You might remember that a few weeks ago, i was in Ghent, Belgium, for Almost Cinema. The festival was not only featuring artworks, concerts and performances which subverted, reinvented or repositioned the ordinary cinema experience, it also dedicated a whole day to a symposium where artists and theorists interrogated the ambiguous relationships between documentary film and reality.
To what extent can a reel of film capture reality--if this is possible at all--and when can we say that it calls a new reality into being? Do not most films oscillate between 'document' and 'argument'; that is, between representing, rewriting and creating reality? Moreover, what strategies do artists use to document our daily lives? Is the detour through alienation and animation perhaps the proper way to make an outright and truthful work? Do new developments in technological media provide new opportunities for documentary artists? Finally, how do these artistic experiments and their problems represent the culture we live in?
The Documentary Real was probably the most satisfying conference i attended this year. I had planned to write down my notes from some of my favourite talks when Robrecht Vanderbeeken from KASK (the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent) informed me that the videos of the symposium were online. I'll particularly recommend the talk of Curator Katerina Gregos who gave a fascinating overview of what she calls 'the Elastic Documentary", artist Jasper Rigole showed us the charming videos he makes using movies he found on flea markets, researcher and curator Edwin Carels shared some fascinating insights about animation and Duncan Speakman explained how mobile media can help shape new documentary practices.
The Documentary Real was an initiative of Robrecht Vanderbeeken, KASK (Faculty of Fine Arts, University College Ghent) in collaboration with Vooruit and Filmfestival Ghent with the support of VAF Flanders Image.
To many of their fellow Israelis, they are traitors. They are attacked, arrested and demonised. Yet Israelis like Yehuda Shaul, leader of Breaking the Silence and Jonathan Pollack from Anarchists Against the Wall continue to struggle for a more peaceful Middle East. They believe that they can save their state by putting an end to the military occupation. But the Israeli peace movement has lost momentum in recent years. There is widespread apathy in Israel against ending the Occupation, especially after the withdrawal from Gaza. 'Israel vs Israel' takes a fresh look at one of the leading tensions in Israeli society.
Trailer of the documentary:
Israel vs Israel follows 4 Israeli peace activists: a grand mother, a veteran soldier, a rabbi and a young anarchist. The one hour long documentary was directed by Terje Carlsson. I had liked his previous documentary, Welcome to Hebron, so much that Carlsson was kind enough to send me a copy of the dvd.
Palestinians living in in the West Bank and wishing to go to work, attend classes at school, deliver milk or simply get to the hospital on time have to go through checkpoints, roadblocks and other obstacles. There are hundreds of them in the West Bank. Even going from one Palestinian area to another involves barriers and documents. Queuing for two hours is nothing exceptional. My heart bled when the documentary showed old ladies standing under the sun holding a permit that would allow them to visit a relative or pray. Could i imagine my grand-mother going through that?
Ronny Perlman, the Jerusalem coordinator of Checkpoint Watch, goes regularly to a checkpoint and documents violations of human rights of the Palestinians. She tries and intervenes in favour of a father trying to get his young child to the doctor, she discusses with the soldiers, chitchats with the women waiting for their turn to cross the checkpoint. She is one of the many Israeli women based in Israel who take a peaceful stand against the occupation of the territories and the repression of the Palestinian nation.
A moving scene in the documentary shows Perlman talking to her son who is serving as a soldier. They have a conversation about the occupation and the army. The theme is taboo in many families. She hopes her grandson will never have to carry a gun, her son differs and says that, once he is 18, his will probably have to kill 'Arabs' to defend his country.
The consensus view of the international community is that the building of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is illegal under international law, although Israel disagrees. B'Tselem reckons that more than fifty percent of the land of the West Bank has been expropriated from Palestinian owners "mainly to establish settlements and create reserves of land for the future expansion of the settlements". Palestinian farmers are prevented from tending to their crops, their olive trees are cut, their houses demolished.
Rabi Arik Ascherman stands between the soldiers and the farmers, sometimes he even stands between the bulldozer and a Palestinian house that has to be destroyed.
Ascherman insists that RHR works for the human rights of Jews, Palestinians and foreign workers alike. It has indeed condemned both Israelis and Palestinians, while recognizing that it is Israel who holds most of the power.
