BIMI Session #13 : Critique, Protest, Activism and the Video Essay, a lecture-performance by Kevin B. Lee
Thursday 30 March 2017
Institute of Contemporary Arts, The Mall, London, SW1Y 5AH
8:45–11:00 | Cinema 1 | [Book here]
The current social and political environment demands a moment of urgent reckoning for the audiovisual essay, whether it is practiced by artists, scholars, or everyday video-makers: How can or should it address the current crises facing the world? Kevin B. Lee’s work has pondered this question, in the past, through video essays on filmic forms of social protest and dissent. But at what point do audiovisual studies of works of activism become activist works in their own right? How do criticism and activism co-exist, and possibly inform and nurture the other? In this special lecture-performance, Lee will explore these questions by showing and discussing a range of recent audiovisual essays that engage with a social and political consciousness, including Steven Boone’s Snake Oil for N—–town Fever, which uses Roger Corman’s The Intruder as a blueprint for diagnosing the prevailing logic of Trumpism; Kiera Sandusky’s Problems with the Gendered POV Shot in Lilya 4-Ever, which examines the problematic outcome when a mainstream film is used for social education purposes; and extracts from Lee and filmmaker-scholar Chloé Galibert-Laîné’s ongoing research project about videos produced and circulated by the Islamic State.
With the support of the Department of Film, Theatre & Television, University of Reading, and the Goethe-Institut, London
Sight & Sound Film Poll: Nicole Brenez on La hora de los hornos / The Hour of the Furnaces, Kevin B. Lee, 2012, digital video, 8 minutes
Produced for Sight & Sound magazine’s international poll of the greatest films ever made, this video adapts Nicole Brenez’ argument for the poll to give greater consideration to political films, as well as to the politics of filmmaking.
Real Film Radicals, Kevin B. Lee, 2013, digital video, 6 minutes
A recontextualization of “radical” cinema, this video critiques how the use of the term “radical” has been applied to certain contemporary films. It then pays tribute to films, many of which have been neglected or marginalized from film history, that attest to a legacy of radical resistance filmmaking.
State of Emergence: The Wall, Anti Banality Union, 2016, digital video, 3 minutes
Who is the enemy, exactly? Dozens of clips from Hollywood zombie films are interwoven into a single sequence depicting how societal paranoia is propagated by mainstream entertainment. An excerpt from State of Emergence, a work-in-progress feature by Anti-Banality Union, a New York based media activist collective
Snake Oil for N—–town Fever, Steven Boone, 2016, digital video, 10 minutes
The 1960s Roger Corman B-movie The Intruder is used as a blueprint for diagnosing the prevailing logic of 21st century Trumpism and the enduring racial dynamics of the United States.
Problems with the Gendered POV Shot in Lilya 4-Ever, Kiera Sandusky, 2017, digital video, 6 minutes
The 2004 Swedish film Lilya 4-Ever depicted the problem of sex trafficking so powerfully that it was used by governments, NGOs and educators as an awareness raising tool. This video examines the aesthetic choices that make the film so powerful, as well as the problematic outcomes when it was used for social education purposes.
My Crush Was a Superstar, Chloé Galibert-Laîné, 2017, digital video, 10 minutes.
This desktop documentary follows a single image of an ISIS fighter through a trail of messages, videos and postings to uncover his existence in both social media and reality. An excerpt from an ongoing research project by Galibert-Laîné and Kevin B. Lee investigating videos produced and circulated by the Islamic State.
Kevin B. Lee is a filmmaker and critic who has made over 300 video essays exploring film and media. His award-winning Transformers: The Premake was named one of the best documentaries of 2014 by Sight & Sound Magazine and played in several festivals including the Berlin Film Festival Critics Week. In 2017 he is the first-ever Artist in Residence of the Harun Farocki Institute in Berlin.
Marc Karlin: Look Again Film Comment Review
When Marc Karlin died in 1999, he was deemed Britain’s greatest unknown filmmaker; 25 years after his death, that reputation still holds. One of the reasons why Karlin’s oeuvre has not been canonised or even seen yet outside a small circle of dedicated followers can be attributed to the fact that he worked in television for most of his career. Long before the small screen became a site for quality serial content and the video essay became a fashionable trend, Karlin shot for British Tv some of the most daring docu-essays the public at large has yet to appreciate.
