, filming her war-torn life (and becoming filmmaker in the process), Mohammed is a filmmaker in exile in Paris, recording his advice to Bedirxan whilst negotiating his guilt at not being back in Syria. What is the relation between the found footage and the interconnecting video-diaries?
Drawing on texts by Simondon, Groys and Rancière, this talk will argue that Silvered Water examines the multiple ways in which images shape subjectivities, create relations, establish communities and a wider political situation. This does not mean that the film invites us to overlook what is sometimes called the ‘reality of war’; rather it communicates that this reality cannot be fenced off. To receive the harrowing images of mutilated bodies, street executions and torture exclusively as documenting events that have taken place during the Syrian war would be to reduce the significance of these images by placing them in the past. Such images live on, insist – shaping their hosts and wider communities. The film does not redeem the violence of the footage, but it demonstrates the open-ended nature of images, investigating how they inform our futures also.
Nikolaj Lübecker is Professor of French and Film Studies at the University of Oxford, UK. He is author of The Feel-Bad Film (2015, Edinburgh University Press) and co-editor (w. Daniele Rugo) of James Benning’s Environments (2018, EUP). His current book project – co-written with Daniele Rugo – examines the experiential nature of images of political violence in non-fiction films by Barbet Schröder, Chantal Akerman, Rithy Panh and Hara Kazuo among others.
Taking the format of an intimate road movie, Obaidah Zytoon and Andreas Dalsgaard’s The War Show (2016), chronicles the early moments of the uprising against the regime of Bashar al-Assad and the ensuing violence unleashed against Syrian citizens. Composed entirely of images shot by the protagonist as a way to archive the groups’ experience, the film begins with joyful sequences shared by a group of educated urban youth – a trip to the seaside, the adoption of a new puppy, the collective exuberance of a demonstration.
These fragments of everyday life are quickly overwhelmed by the widespread violence various members of the group are submitted to. Happy memories, presented as film postcards, are superseded by the manifestation of a range of necropolitical strategies enacted by the Assad regime and other actors. These exceptionally violent images do not seem to find a consoling counterbalance in the film, which eschews analysis and fails to articular a specific political position. All that is left are then the fragments of ordinary life and the protagonist’s voice-over, which returns from time to time to those moments.
Drawing on the work of Yassin al-Haj Saleh, Achille Mbembe and Didi-Huberman, I argue that whilst the juxtaposition of spectacular necropolitics and sequences of ordinary life seems unbalanced, the latter stand as reminders of crushed opportunities and therefore enact a powerful politics of care that survives precisely through and as image. This opens up then a reflection on the status of the recycled images and their value as political experiences.
Daniele Rugo is a filmmaker and scholar. His latest film, About a War (Rugo/Weaver, 2018) interrogates violence through the voices of fighters from the Lebanon’s Civil War. He is currently working on a book project (with Nikolaj Lübecker) and a documentary film (with Abi Weaver). He is currently a Senior Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics and Reader at Brunel University London
Jeffrey Geiger is professor of Film Studies at the University of Essex, UK. His books include: American Documentary Film: Projecting the Nation (2011); Facing the Pacific: Polynesia and the U.S. Imperial Imagination (2007); Film Analysis: A Norton Reader (with R. L. Rutsky, 2nd ed 2013); and Cinematicity in Media History (2013, with Karin Littau).