The third activist portrayed by the documentary is Yehuda Shaul, founder of Breaking the Silence, an organization of veteran Israeli soldiers that collects testimonies of soldiers who served in the Occupied Territories during the Second Intifadah. Soldiers who serve in the Territories are witness to, and participate in military actions which change them immensely. Cases of abuse towards Palestinians, looting, and destruction of property have been the norm for years, but are still excused as military necessities, or explained as extreme and unique cases.
Shaul served in Hebron and as he half-joked "In Israel, people shouldn't be allowed to vote before they visit Hebron." Israel vs Israel includes images from Terje Carlsson's previous documentary Welcome to Hebron (i can only recommend you to watch it on youtube: part 1, 2 and 3.) Although it is the second time i saw those images, they shocked me deeply: children of settlers throwing stones and spitting at Palestinian school girls, kids shouting "Slaughter the Arabs!" and other scenes i wish i had never seen:
Shaul appears as incredibly honest and brave. Not only has he to live with what he has done to Palestinian civilians while he was part of the army, but now he also has to face abuse from settlers who call him a traitor and a terrorist. Like all the activists portrayed in the documentary, Shaul cares deeply for Israel. He explains that one has to chose between the land of Israel or the State of Israel with the democracy and equality that it entails.
Videos reports and testimonies uploaded by Breaking the Silence.
Pollack and AAW have embarked on a grassroot, nonviolent crusade against the seizure of Palestinian land for Israel's construction of its -illegal- wall and settlements in the territories. He has been injured, arrested and imprisoned several times for his solidarity actions with Palestinian villagers.
Israel vs Israel is as painful and uncomfortable as it is necessary and gripping. It made me sad and angry. As a European who cares for human rights, i'm often exposed to the works of US or European ONG and activists. I've heard the voice of Palestinians, of foreign observers, of concerned reporters. For the first time, i get to see a video that portrays Israelis (some of them Zionists) who care for their country as much as they care for the respect of basic human rights.
I hope Israel vs Israel comes to your town soon. Doc Lounge Göteborg will kick off their autumn programme with "Israel vs Israel" on September 21, 2010. Screenings are scheduled in Stockholm, Göteborg, Karlstad and Malmö in late September. Screenings outside Sweden are planned for later this year. Join the facebook group for updates.
Filmmaker Terje Carlsson is a freelance journalist based for many years in Jerusalem, working mostly for Swedish National Radio and Television. During the last decade, he has produced shorter documentaries and features from ex-Yugoslavia, South Africa and different parts of the Middle East. His first feature documentary, Welcome to Hebron, was released in 2008. The film won several awards at festivals all over the world. TV broadcasters from more than 10 countries around the world bought the rights for broadcast.
Another Israeli organization worth mentioning: B'TSELEM - The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. Please add a comment if you know of others.
See also Friday Film Pick: Unrecognized, Architects out of Ariel, Facing jail, the unarmed activist who dared to take on Israel, Walking Through Walls, an essay by Eyal Weizman.
I never paid much attention to the machinima genre so far. The FILE Machinima section of the FILE festival in Sao Paulo proved me how wrong i was. Many of the movies selected by Curator Fernanda Albuquerque de Almeida are indeed little gems. I'll just mention Wizard Of OS: The fish incident by Tom Jantol, a short based on Nikola Tesla's notes on his experiment with a mysterious antivirus device he named "The Wizard of OS" and Clockwork, by Ian Friar aka Iceaxe. Set in the totalitarian Republic of Britain, Clockwork tells the story of a police officer on a mission to track down an "undesirable".
The movie that received most attention from both the public and the members of the File Prix Lux however is War of Internet Addiction, a machinima advocacy production that voices the concerns of the mainland Chinese World of Warcraft community. Although the machinima was created with WoW players in mind, the video strikes a chord with the broader public by pointing the finger to the lack of Internet freedom in the country and conveying a general feeling of helplessness.
The main frustration of mainland Chinese WoW players is that the access to the game has been limited and interrupted for months because of a conflict between two government regulatory bodies. The video also denounces battles and issues that took place in China over the previous 15 months or so: electroshock therapy for purported internet addiction (the Health Ministry has mercifully asked for the treatment to stop); the government's attempts to enforce installations on all new pc sold in mainland China of the Green Dam Youth Escort filter; the competition between the county's primary game servers over licensing renewal rights, etc.
