Archives For Research Workshop

Jamaica as an adapting and transforming culture, a situation where any nationality or influence would have found its legs. See Chinese Reggae Pioneers

Dealing with the testimonial apparatus…

“What does the comparative project lead us to discover about the limits and potentialities of documentary as public record?” (p3)

“What are the corporeal and performative dimensions of testimony? And how do they compensate for or exacerbate the frailty of memory?”(p3)

A question to myself…what key analytical position underlies my research work and direction?

“Reflecting on the theory and practice of Cuban documentarist Victor Casaus, Michael Chanon remarks that ‘the vocation of documentary is testimonial.'” (p5)

“…the vocation of testimony is archival, and jointly, the vocation of the archive is ethical.” (p5)

Testimony can be seen as a performative act continually in the making, as can documentary filmmaking. I am aiming to study what we think of as moving testimony, and what this means to the filmmaker both ethically and creatively.

“…the presence of a story sharer may attest, again paradoxically, to the impossibility of telling.” (p7)

“…still we would attribute the perceived rawness of video-taped testimony to an impression it conveys rather than an inherent quality of the video testimonial mode. As with literary work, the audio-visual representation of a person, animal, object, or geographical setting is ontologically distinct from the creature or thing itself: video testimony visits but does not inhabit the traumatic past, any more than it does the real.” (p7)

This is one of the key analytical positions I take, and which I base my research on. As the work is ontologically different from the subject itself, to what ethical and creative extent can/must the filmmaker go to create representation. i.e. must a ‘window on reality’ be literal and parade itself as real? (or to what extent)

“Audiovisual testimony, like documentary film, does, however, participate in what Bill Nichols has termed ‘the discourse of sobriety,’ ‘systems’ such as ‘science, economics, politics, foreign relations, education, religion, welfare’ that ‘regard their relation to the real as direct, immediate, transparent.” (p7)

“Audiovisual testimonial utterances are are always already mediated at the level of the speaking subject, whose personal narrative is a product of selection, ordering, interpretation, partnership, prohibition, character, reflection and the vicissitudes of memory; and at the level of the media text.” (p7)

A good way to frame my introduction may be to say that I am interested not just in the ingredients, but the cooking method of cinematographic and video testimony.

Check up on Francis Guerin, and Roger Hallas, “who reject both the mimetic presumption that a moving or still photographic image is an authentic representation of the world it depicts and that images therefore speak for themselves.” (p8)

Guerin and Hallas call on documentary studies to recognise, as they so eloquently put it, ‘the specific ways that the material image enables particular forms of agency in relation to historical traumas across the globe.’

“the testimonial apparatus is performative with regard to the truth and memories of testifying and witnessing.” (p9)

from the Introduction; Patricia R. Zimmerman

“Jim Sharpe has explained that ‘those writing history from below have not only provided a body of work which permits us to know more about the past: they have also made it plain there is a great deal more, much of it secret still lurking in unexplored evidence, which could be known. Thus history from below retains its subversive aura.’ History from below raises questions about the nature of evidence, conceptual models, and methodology.” (p3)

The biography film inevitably crosses paths with the home movie:

“Home movies assume many shapes and elude fixity. Consequently, some home movies are enfolded into other articulations of amateurism, such as industrial or travel or missionary genres. The borders between home movies and these other forms – including narrative film – constantly shift within different historical, cultural, and minority configurations. As unresolved, open texts, home movies operate as a series of transversals, translations, and transcriptions between history and memory, between text and context, between the public and the private.” (p9)

“Developing this line of thought about the political function of history, Tzvetan Todorov has advanced that ‘totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century have revealed the existence of a danger never before imagined: the blotting out of memory. These twentieth century tyrannies have understood that the conquest of men and territories could be accomplished through information and communication and have created a systematic and complete takeover of memory, hoping to control it even in its most hidden excesses.’ F.K Ankersmit has similarly argued that ‘the time has come that we should think about the past, rather than investigate it.’ Similar to Guha and White, Ankersmit argues for a reconceptualisation of history as an interrogation of the incongruities between the past and the present and the invention of new languages for speaking about their juxtaposition. For White the idea of an inert, immobile past that is evidentiary and empirical is a fallacy. He claims, ‘It is impossible to legislate the way people are going to relate to the past because, above all, the past is a place of fantasy. It does not exist anymore. You can’t replicate, by definition, historical events.'” (p17)

An interesting break up of the various elements at play within the biographical doco:

“how to organise a series of seemingly disparate texts from multiple theoretical perspectives (such as those of the scholar, artist, and archivist) and different locations…Others theorise how amateur films operate within independent documentaries as a form of counterhistory.” (p22)

“Rather than continuities or a linear progression, contemporary theory has looked towards contiguities, the idea of spatialising through association and collage, as a way to connect evidence and ideas through conceptual connections rather than causality.” (p23)