This gorgeous illustrated and meticulously researched treasure of a book serves as a contextualising introduction to the career of a veritable maverick of world cinema. Through critical (re)evaluations of his work and invaluable materials from his personal archives, Look Again, conveys the artistic militancy of a filmmaker who felt a moral need to experiment with form yet never lost sight of his audience.
Charting his early days in the Berwick Street Film Collective (where, in 1975, he made Nightcleaners, one of the absolute peaks of experimental political filmmaking), up through his confounding of the movie magazine Vertigo in the early Nineties, the book brings to life a passionate and industrious career who shared with Karlin a rebellious love for cinema make this volume not only to read but also to experience with almost tactile pleasure. In recent years some of his work have occasionally been shown, and with any luck, this book will continue bring to larger audiences the life and art of a truly talented filmmaker.
Review by Giovanni Vimercati, Film Comment, Septermber-October 2015
An Evening Celebrating Stuart Hall, Featuring John Akomfrah – March 17 at 6pm at MOMA
The program is organized on the occasion of John Akomfrah’s three-screen video installation The Unfinished Conversation (2012), recently acquired by MoMA and included in the forthcoming exhibition Unfinished Conversations: New Work from the Collection. Akomfrah is a founding member of the Black Audio Film Collective, which was established along with Lina Gopaul, David Lawson and others in London in the 1980s. The work considers Stuart Hall’s ongoing importance as a public intellectual, founder of cultural studies and leader of the British New Left. Made two years before before Hall’s death in 2014, the installation is a testament to the ongoing impact of the thinker’s ideas on artists and cultural institutions. The evening will include presentations by Thomas Lax, Kobena Mercer, Professor of History of Art and African American Studies, Yale University, and DavidScott, Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University; a dialogue between CameronBailey, Artistic Director of the Toronto Film Festival and John Akomfrah; and a conversation moderated by Tina Campt, Director of the Barnard Center for Research on Women and Professor of Africana and Women’s studies at Barnard College.
Film is a Weapon. Use it! Screening Series at the MayDay Rooms 22 Feb
3rd Wednesday of the Month At MDR.
MDR and Platform films has recently embarked on a large digitisation programme of 16mm film from the ’68 onwards, the collection included such gems of footage as Stokey Carmicheal’s speech in Camden, solidarity with hunger strikes in Northern Ireland, raw footage from cinema action, and many more we have not looked at yet!
In anticipation of this hefty haul of revolutionary AVI files we will be putting on monthly screenings of films that antagonise and document.
First Screening will be…
Cinema Action’s Viva Portugal!
Viva Portugal was made by a group of French and West German journalists (the English version was assembled by cinema action), and traces the first year of the Portuguese revolution.
Besides documenting the political changes, from the overthrow of Caetano’s dictatorship to the failure of a right wing coup in March 1975 (largely because soldiers questioned their officers’ orders), the film deals with the effect of the revolution on the people. Factory and village committees, independent trade unions, are shown being set up; the plight of the farmworkers and the power of the anti-Communist Church are dealt with. It culminates with the occupation of an empty manor house, which is converted into a people’s hospital.
27th March, 7pm
Cuba, an African Odyssey (2007) explores how Cuba, under the leadership of Fidel Castro, gave critical support to Africa’s liberation movements. This influence was instrumental in advancing the decolonisation process, which brought independence to much of the continent. There will be Q&A with the filmmaker Jihan El Tahri after the film.
26th April, 7pm
The Hour of the Furnaces (La hora de los hornos 1968 Argentina 260 mins) Made in Argentina in 1968, this film established the paradigm of revolutionary activist cinema. ‘For the first time’, said filmmaker, Octavio Getino, ‘we demonstrated that it was possible to produce and distribute a film in a non-liberated country with the specific aim of contributing to the political process of liberation’.
24th May, 7pm
What Makes Alberto Pinto Angry (Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyoon Aata Hai, 1980) The story of a Mumbai mechanic’s journey from petit-bourgeois aspiration to solidarity with the striking textile workers. Set in industrial Mumbai in the lead up to the great textile strike of 1982, filmmaker Mirza, incorporates documentary footage as the backdrop to the film.
