For Neda: Verite in Context

June 22, 2010

While I’d be the first to admit that For Neda is not a particularly “good” documentary, in that it does not deliver many (or any) of the complex and inter-related things I hope for more profound uses of the genre (artful uses of form; compelling discourse about documentary itself, its form, ethics, meaning, or truth claims; new or insightful interpretations about the world that it documents; unexpected or usually invisible visions or voices from the “real” world or people in it), it does provide the “context” I had previously suggested needs to accompany viral verite images on YouTube. The documentary tells the back story of the life and death of Neda Agha-Soltan, a spirited young Iranian woman, willing to engage in (and die for) activism around her civil rights. For Neda interviews her family and friends, as well as a host of articulate and passionate scholars, journalists, and activists who inform us about the political situation in contemporary Iran. With an hour of relatively run-of-the mill although nevertheless informative investigative documentary reporting around it (and by all accounts it was quite daring and difficult to get this to-be-expected footage, given the regime’s violent censorship of her story) a short image of iconic martrydom caught on tape, standing for all suffering (and death) in the name of injustice, relayed around the world with little informative context adhering to it other than the chaotic protest itself, transforms into a different sort of media altogether, now anchored to a real person, place and time, to an analysis, and thereby becoming less effective, at least as a simplistic easily movable slogan for generic activism. Which would you prefer?

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