Quick Thoughts on ‘Social Change’ Media
Oct21

Quick Thoughts on ‘Social Change’ Media

This short piece looks at what Habermas would call the ‘colonisation’ of ‘social change’ by external interests such as those of dominant systems. I am thinking particularly about the colonisation of what has been called ‘social change media’ by profit driven motives, and the way these motives neutralise the radical potentiality of films and film festivals. I conclude with a short film that is an appeal for crowd funding by the newly formed Foundation for Community Change, an initiative that aims to facilitate working class collectivisation in Bristol. In this way I hope to highlight what Larry Daressa has called “the striking disparity between the programs produced [within the category of social change media] and the needs of the audience they purport to serve”. In an essay entitled “Political Mimesis” Jane Gaines points to developments within Western thought since the 1970’s that have seen social change “decoupled from revolution”. This process has been congruent with the solidification of neo-liberal hegemony and the demise of the mainstream political left. As Stuart Hall notes, the key principle to understanding this political shift is the contradiction within social democratic governments that come to act as a point of discipline rather than advancement of working class interests, as they seek solutions to a financial crisis that are agreeable to capital. This contradiction sets the precedent for a re-working of principles across the entire political spectrum, or what Hall has identified as the “swing to the Right” that has occurred within politics and society over the past forty years. Ramifications of this process can be seen across the board. My focus, however, is on the colonisation of practices within education and the media, as the internal interests of those spheres are increasingly subordinated to the profit motives of capital. Salter outlines the problem as such: Practices tend to be situated within institutions…practices are colonised when pressured to adjust to the pursuit of external goods rather than their own internal goods and the goods of the communities in which they take place. When external goods dominate, the practices are prevented from facilitating human flourishing.  This problem can be seen in the extent to which an increasing number of film festivals whose ostensible goal is the instigation of ‘social change’ hold this to be a vehicle for ‘social entrepreneurialism’. Examples include the Social Media Film Festival, which screens “films about social media, social change and technology” for two days a year in The Mirage Hotel, Las Vegas. The main sponsor is LeClair Ryan, a law firm that specialise in corporate law and litigation, or helping “clients achieve their business objectives while managing and minimising their legal...

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Forging a Constellation: The Memory Strategies of Patricio Guzman
Sep11

Forging a Constellation: The Memory Strategies of Patricio Guzman

Since the release of Battle of Chile/La Battalla de Chile over the course of three years (1975, 1976, 1979) the films of Patricio Guzman have become internationally renowned for the director’s auterism and sensitivity towards his subject matter: Chile. Guzman’s films are analyses of a country scarred by the events of September 11th 1973, when a CIA backed coup overthrew the popular Socialist government of Salvador Allende, leading to the kidnapping, incarceration and death of over 30’000 people. The mnemonic wound caused by such an event has manifested as a national culture of amnesia that has lasted well into the country’s transition to democracy. The intention of Guzman’s films is to resist this culture, in which “the post-dictatorial media landscape continuously projects new images that establish an amnesiac flow of insubstantial data” (Cisneros 2006: 59). This mode of resistance involves the use of memory strategies that utilise film’s chronotopic (space-time) potentiality, re-forging the disconnected past and present. In other words, re-forging memory. Against the overabundance of hyperstimulus pervaded by neo-liberalism Guzman pits a strategy of decelerated storytelling that embraces a poetics of signs, fashioning an aesthetic environment that allows for a more paced consideration than that permitted by “the speed culture of globalisation” (ibid). Guzman’s films pool together signs, creating a constellation of memory before taking their place as a constituent part of that constellation, a process that illustrates “the incorporation of living memory in a public construction of history” (Chanan 2007: 269) and constitutes an act of what Derrida calls “consignation…through gathering together signs” as well as the “institutional implementation” of the text, its admission to collective memory as an archive (Derrida 1996: 3, 4). Here I want to show how the sensible and material display of signs in Guzman’s Nostalgia For The Light/Nostalgia de la Luz (2010) makes possible the re-examination of the lived experience of history and acts as a catalyst for the forging of memory. We can gain a better understanding of Guzman’s memory strategy by analysing Jacques Ranciere’s definition of memory as “the work of fiction” (Ranciere 2006: 158). Here the word fiction is not used in the singular sense ‘a work of fiction’. Rather, it is derived from the original fingere, meaning to construct or forge. Memory is subject to ongoing construction, the subjective assemblage of data from the objective world, which is then archived pending its re-examination in respect to new data. Cinema is the art best equipped to represent the operations of memory because it is “the combination of the gaze of the artist who decides and the mechanical gaze that records, of constructed images and chance images” (Ranciere 2006: 161)....