Players are also tired of being stigmatized by mainstream media as 'addicts' because of their love of game or simply because they tend to spend hours in front of their computer. The character of the villain of the film, Yang Yongxin, is actually based on a psychiatrist who used shock-therapy to treat so-called "Internet Addiction."
Within days of its release the 64-minute video was banned from a few video sites in China, but that didn't prevent the movie from becoming even more popular on-line than Avatar nor from winning the Best Video award in the Tudou Video Film awards for online films and animations in an awards ceremony that some see as China's version of Sundance. The machinima also received an honorable mention at FILE Prix Lux. Not bad for a zero budget film made in 3 months with the help of 100 volunteers who cooperated through the Internet.
Warning! Many of the jokes, memes and references in War of Internet Addicition are hard to grasp if you're not familiar with Chinese net culture. Fortunately, a public document listing the background information has been posted posted online.
Interview with Corndog, director, script writer and coordinator of the movie, on WSJ.
See also: Homo Ludens Ludens - Gold Farmers.
Previous entries about FILE festival: Heart Chamber Orchestra, Scrapbook from the ongoing FILE festival and Feeding the Tardigotchi. The FILE exhibition is open until August 29, 2010. Address: Fiesp - Ruth Cardoso Cultural Center - Av. Paulista, 1313, São Paulo - Metro Trianon-Masp.
She's not only a graduate of Design Interactions (RCA, London), she's also Sputniko!, a Japanese pop star whose music, videos, performances and electronic devices explore themes of technology, gender and pop culture.
Hiromi is the author of devices such as the Pénis Cybernétique (i'm sure your french is fluent enough to make sense of the words) and Crowbot Jenny, a dark-haired girl who goes around urban park carrying on her shoulder a crow-shaped robot that can communicate with crows and turn them into a bird army. Her first dvd album Parakonpe 3000 is a collection of videos which comment on our relationship with technology. There's the "Child Producing Machine" but also the Google Song, "Sputniko! TV: A Children's Program for Newly Born A.I.s" and the Wakki Song (an interactive armpit performance).
More than just a gadget, a video, a song, Sputniko! creates a whole character with its own manga-inspired aesthetics, attributes, super-powers and dynamics. Each of her projects has been produced in collaboration with scientists experts in Zoology, Medicine and Reproductive Science.
She was presenting two new works at the Summer exhibition of the Royal College of Art.
First, a much blogged-about device which, i hope, will soon be added to the collection of the Museum of Menstruation.
The question at the heart of the Menstruation Machine, Takashi's Take is 'It's 2010, so why are humans still menstruating?'
Abdominal pain, headaches, depression, emotional sensitivity, feeling bloated, changes in sex drive and nausea, premenstrual water retention, etc. Not to mention mood swings. Why do women still have to go through that?
Women are in good company though. just like them, chimpanzees and fruit bats need to bleed monthly for their reproductive cycle.
What does Menstruation mean, biologically, culturally and historically, to humans? Who might choose to have it, and how might they have it?
Fitted with a blood dispensing mechanism and lower-abdomen-stimulating electrodes (the same used by your uncle to muscle his abs while watching tv on the sofa, only that Hiromi maxed out the power of the contractions), the Menstruation Machine simulates the pain and bleeding of an average 5 day menstruation.
The machine could be worn by men who desire to feel closer to women and experience what they have to go through, but also by women when menstruation becomes obsolete in the future and the process becomes a mere ritual of gender and identity.
The artist made a music video to illustrate how and by whom the machine could be used.
The video 'Menstruation Machine - Takashi's Take' stars Takashi, a boy who builds the machine in an attempt to understand better what the girls he hang around with experience every month.
Her second project had the same level of fantasy, the same vision of a technocratic future. Sushiborg Yukari is a cyborg designed to serve Sushi on her rotating belt. Her function is to entertain over-worked Japanese businessmen in their after-hours. She is tomorrow's equivalent of Nyotai Mori, the tradition of serving Sushi on naked women.
Given scientists' fondness for young, slick, pretty girl-robots, one would not be surprised to see a sushi cyborg hit the gadget blogs in the future. Sushiborg Yukari, however, is a dissatisfied cyborg.
When Yukari's artificial intelligence develops enough to understand she's little more that a sex object, she starts to slowly and secretly hack herself into a lethal weapon by attaching knives to her own body. And one day, she manages to escape the sushi restaurant....
More works from the RCA show, over here, ladies and gents!