From Wittgenstein Tractatus: Personal Reflections on Home Movies (Peter Forgacs)

“…the home movie is not simply an imitation of professional filmmaking, but an attempt to achieve an aesthetic result. The home movie or private film, not unlike the letter and diary, is biographical. It is one of the most adequate means of rembrance. It is a meditation on ‘Who am I?’ The original context of the private film is the home screening rite, the celebration of times past, of recollection, and of hints of the nonverbal realm of communication and symbols. It is a recollection of the desired, intimate vision and aims to immortalize the face of a lover, son, or father, or to capture ephemeral moments, landscapes and rites. The meditation inspired by these screenings is: What has been revealed by making visible that which had remained imperceptible before?” (p49)


Mining the Home Movie: Excavations in Histories and Memories (ed) K.L Ishizuka, P.R Zimmerman, Uni of Cal Press, 2008

The entire Research Workshop category

The ways in which I have used my blog…

Firstly, my intention with my blog at the start of the year was to try to present well thought out, structured and presentable blog posts that would hopefully track my thinking as it developed. However, what I found as semester rolled along was that it became a place to reflect on and explore ideas and a place to start sorting through the messiness and the various tangents that became my research practice. This was appropriate and useful for me as in research workshops we continuously looked at various approaches to undertaking a large sized research project. For instance, it’s continuously said to just start writing. This is good advice, and the blog is a place for this to happen. However, the speedy and tangential nature of ‘just start writing’ tends not to be as well thought out, structured and presentable as the type of blog posting I first wanted to achieve. So as semester continued, my goals for and usage of the blog changed.

Secondly, I’ve discovered that the blog is in fact my secondary place of note taking, thought gathering and summarizing. It is also the best place for reflection. This year I have utilised a diary and a journal. These two pen and paper tools have been the places where many raw thoughts, quotations, citations and ideas have gone down. The blog has become the beginning of a filtering and editing process. Personally I like the blend of the two modes of writing/reading/searching as when I transcribe the raw thoughts I find that I look for new ideas and perspectives that might not have occurred to me at the original time of penning.

Ideally I would like for my blog to appear as some kind of matrix that allows someone to explore all the various facets of my research topic, but the practicality of it turns it into more of a visual, textual map of my own journey. I like the personal nature of the blog, but would prefer in hindsight to have been able to include more structured and insightful blog posts with useful resources, at more regular intervals. This becomes the challenge for developing my blog as the rest of the year approaches.

Examples of Blog Posts:

The Narrative Identity: where human experience, memory and film intersect
Within my blog I keep notes and ideas, regardless of whether they find their way into my final essays or not. This is exploration and experimentation, and helps guide me towards a structure for all the ideas that will go into my exegesis.

The New Abstract!
Through constantly working through different problems and considering lessons and methods taught in Research workshop, I’ve tried to form the most solid base possible for my project planning and design. This post shows the significant moment where I was able to resolve joining my exegesis with project so that both can exist together as a more organic entity. Basically I saw that the filmmaking process needed to come out of the theoretical ideas, in order to be fed back in for reflection. This is rather different to the previous position, which was for the exegesis to come out of the editing practice of the found footage.

Being Pragmatic and Realistic
This post shows where I found the advice and inspiration to move forwards in the planning of my project.

Herzog, What Have Ye Done?
This post reflects the more playful and personal interest side of the blog, and also how the blog can serve to tie ideas together. This post was made when I felt like thinking about something other than study, but managed to lighten appearance of my blog, if for no other reason than some kind of self satisfaction.

Some Thoughts on Design

This post displays some independent thinking around how to approach the rest of the year looking for the best possible outcome. The irony was that later that week we had a presentation from one of the PHD candidates in Communication Design. He took us through many of the ideas that I had spent the previous day investigating for myself. Weird.

Reviewing and Searching for Documentary Frameworks and Arguments in A Song Of Air
Once again, this post represents straight up research and note taking. This is the point where I first started trying to feel my way through found footage criticism and analysis.

The entire Research Workshop category

During the first semester of Honours I feel that I have come a considerable way in my reading and writing practice. Although this does not necessarily translate into a more efficient use of time and the ability to finish work with more time for proof reading, the depth in which I am exploring my topics can be recognized (i.e. I still find that I am writing up to the deadline, but I can see a change in the quality of my work) By reading and writing practice I am referring to all three subjects: Research Workshop A, Communication Revolutions and Transient Spaces.

