“The films presented here make propositions or ‘escape routes’ from exhausted classical documentary forms … The overall aim is a gradual construction of an alternative history—a history that has at times been blocked, repressed, censored or hijacked … the films selected ask and often answer the complex question of how political resistance can be articulated in forms that are not only appositely representative of resistance but also embody that shape-shifting in their own diverse historical moments and contradictions.” Sherry Millner and Ernest Larsen


Watching Program 1 of Disruptive Film at a screening at Anthology Film Archives, I was taken by how the featured filmmakers, spanning fifty years of resistance to police violence around the globe, used a variety of representational practices to counter an easy, tit-for-tat retreat to revealing “real” “hard truths” in the face of either unseen or misrepresented state-sanctioned violence. This is to say that familiar realist practices employed to expose brutal truths that have been covered up through state-sanctioned censorship, deception, manipulation and repression may reveal said truths, but not the more complex, insidious systems of seeing, saying, and knowing that produce and cement the logic of violence that produces and authorizes the brutality in the first place. Filmmaking, as difficult and unfamiliar as this may be, that challenges viewers to contemplate how media (and state) “truth” is made, who owns it, how it circulates, how it pleases us, how it becomes familiar, and how to disrupt it by using other systems of seeing, showing, and knowing, may be a most necessary strategy of resistance in these, just as in other times.

See More Escape Experimental Routes:



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.

Here we have the 2009 Oscar nominated foreign film, The Class (Entre les Murs) exhibiting the real will and best practices of an experimental documentary: actual teacher and real students playing version of themselves in a classroom-bound, talky depiction of what and how it means to teach and learn how to be “French” in present-day multi-racial France. Disaffected from the “Camemberts” who are their chalky white and cheesy teachers, these African, Asian, Arab, and European French kids insolently and understandably find little of value from the lessons, histories, and manners dictated to them by their bourgie once-colonizers. The film presents few answers, but lots of points of view, often changing, about the meaning of education, discipline, and cross-cultural respect. Its “simple” “documentary” form allows the viewer to watch the ethics of complex social interactions play out in scene after scene lacking, or re-thinking closure, about who should be in control, and how things might change.

Meanwhile, Witnesses (Les Temoins) shows them camemberts at their unselfconscious and stereotypical worst. Revisiting the scene of AIDS arrival in France in the mid-80s, it utilizes the overly-sexed, sentimental style of dominant French cinema (everyone looks and walks like a model) to deflate the fear, anger, and the community engendered in the earliest days of HIV into a weepy set of bi-sexual love and loss stories. Boo hoo. As I’ve written about in this blog, at length, revolution (and other complex social dramas) demand more than a love story. Mainstream cinema’s will for closure, story, identification, and simplicity yet again proves only to disallow its much needed participation as a potent vessel for our engagement in the politics of culture: so, heres to the ballsy cinema experiment once again!

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.