As part of the Film is a Weapon. Use it! series we will also be re-publish some of the material that we hold on the Film and Photography Leagues of the 1930’s- if you would like to get involved with this collection of material please contact rosemary [AT] maydayrooms.org
via MayDay Rooms
Une Femme Coquette – Jean-Luc Godard’s rarely seen short film now online
Une Femme Coquette may not sound like anything special—a 9-minute no-budget short film, shot on a borrowed 16mm camera by a 24-year-old amateur with no formal film school training. But the short, which was the subject of our article “Neither lost nor found: On the trail of an elusive icon’s rarest film” back in 2014, has for decades been a sought-after item for art-house buffs and rare movie fiends. Filmed in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1955, it was the first attempt at a narrative film by the iconic French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard—a pivotal figure in the evolution of movie style, who would make his feature debut just five years later, with the hugely influential and perennially cool Breathless.
Never distributed, Une Femme Coquette has had less than half a dozen public screenings since the 1960s; we were able to track down the only known 16mm print to a national film archive in Europe, where it was being stored unlisted for a private owner, to be loaned out only with the personal permission of Jean-Luc Godard himself. This makes it the holy grail of the game-changing New Wave era—a film so rare that it has often been listed as lost by biographies and film history books. And it might as well have been. No other surviving narrative film by a major, big-name director has been as difficult to see—until now.
Earlier this week, a copy of Une Femme Coquette surfaced on the digital back channels frequented by obscure movie enthusiasts. An enterprising user named David Heslin has uploaded this rarity of rarities to YouTube, complete with English subtitles. Credited to “Hans Lucas,” a German pseudonym that the Franco-Swiss Godard would sometimes employ during his brief career as a film critic, Une Femme Coquette was the budding director’s modern update of a Guy De Maupassant short story called “The Signal.”
via AV Club
Cinema Novo documentary trailer
Icarus Films has announced the acquisition of all North American rights to Eryk Rocha’s new feature documentary on the Brazilian film movement, which is also titled “Cinema Novo.” Winner of the Best Documentary Award at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, the “intricately edited” film combines film clips from the major works of the Brazilian Cinema Novo movement and period interviews with its leading filmmakers, including auteur filmmakers Nelson Pereira dos Santos, Carlos Diegues, Ruy Guerra, Leon Hirszman, Walter Lima Jr., Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, Paulo César Saraceni, Jorge Bodanzky, Orlando Senna, and Glauber Rocha (father of the documentary’s director Eryk Rocha), as well as of singer Ava Rocha, whose music is featured in the film.
These notable, although mostly unknown (in the USA) filmmakers pushed boundaries with aesthetically bold films that used non-professional actors and low-budget production techniques to tackle social issues; films including “Black God, White Devil,” and “Ganga Zumba” (both previously highlighted on this blog), as well as “Barren Lives” and “Iracema.”
The distribution agreement was signed by Jonathan Miller, Icarus Films, and Sandro Fiorin, FiGa Films.
Watch a trailer for “Cinema Novo” below:
via Shadow and Act
Steve Sprung’s The Plan trailer – a film on the radical Lucas Plan
The Plan is directed by Steve Sprung, long time Karlin collaborator and former member of Cinema Action and Poster Film Collective. The Lucas Plan was a pioneering effort by workers at the arms company Lucas Aerospace to retain jobs by proposing alternative, socially-useful applications of the company’s technology and their own skills. It remains one of the most radical and forward thinking attempts ever made by workers to take the steering wheel and directly drive the direction of change.