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Building Bristol: Memory, Monuments and Power
Aug26

Building Bristol: Memory, Monuments and Power

Text by Anthony Killick and Lee Salter In this film Edson Burton asserts that “where people are disenfranchised from sources of knowledge the space opens up for new ways of understanding”. One of the purposes of the film is to facilitate this process. The opportunity to re-examine certain histories through the practice of film-making allows us to derive new interpretations, against what Burton describes as the “homogenous, imperial discourse”. In Representation and the Media, Stuart Hall highlights the importance of  this form of counter-hegemonic cultural production. Culture, he says, is our way of making sense of the world. It is giving meaning to things through frameworks of understanding, without which communication would be impossible. When these frameworks are dominated by powerful social and political forces, so culture is shaped by those same forces. What we say, and how we say it, is subject to subtle, indirect interference by external agents. To put it in Habermasian terms, our life-world becomes colonised by the interests and rationale of economic and political systems. We begin to chase private, individualistic ‘goods’ over the common, shared goods of the community. In turn, we reproduce the frameworks of meaning that oriented us in this way via the externalisation of culture through language and other forms of communication. Capital reproduces itself, then, by colonising culture, restricting the horizon of possible meanings to those permitted by dominant powers. The task of the independent filmmaker is to resist colonisation, opening up the possibility for the creation of meanings through experimentation with new discursive strategies. This counter-hegemonic practice falls under the banner of the political avant-garde, experimenting while creating texts that are accessible to those of us who are culturally colonised to various degrees. In return, filmmaking is the medium through which we realise theory in the concrete world. Many social theorists, from Michel Foucault to Henri Lefebvre, have considered how the structure and architecture of cities reflect dominant relations and their historical roots in what Lefebvre called the “social production of space”. Building Bristol: Memory, Monuments and Power investigates these relations by considering the meaning of two of Bristol’s bridges, one the great Clifton Suspension Bridge and the other the less well-known “Pero’s Bridge”, constructed as an attempt to commemorate Bristol’s slaving past....

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Cannibals at the Carnival: Cinema Novo and Marginal Cinema
Jul27

Cannibals at the Carnival: Cinema Novo and Marginal Cinema

The Brazilian Cinema Novo is widely regarded as a staple feature in the history of avant-garde cinema. Throughout the 1960’s and early 70’s, Novo filmmakers participated in a broader movement of cultural transformation that was entwined with the politics of ‘modernising’ and ‘developing’ the nation. This period constitutes the birth of modern Brazilian cinema, the success of which “is the result of many years of struggle by filmmakers determined to create a strong film industry in that country” (Johnson 1984: 1). The struggle was bound up with the socio-political landscape in which Novo was situated. What began as a decade of popular optimism in Brazil gave way to military dictatorship and institutionalised repression. In response, Cinema Novo became increasingly radical, evolving “through a series of discernible phases, each of which corresponds to a specific sociopolitical conjuncture” (ibid). The purpose of this essay is not to examine the intricate changes of the form and content of Novo across these phases. Rather, it is to chart the centrifugal direction of it in relation to cultural traditions within Brazil. I call this direction a centrifugal one because, as well as corresponding to specific sociopolitical conjunctures, it represents a movement away from centres of power towards the marginalised elements of society. Conducive with this movement is the tendency towards cannibalism, a specific trope that falls under the broader concept of the carnivalesque. I will argue, therefore, that the movement from Cinema Novo to Marginal Cinema represents a shift from carnival to specifically cannibal strategies. The dialectical nature of this shift should be noted, as it stems from increasing political repression and is bound up with a nationalistic yet ‘tri-continental’ counter-hegemonic position. As Paul Willemen notes “a cinema that seeks to engage with the questions of national specificity from a critical or counterhegemonic position is by definition a minority and a poor cinema, dependent on the existence of a larger multinational or nationalised industrial sector” (Willemen 28: 2006). The foundation of my analyses are the cultural theories of Mikhail Bakhtin. While Bakhtin never wrote about cinema or Latin America, his theories on the carnivalesque have been deployed by many scholars to gain an understanding of Latin American traditions and cultures. Situated under the broad umbrella of the carnivalesque, the Bakhtinian concepts of dialogism and centrifugal speech are evident in the reaction of Cinema Novo to increasing political repression on the part of the Brazilian state. The two films analysed here: Glauber Rocha’s Land in Anguish (1967) and, to a lesser extent, Rogerio Sganzerla’s Red Light Bandit (1969) represent the different strategies of Novo and Marginal during a period of transition from the former to...