My approach has been to use a notebook for summarizing, transcribing and brainstorming. This is the messy part of my research. Any and all thoughts go into this notebook. Next I either translate these notes into blog posts or start to organize them into a word document, which eventually becomes the layout of an essay. My result for the first essay for Communications Revolutions reflects the effectiveness of my approach. In terms of Transient Spaces (which is still being marked, but with which I feel satisfied), this practice of constant reading/writing/reflection resulted in an outcome where I was able to experiment and be creative and effective with my media production. In terms of Research Workshop A, I was able to use research to actually locate, refine and define the problem I am facing. Because this topic is my major project for the year, I have used first semester to make sure the concept and approach to the production is the most appropriate. I have tried to ensure that the foundation of my documentary practice and theory is a strong as it can be from the outset.

In terms of using the library as a resource, I have tried to be more critical, creative and lateral in terms of searching the databases. Through exploring and experimenting with searches I have become familiar with e-journals and databases and have been forced to decide on the relevance of articles for myself. This means more analytical, critical and in depth reading which helps improve all aspects of study in general. I have also been on the lookout for connections between subjects and topics in order to locate arguments and to have ideas. Whilst there is always room for improvement, I have definitely come a long way in this area and can see how I can progress as the rest of the year wears on.

The area in which I need to improve most is project management. By this I mean managing my schedule in terms of balancing the amount of time I put into each different aspect of study, utilizing a calendar and gant chart and maintaining these disciplines and habits. In the first three years of my degree this has always been my weak point, and I have tried to improve throughout the past semester. I would say that there has been a significant change and better management of time in 2010, but when pressured this sense of structure is lost and prioritization of my time is not as effective as it could be.

Connected to project management is my use of software such as Zotero for managing my bibliography. This is need of vast improvement as I’ve found myself resorting to my old method of manually entering references into a word document. For this to change all that is required is more concerted effort on my part to take more notice of Zotero. On this point of picking up new habits, I would say that I have fostered a productive use of delicious book marking which has become invaluable.

Overall grade for Participation: 85% HD

I feel that the level of reading and writing I have done has helped me build a strong foundation for what will hopefully be a strong and engaging project. The original abstract I had at the start of semester was a problem in itself, which needed resolving, and I feel I have done this through utilizing methods and ideas discussed during Research workshops.

Disembodiment in documentary:

There is a simple formula of combining audio/voice, observatory footage, and a sound design that fits aesthetically, but appears thematically a bit odd, that creates a sense of disembodiment for the viewer. I first came across the technique in Chris Marker’s Sunless. It’s a reflexive technique as it draws attention to the aesthetic of the film itself, and re-contextualizes the subject. I tried my hand at creating the feeling of a strange interpretation of reality in my Food Not Bombs documentary for Transient Spaces. The question that arises is could this be applied to my main project, and if so how could such an effect benefit the biography?

What have I learnt through the production of the Food Not Bombs doco?

The characters aren’t defined individually, they are more anonymous representations of the human activity and human struggle within the story. In this case, gleaning food for the lesser advantaged of society. I think this effect adds to the conflict and the dramatic feel as it unsensationalises the story, at the same time making it feel a bit more real, at the same time a bit more like a dream. In biographical documentaries, however, the character has to be well defined and explicit. Is there any way of bringing these two things together? Perhaps the more disembodied aesthetics could be used for re-enactments of memory, like dream sequences.

The aspect of the Food Not Bombs doco that I liked was my editing style, which was based mainly on rhythm and feel. I shot the footage knowing only that I would need long shots, and was quite free with the camera. With lots of camera movement I was able to find good rhythmic edit points to cut from one shot into the next, quite often in the middle of a movement/action shot. This is a great way to shift time and space temporal locations, as it has a smooth, natural rhythmic effect, but a conflicting jolt and jump in time and space.

Summarizing Question:

By drawing attention to the filmmaking process, how does reflexivity effect biographical documentary and the representation of the experience of memory?

My main question/problem (regarding memory, the intersection of filmmaker and subject and the subject wantingto express memory) seems to addressing realism. Though I believe realism is probably the wrong word. Perhaps I am investigating the creation of a depiction of memory through acknowledging the presence of memory theory in the filmmaking process. At this stage this is still very vague, but I hope through reading and discussion with Adrian Danks I will be able to find a hook, or an anchor which will focus these more instinctual ideas.

Another question I need to discuss with Adrian is whether or not to include textual analysis in my exegesis. This could get me into hot water as I will need to spend time explaining why I chose specific films, and this could in fact limit the directions that arise as I produce. However, I am looking for these definite anchor points for discussion and so need to explore the possibility.

Movies to consider:

Bright Leaves (Ross McElwee; 2003)

This film is highly personal and subjective to the filmmaker. The story is of his own journey and autobiographical rather than biographical. Nevertheless, filmmaking techniques may be viable for me to take notice.

Bastardy (Amiel Courtin-Wilson; 2009)

This film is a straight forward biography of Jack Charles, an interesting and prolific Aboriginal Australian, resident of Melbourne. The story follows Jack for a number of years and so portrays quite an in depth and significant portion of Jack’s life. I thought this film would be a little more directly relevant to my own project in terms of style and technique.