He was showing a witty, wonderfully researched and tactful fake documentary aimed as a subtly subversive introduction for North Koreans into diverse aspects of western culture. The film also explores how design can contribute and impact on a social and cultural level, subtly challenging an ideological status quo.
North Korea is one of the most politically and culturally isolated countries in the world, any foreign influences is systematically rejected. The fact that the first pizzeria opened only last year in the capital Pyongyang, is quite symptomatic of how culturally controlled the country is. I was first tempted to compare the opening of the pizzeria to the one of the first McDonald's fastfood in Moscow but that would be misguided. Only the leader Kim Jong-Il and a handful of wealthy people can afford a Margherita or a Quattro formaggi.
Filmed in South Korea and split into four episodes, Star Pizza introduces North Koreans to typical aspects of Western culture through the eyes of a fictional young couple.
The lovely couple is exposed to Western cuisine with the chapter on How to Make a Pizza; the possibility of going on holiday with the episode about How to Pack a Suitcase To Go Abroad; Western entertainment with How To Become A Trend Leader At Pop Dancing and finally learn How to celebrate Christmas Day.
Since there is no hope that Star Pizza would ever be shown on North Korean tv, Hwang Kim converted his film to 500 DVDs, managed to get in touch with people who smuggle over the North Korean borders from China, and had them distribute the film on the black markets of Pyongyang.
One of the smugglers asked the designer to send him some clothes and shoes for his wife and daughters as a price for this dangerous job.
As Hwang Kim explained me, North Koreans have almost no access to the internet. The only way they can watch films and soap operas from other country is to buy pirate DVD on the black markets of the capital.
All the actors of Star Pizza are South Koreans, casting North Koreans refugees may have threaten their security. To give the illusion that the film was made in North Korea, North Korean refugees gave the actors a one week intensive accent training course. The refugees, living now in London and South Korea gave advice and feedback on all aspect of the film, throughout its production.
Star Pizza is accompanied by a series of specially designed political props that have been inserted into the four episodes and that were also exhibited at the RCA show.
For example, the prop in the second episode of the film is an "Exile Blanket". The young couple is packing a suitcase for their holiday abroad. A Russian-style bed sheet embroidered with the portraits of famous political exiles can be seen in the back of their room. Images of exiles are not allowed to be shown in any kind of media in North Korea. Yet, exile is the only way for North Koreans to travel abroad. According to the UN HCR, over 300,000 North Koreans have already chosen this form of holiday.
The designer chose some of his own favourite exiles for the blanket. From left top, Karl Marx, Dea Joong Kim, Vladimir Lenin, Miklós Horthy, Napoleon Bonaparte, Alejo Carpentier, Aleksandr Danilovich Menshikov, Alfonso XII, Bob Powell, Edward VIII, Ferdinand Marcos, Francisco Goya, Haile Selassie, Sun Yat Sen and Manuel Azaña.
Another prop is the fan that doubles as a radio when you press the buttons in the correct order. Long distance, short wave radios are strictly forbidden in North Korea. In the film, a old fan is used as a vehicle to conceal this type of radio, enabling the protagonists to circumvent the regulations. It is a playful proposal for North Koreans on how to develop creative tools of cultural guerrilla.
From the same Platform: Nomadic Sound Systems.
While in Montreal i saw a wonderful video by Laurent Grasso at the Galerie de l"UQAM. The film was part of a group exhibition, Nomos et Physis, in which four artists explore the various types of relationships we might have with political institutions. The title refers to the Greek debate on the bonds that tie two antagonistic forces: Law and order (Nomos) on the one side and Nature (Physis) on the other.
Grasso's movie, shot in 2009 in The United Arab Emirates, looks at traditional hawk hunting. Except that the hawk gets equipped with light and sophisticated surveillance equipment. Once let to roam free above the land, the bird becomes a spying tool constantly tracked by its owner. The camera records every dune and village the hawk flies over. The images are fascinating but they are also threatening. Who is the man tracking the bird with an antenna? What is he trying to uncover?
The movie and its paranoia-inducing music reminds us that a technique to use pigeons for aerial photography of enemy lines during wars was developed as early as 1907. The practice might not have vanished completely. Two years ago, articles reported that Iranian security forces had captured a pair of "spy pigeons," not far from one of the country's nuclear processing plants.
Previously by Laurent Grasso: Haarp at the GAKONA exhibition in Paris.