Take a look at Millenium Film Journal’s special issue, No. 51, Experiments in Documentary, edited by Lucas Hildebrand. A strong introductory essay is followed by artist statements/interviews about making work that sits “at the intersections of documentary and experimental practices [where] the duality of actuality and creativity energizes artists to make work that is radically beautiful and fantastically true.”

Artists featured: Michelle Citron, Donigan Cumming, Jeanne Finley and John Muse and Tommy Becker, Sasha Waters Freyer, Su Freidrich, Richard Fung, Barbara Hammer, Adele Horne, myself, Leandro Katz, Ernie Larsen and Sherry Millner, Jesse Lerner, Frederic Moffet, Lynne Sachs, MM Serra, Deborah Stratman, Mark Street, Tran T. Kim-Trang, Liza Johnson and Jonathan Kahana, Tess Takahashi and Julia Meltzer and David Thorne, Peggy Ahwesh, Caroline Koebel, Chie Yamayoshi.

Hildebrand suggests the term “essay film” as a more “elegant term” to describe a “making transparent [of] the maker’s processes of thought and discovery.” I’ll return to this soon, but I’ve been carefully looking at the “essays on film” introduced by Film Studies for Free in a recent post.

CAA: Truth or Dare

March 2, 2009

I got to be on one of those panels that really works. Well curated (by Julie Wyman) with people whose projects bounce off each other so that everyone learns. The other four panelists (Lucas Hildebrand, Adele Horne, Liza Johnson, Julia Meltzer and David Thorne), either writing about or making experimental documentary, made my cynical work on YouTube pop. Just as I was holding YouTube to its ubiquitous irony, allowing only for sarcastic, uncontextualized documentary play, here was a table-full of hot contemporary media artists making work, that I must say, was…sincere. Although we were all on the panel because our interests in “documentary” intersect with fictional strategies, the assembled panelists admitted to using fiction to locate truths about diverse people and places usually left unseen. Now, of course, that sounds like traditional, garden variety documentary. But remember, these are the special documentarians using experimental, fictional strategies; the ones that usually question representational practices, truth claims, meaning. Except these artists, while engaging in truly wonderful and creative strategies of performance and scripting with real people (Eliza), or filming people re-enacting their lives (Adele), were shooting with artfully rendered although truly traditional observational or fictional techniques. Julia and David, in the meantime, pushed us all by showing a straight forward cinema verite rendering of a Qur’an School for girls in Syria. Which led me to note some freakish flip, where the experimental part of their documentary practice in the ironic free fall of YouTube and Bush was to seek clarity, true stories, and according to Lucas Hildebrand a “return to history” and an “implicit humanism.” Imagine.