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Robocop and the Phenomenology of Corporate Totalitarianism
Jul09

Robocop and the Phenomenology of Corporate Totalitarianism

The movies are peculiarly well suited to make manifest the union between mind and body, mind and world, and the expression of one in the other (Merleau-Ponty 1964: 58). Because filmic texts appeal directly to the senses they reflect the immanence of our experience of reality. Both film and phenomenology take as their starting point the bodily experience of the subject in the world as an embodied mind, as well as an expression of their being in the world. Films depiction of different sensory qualities working in conjunction with each other helps us to recognise the nature of our own experience. In this way it shows us a “synaesthesia, the working together of different senses…the essence of perception as we actually live it…functioning as a whole in our active involvement with the world” (Matthews 2002: 137). We witness the inherence of the body-subject in the world by way of our own inherence, that is, the inherence of the audience as body-subjects in the world. Film, Merleau-Ponty says, is also a “temporal gestalt” in that one part of it (whether it be a single component such as lighting, or a single scene within the narrative) is not sufficient for an explanation of the whole. The film can only be properly understood as it plays out, and in this way we grasp its “meaning” as a whole (Merleau-Ponty 1964: 54). Film thus reflects personal history in that meaning is constructed by the body-subject through a intra-subjective unity of the embodied mind and the world, and it is only by grasping all aspects of this unity that the body-subject can be fully understood. The Bazinian duree portraying the immanence of reality to a text seems to be a worthy bridge between the “temporal gestalt” and the history of the body-subject in the real world. Concurrences between film and phenomenology arise from Merleau-Ponty’s conception of the relationship between the self and the world as unified in the body-subject. Mind and body are inseparable, as are embodied mind and world. As body-subjects we have intentions based on the specific perspective of our bodies in the world. This view embodies “not only our literal spatial position but our active purposes and emotions” (Matthews 2002: 68).  The world is experienced in relation to these perspective based purposes and emotions, and in that sense objects have meaning. This theory defies both Cartesian dualism and materialism, the clash between which reflects the differences between empirical and rational accounts of sense experience. The 19th century German philosopher F.W.J Schelling attempted to resolve these differences in his System of Transcendental Idealism (1800). Schelling wanted to unify theoretical and practical philosophy...

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Spaces of Resistance: Film Festivals and Anti-capitalism
Jun19

Spaces of Resistance: Film Festivals and Anti-capitalism

Film festivals have always operated as nodes in a network of global power relations. Set within this field of social and economic tensions, they act as spaces in which our view of the world is formed through our interaction with films. The ways in which these spaces operate, and their relations to other spaces, result from “complex dynamics of local and global forces, always defined by the physical place in which the event is organised, but at the same time embedded in an international circuit” (de Valck, Loist 2008: 187). Since the establishment of Cannes in direct response to Venice (originally setup by Mussolini) film festivals have played a role in the geo-political strategy of governments. Indeed, the establishment by occupation forces of the Berlin Film Festival in 1951 was done with the intention of showcasing Western democracy to the population of the Eastern half of the city. As power shifts, and the dissemination of the means of representation makes it possible for more people to make films, film festivals have become local as well as global affairs. If, as de Valck and Loist suggest, “the city, much more than the nation, has come to define festivals identity and functional logics” (ibid) then the possibility for smaller scale festivals to have an impact on the city and it’s communities is a converse effect of this trajectory. Occurrences such as these present activist groups with the chance to organise film festivals that are more distanced from the market than their ‘independent’ predecessors, such as the Sundance and Toronto film festivals. One advantage of this is that it allows for the screening of politically radical films, including those that openly advocate the destruction of global capitalism. Here I want to draw on Mark Neocleous’ work in Radical Philosophy to analyse these spaces of resistance in relation to other activist and/or human rights film festivals that offer mere resilience to the effects of capitalism. Because of their lack of political radicalism, these latter festivals are part of what Solanas and Getino would call the ‘left-wing’ or ‘alternative’ arm of capitalism, fulfilling “the prospect of becoming ‘the youthful, angry wing of society’- that is, of neocolonialised or capitalist society” (Solanas, Getino 1968). This argument provides the basis for my conclusions on film festivals as spaces of resistance, which are influenced by Mikhail Bakhtin’s theories on the carnivalesque and the pedagogy devised by Paolo Friere in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Applying these theories to an argument on film festivals allows us to see the ways in which such spaces operate as sites of political and cultural transgression, in which the act of...

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