Read more at The Lucas Pan 40th Anniversary
The Workshop Years: Black British Film and Video after 1981 at the Hammer Museum
I’ve only just discovered this program of Black British Film and Video currently screening at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles named ‘The Workshop Years’. I’ve reposted the schedule and essay below. See more at the Hammer Museum
Independent black British filmmaking saw an increased urgency and viability in the aftermath of South London’s Brixton Rising in 1981. In many respects this event—part of a series of responses to police brutality, corruption, and racist policies aimed at undermining the rights of Britain’s black population—was the first of its kind to unfold within the context of the BBC’s nightly news.1 At an early moment in British television history, over the course of three days in April 1981, audiences were routinely exposed to images of dissenting blackness through the mediating lens of mainstream journalism; these images became inextricably linked to a series of representational codes that further underscored aspects of British society that had inherited and internalized systematic racial inequities. The depiction of black identity occasioned by the Brixton Rising was one of disorder, lawlessness, and rage—characterizations that continued in the months that followed with subsequent confrontations between protestors and police taking place in Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, and other cities.2
In November 1982, Channel 4 debuted on British television. Conceived, in part, in response to the narratives that had played out in mainstream news outlets, this new channel sought to provide innovative content and give voice to those marginalized in British society, with a greater emphasis on the needs of minority audiences.3 As part of this demand, Channel 4, along with the Greater London Council, dedicated production funds and helped to establish workshops to facilitate the making of film and video from and by these communities. Through new avenues of institutional support and the formation of “publisher-broadcaster” stations like Channel 4, filmmaking collectives and workshops such as Black Audio Film Collective, Sankofa Film and Video Collective, and Ceddo Film and Video Workshop were founded in the early part of the decade as alternatives to the dominant modes of representation in the UK. These groups, alongside others like Retake Film and Video that focused on Asian identity, addressed conditions of race and class that had otherwise been told from outsider perspectives.
Writing on the occasion of a program she organized at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center in 1988, the artist and writer Coco Fusco argued, “The newly established workshops provided the infrastructure that, combined with racially sensitive cultural polices, created conditions […] to explore and question theoretical issues.”4 Films like John Akomfrah’s Handsworth Songs (Black Audio Film Collective, 1986) and Maureen Blackwood and Isaac Julien’s The Passion of Remembrance (Sankofa Film and Video Collective, 1986) positioned themselves at “the center of polemical debates in the mainstream and Black popular press that often do little more than bespeak critical assumptions about which filmic strategies are ‘appropriate’ for Blacks.”5 At the heart of these experimental approaches to filmmaking was a negotiation of so-called dominant images and an attempt to reconcile these with a newfound birth of visibility.
Though united by experimental approaches to narrative, the films produced by Black Audio Film Collective, Sankofa Film and Video Collective, and Ceddo Film and Video Workshop in the 1980s and 1990s reflect diverse and divergent concerns, forms, and aesthetics. Kobena Mercer has appropriately referred to this generation of “cinematic activists” as being engaged with the cultural struggle that takes place within the “domain of image-making” through self conscious cinematic strategies.6 In each instance, the individual filmmakers and voices that make up the collectives, workshops, and groups that formed in this tumultuous period in Britain’s cultural history give shape to an image of race otherwise mediated by outside entities. The films produced at the time, as part of Channel 4 and the race-relations industry it came to represent, offer insight into the real conditions, imaginary futures, and contested pasts that come to define race as a lived experience.
1. Sarita Malik, Representing Black Britain: Black and Asian Images on Television (London: Sage, 2001), 85.
2. Ibid., 86.
3. Laura Mayne, “The Channel 4 Films of the 1980s: ‘A Worrying New Category,’” British Universities Film and Video Council, November 9, 2010, http://bufvc.ac.uk/2010/11/09/
4. Coco Fusco, “A Black Avant-Garde? Notes on Black Audio Film Collective and Sankofa,” in Young British and Black: A Monograph on the Work of Sankofa Film/Video Collective and Black Audio Film Collective (Buffalo, NY: Hallwalls, 1988), 9.
5. Ibid., 8.
6. Kobena Mercer, Welcome to the Jungle: New Positions in Black Cultural Studies (New York: Routledge, 1994), 53.
January 3–7: Sankofa Film and Video Collective
Noon: Isaac Julien, Who Killed Colin Roach?, 1983. Super-8 video transfer, color, sound. 37 min. Courtesy of the artist.
12:45 p.m.: Martina Attille, Dreaming Rivers, 1988. 16mm film transferred to video, color, sound. 33 min. Courtesy of the artist and Women Make Movies, New York.
1:30 p.m.: Isaac Julien, Territories, 1984. 16mm film transferred to video, color, sound. 26 min. Courtesy of the artist.
2 p.m.: Maureen Blackwood, Perfect Image?, 1988. 16mm film transferred to video, color, sound. 31 min. Courtesy of the artist and Women Make Movies, New York.
