Spirit of Coutinho

This video presents an overview of the work of the Brazilian filmmaker Eduardo Coutinho (1933-2014), one of the most original documentarists of recent decades, whose films remain shamefully little known in the English-speaking world.

Read an accompanying discussion of the themes and preoccupations of his work here.

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Thinking Creative Practice on Campus

The symposium on audiovisual creative practice held at Roehampton University on June 14th, ‘Image Movement Story’, threw up an issue that reflects the incoherence of the research policies that fund our activities. On the one hand, judging from the wide range of projects under discussion, including work by supervisors of creative practice PhDs as well as their students, the sector is in rude health.  On the other, as Eric Knudson pointed out in his keynote, the research council is now disbursing more money to fewer projects than it used to. Why is this a problem? Because what the sector is now achieving is in good part the result of years of nurturing it through a range of small research grants, which have largely disappeared with the new emphasis on large scale collaborative projects with the potential for something called ‘impact’ (which I’ve written about before). This leaves open the question of support for smaller projects, early career researchers, etc.—and the perennial problem of doctoral funding. Continue reading

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Avi Mograbi: A fly in the soup

 Here’s a piece I’ve written on the Israeli documentarist for Sight & Sound:

Variety calls him a “gadfly documaker” and Cineaste quotes his own self-evaluation: “If some [filmmakers] see themselves as a fly on the wall, I see myself as a fly in the soup”. In short, he is a performative documentarist, like Nick Broomfield, Michael Moore or Nanni Moretti, who acts himself up on screen: a playful and self-deprecating video diarist with attitude — and split-screen personality disorder. Part of this attitude is a rejection of Zionist orthodoxies and solidarity with the Palestinians; part is a deep distrust of the orthodox idea of objectivity. Reality isn’t punctual. As Mograbi puts it, it is never there in itself and it’s always already being interpreted for us all the time. Besides, there is no such thing as a transparent camera; no way, for example, you can introduce a camera at a checkpoint without the soldiers noticing. The camera has a certain power: ”You can almost blackmail everyone into behaving better.” Whatever the situation, people respond to the camera, whether explicitly or not.But the intervention of the camera also has a tendency to backfire on you.

Read the full article: Chanan on Mograbi

Avi Mograbi

Avi Mograbi is a special guest at Open City Docs Fest in London (17-22 June). See opencitydocsfest.com for details.

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Latin America in Tübingen

In the world of film studies, Germany is a country not much associated with the investigation of Latin American cinema, but here we were, gathering in the small university town of Tübingen for a Spanish-speaking symposium on ‘Encuadrando La Dictadura en el Cine Latinoamericano’—’Framing Dictatorship in Latin American Cinema’.  It’s an odd sensation, going some place where you don’t speak the native language for a gathering that’s conducted in another language altogether. You end up addressing the waitress in the restaurant in Spanish—who then replies in Spanish, and you’re no longer quite sure where you are!

simposio small

Convened by Sebastian Thies and intended as the founding event of a new (and peripatetic) Forum for Iberamerican Audiovisual Studies, the range of papers was impressive, with sessions on feminine militancy, testimonial, discourses of exile, violence on the screen, propaganda and power, memory and the archive, and the commodification of memory. Continue reading

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Eduardo Coutinho In Memoriam

Poetic injustice. The terrible irony of it. On the same day, the news that the US actor Philip Seymour Hoffman has died from a heroine overdose, and the veteran Brazilian filmmaker Eduardo Coutinho, has been stabbed to death by his son, who is reported to suffer from schizophrenia. (According to a BBC report, the police told a press conference that the son ‘knocked on a neighbour’s door after the attack saying he had “liberated his father”.’) I learn about the first from the mass media, the second from Facebook, in posts from Latin American friends and colleagues, who over the next few hours register a huge outpouring of shock and grief, for Coutinho was well known and much loved. In Latin America, that is, because Coutinho was a documentarist. Still active at the age of 80, his work was little known elsewhere. The more’s the pity, because he was one of the most original of contemporary filmmakers in any field. Continue reading

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An Encounter with Miklós Jancsó

The Round-Up (1965), The Red and the White (1967), The Confrontation (1969), Red Psalm (1972): the films of Miklós Jancsó were one of the most exciting discoveries of radical cinema in Europe in the late 1960s, but hearing of his death last Friday at the age of 92 brings back a personal memory, for at the very beginning of my career as a film maker, I had a brief but hugely positive encounter with him. I interviewed him when he came to London for the opening of The Confrontation in 1969, and me a young film and music critic just then finishing my first short documentary for the BBC. Continue reading

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New? Latin American? Cinema?

The proper title of Havana’s annual film festival, founded in 1979, is the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema – Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano.  The words mark the Festival’s identification with a movement that was born in the 1960s, in the diverse endeavours of a new generation of filmmakers across the continent. The Festival remains a model of its kind after thirty-five years, the programme not only full of films in cinemas across town but also workshops and masterclasses of all sorts. This year’s centre-piece seminar (in which I was privileged to be one of the panelists) boldly addressed the Festival’s very raison d’être, under the title ¿Nuevo? ¿Cine? ¿Latinoamericano? – ‘New? Latin American? Cinema?’ It went along with perhaps the strangest festival promo you’ve ever seen, beautifully made by Pavel Giroud, in which an old projectionist switches off his projector, takes the reel off and goes and buries it.

YouTube Preview Image

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Did Allan Francovich get it right?

A forgotten documentary about Lockerbie

On the eve of the 25th anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing, Channel 4 News has broadcast a very interesting report claiming that  Abdelbaset al-Megrahi wasn’t the Lockerbie bomber, and Libya wasn’t the country responsible, but that the bombing was actually carried out by a Palestinian terrorist group backed by Hisbollah, to avenge the 290 lives lost when Iran Air flight 665 was accidentally shot down by a US battleship over the Persian Gulf a few months before Lockerbie. The claims were made in recently discovered US court depositions by a CIA agent, Richard Fuisz, at the request of defence lawyers for al-Megrahi and Lamin Fhimah, who were on trial at the time for the bombing, but they came too late to be used at the trial.

This is substantially the same interpretation of events that is put forward in great detail in a forgotten documentary, The Maltese Double Cross (1994), by the American director Allan Francovich (1941-1997), who was also responsible for a number of films about the CIA, including the award-winning  On Company Business (1980). Continue reading

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