This is how I remember Richard Attenborough—setting up a shot for Oh! What a Lovely War, in a photo I took myself. He’s the one in the hat. The news of his death takes me back to where I started, because that first film of his as director was also the occasion for my own first effort at filmmaking, and I’m eternally grateful to him for the chance (rare in those days) to have made a film of the filming.
When Sight & Sound sent out their invitation to contribute to their best documentaries poll, I’m afraid I bottled out, and sent this response.
Thanks for inviting me to contribute to Sight & Sound’s best documentaries poll. I’m afraid the task has defeated me. There are certainly some films which come to mind immediately, starting with classic titles like Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera, Ruttmann’s Berlin, Symphony of a City, and Vigo’s A propos de Nice—if you’ve written about documentary history, you start thinking chronologically, but the result would be ten or a dozen films for each decade. I’ve already got a list like that—I give it to my students—but it’s not what you want. Yet it includes a good number of little known gems—for example, Les Raquetteurs by Groulx and Brault, Marisol Trujillo’s Prayer, Jorge Furtado’s Island of Flowers—which for me encapsulate essential aspects of documentary. Should these be dropped in favour of bigger numbers, like, I don’t know, Pennbaker’s Don’t Look Back, Jean-Pierre Gorin’s Poto and Cabengo, Paul Leduc’s ABC del Etnocidio, or Moretti’s Dear Diary? OK, that’s ten titles already, and I haven’t even started. Continue reading
This is drawn from from a longer project, ‘Interrupted Memory’, an inquiry into the character of political memory filmed in Chile and Argentina in 2013.
A remarkable discussion has taken place on Meccsa, an academic mailing list for media, communications and cultural studies, sparked off by my previous blog, Behind the News from Gaza. With more than 150 messages in three days, very little of it had anything to do with what I actually wrote, and I’ve no complaint about that—it’s just one of the dynamics at work on the internet, and that’s what made it so interesting. The discussion was kicked off almost immediately by a doubting response from a list member in Israel, which gave me the feeling that she hadn’t read the full blog on Putney Debater but reacted impulsively to the snippet which appeared on the list. Thirty-six messages later, a correspondent posted the information that Elina Bardach-Yalov is listed on Linked In as a former Political Communications advisor for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Continue reading
When the issues become too sharp and the contradictions too blatant, the news media are severely challenged to contain them within normal bounds. They generally try to keep stories apart in order not to have them contaminate each other, but just recently this became impossible. The events in Gaza and Ukraine are not directly connected, yet in the mediasphere they became coupled by their coincidence in time and their jostling day by day for the top story slot. As a result, it was impossible not to see, for example, the shameless hypocrisy of the British Prime Minister berating France for selling warships to Russia while everyone’s military support for Israel continues unabated. In Britain’s case, it has emerged that the value of all British military exports to Israel currently being processed stands at £7.9 billion, including a single deal last year worth more than £7.7 billion for cryptographic technology. Continue reading
For readers of my book on the history of recording, Repeated Takes, a musician blogger in North Carolina, John H. Davis, has recently posted a set of photos and video clips to go with the book. Kudos.
Snippets of Repeated Takes
Posted in Music
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.
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
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.
Avi Mograbi is a special guest at Open City Docs Fest in London (17-22 June). See opencitydocsfest.com for details.
Here’s my obituary for Eduardo Coutinho,
(from the Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies)
Chanan on Countinho