2:45 p.m.: Maureen Blackwood and Isaac Julien, The Passion of Remembrance, 1986. 16mm film transferred to video, color, sound 78 min. Courtesy of the artists.
January 10–14: Ceddo Film and Video Workshop
Noon: Menelik Shabazz, Time and Judgement – A Diary of a 400 Year Exile, 1988. 16mm film transferred to video, color, sound. 87 min. Courtesy of the artist.
1:30 p.m.: Milton Bryan, The People’s Account, 1986. Digital Betacam, color, sound. 52 min. Courtesy of the artist and Menelik Shabazz.
2:30 p.m.: Glenn Ujebe Masokoane, We Are the Elephant, 1987. 16mm film transferred to video, color, sound. 52 min. Courtesy of the artist and Menelik Shabazz.
3:30 p.m.: D. Elmina Davis, Omega Rising: Woman of Rastafari, 1988. 16mm film transferred to video, color, sound. 52 min. Courtesy of the artist and Menelik Shabazz.
January 17–25: Black Audio Film Collective
Noon: John Akomfrah, Handsworth Songs, 1986. 16mm film transferred to video, color, sound. 58:33 min. Courtesy of the artist and Lisson Gallery.
1 p.m.: Reece Auguiste, Mysteries of July, 1991. 16mm film transferred to video, color, sound. 54 min. Courtesy of the artist and Lisson Gallery.
2 p.m.: John Akomfrah, The Last Angel of History, 1995. Digital Betacam, color, sound. 45:07 min. Courtesy of the artist and Lisson Gallery.
3 p.m.: Trevor Mathison and Edward George, Three Songs on Pain, Light and Time, 1995. Digital Betacam, color, sound. 22:11 min. Courtesy of the artists and Lisson Gallery.
3:30 p.m.: John Akomfrah, Seven Songs for Malcolm X, 1993. 16mm film transferred to video, color, sound. 52:45 min. Courtesy of the artist and Lisson Gallery.
Essay Film Festival Prelude 1: Videoletters. Stephen Dwoskin + Robert Kramer @Birkbeck_BIMI #essayfilm
Stephen Dwoskin + Robert Kramer, France, 1991, Betacam SP or digital
In the first Essay Film Festival Prelude we present the rarely screened series of video letters exchanged between the filmmakers Robert Kramer and Stephen Dwoskin made between February and June 1991.
Steve Dwoskin on the video letters: “It was more like writing, in that you didn’t have to involve anyone else in it. Not including editing was again like doing a written letter – you don’t really edit your letters when you write to friends – so the idea was simply to just do whatever we could in the camera.”
Robert Kramer on the video letters: “I used to spend a lot of time thinking about the letter, and where to start and how to do it. I would plan this whole thing out. There’s a lot of that feeling which does merge film and performance. I like the tension that’s in that situation and try and work it all out physically. It’s another way of thinking about mise en scene.”
Supported by Documentaire sur grand écran and LUX Artists Moving Image.
(Event) Essay Film Now @_TheWhitechapel Sat 21 Jan 2017, 2–6pm
Join a special event dedicated to the art of the Essay Film, featuring the work of four diverse filmmakers shortlisted for the Arts Foundation Essay Film Award and a discussion with writer Sophie Mayer.
The shortlist, comprising Charlie Lyne, Marianna Simnett, Sam Stevens and Sarah Wood each approach the genre of the Essay Film from diverse perspectives in their practice.
Charlie Lyne’s films use existing footage cleverly pieced together to reveal disconcerting undertones such as in Beyond Clueless (2014). Sam Stevens‘ centres on ecological, social and political realities in Europe in his film Atlantropa (2009), which imagines a bridge across the straits of Gibraltar. Marianna Simnett uses surrealist techniques in her work to blend real and imagined events into magic-realist morality tales where she often plays protagonist undergoing significant physical duress such as The Needle and the Larynx (2016). Sarah Wood’s practice has been dominated by language. The 2014 work I Am A Spy focuses on archives, evidence and meaning.
Sophie Mayer concludes the event with a discussion on the rich history of the essay film, and its contemporary diversity as seen in the work of the featured artists.