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“Ones communities are nothing more – or less – than those networks of allegiance with which one identifies existentially, traditionally, emotionally or spontaneously, seemingly beyond and above any calculated assessment of self interest.”

Food Not Bombs has been feeding the homeless and those in need using vegan food, donated by various organic markets and shops since 1996. The organisation has no funding, is entirely volunteer based and is not exclusive to any particular group or social demographic. Anyone is welcome to attend the Tuesday night community gathering, young or old, rich or poor. As a movement Food Not Bombs is international, with chapters all over the world, on every continent.

Quote: Miller, P & Rose, N; 2008; ‘The Birth of Community’ in ‘Governing the Present’ Cambridge: Polity, p91

This documentary was shot over a period of three weeks as I followed the group from food collection, to cooking, to serving and finally pack up. Food Not Bombs serves from the street corner every Tuesday night, and has done so since 1996. I wasn’t aiming to merely present an exposition of what the group does, nor a description of the political and social implications of such a group. Instead I wanted to let the camera observe and create a mood that captured the sensation of stepping outside of one self’s comfort zone and into a diverse, littler known community group.

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?

Notes from “Thinking About Social Change in America” Putnam, R: 2000 in Bowling alone: the collapse and revival of American Community

“Somehow in the last several decades of the twentieth century all these community groups and tens of thousands like them across America began to fade.”

The article opens by describing a steady and universal decline in community activity across America’s middle class in the 1990’s, to the point of various veterans leagues and other such clubs closing down. This decline is not attributed to shifting populations but rather to the tendency for complacency in contemporary times. This trend was seen on the horizon as long ago, as the late 1950’s: “A 1958 study under the auspices of the newly inaugurated Center for the Study of Leisure at the University of Chicago fretted that ‘the most dangerous threat hanging over American society is the threat of leisure,’ a startling claim in the decade in which the Soviets got the bomb.”

However, as comfort set in, so did analysis of everyday life and social change became the focus point for American society. At the same time as social change, a baby boom was in effect and altering the demographic of the population. The population in the 1960’s was unusually young and so civic involvement started a decline. According to the article, civic involvement takes place later in a persons life, in middle age, and so public institutions were waiting out the calm, expecting a flood of activity in the 1980’s when this boom generation would come of age. When things didn’t go as expected, scientists started analysis of society in the context of ‘social capital’:

“By analogy with notions of physical capital and human capital – tools and training that enhance individual productivity – the core idea of social capital theory is that social networks have value.”

“a well connected individual in a poorly connected society is not as productive as a well connected individual in a well connected society. And even a poorly connected individual may derive some of the spillover benefits from living in a well connected community.”

However, this idea of social capital has external consequences and can be viewed in local, national and global contexts. Basically, the argument is that social capital is good for those within the network, and bad for those outside the network, as the disadvantage of being on the outside becomes a greater and greater divide as the social network gains momentum and power. THis can be seen, and is part of a common rhetoric in media theory, in contemporary times as the digital divide. The digital divide, which can be viewed as a knowledge consumption divide, has its own divide, which could be described as the knowledge production divide. There are those with no access to digital information dissemination technology, there are those with access but without the skills, or the will to participate, to produce knowledge and then there are those with the access and the knowledge production. If network theory suggests that these groups will homogenize more and more into a cluster, then the gap between the digitally unconnected and the knowledge producers, in terms of social capital, will become a massive social crevice.

“Social capital, in short, can be directed toward malevolent, antisocial purposes, just like any other form of capital.”

This effect is analyzed and discussed in depth by American intellectual Richard Florida with regards to the ways in which intellectual and creative classes cluster together geographically to create contemporary social institutions. However, the arguments and discussions for the positive uses of social capital are much more relevant as through this type of network understanding we can problem solve the various divides.

“Of all the dimensions along which forms of social capital vary, perhaps the most important is the distinction between bridging (or inclusive) and bonding (or exclusive). Some forms of social capital are, by choice or necessity, inward looking and tend to reinforce exclusive identities and homogeneous groups.”

If in our networking theories and practices, and analysis of community we look for the bridging capabilities within information technologies, i.e. the potentials of social software and how we publish and use our media productions, we may be contributing to important developments within the various digital information revolutions.

“Consider the contemporary salience of the vocabulary of community care, community homes, community workers, community safety, for example. Consider the emergence of the idea of risk communities – drug abusers, gay men, carriers of particular genes, youth at risk…All these seem to signal that ‘the social’ may be giving way to ‘the community’ as a new territory for the administration of individual and collective existence.” (p88)

What really interests me about the Food Not Bombs community is that they are defining themselves as a community by rejecting these notions of community boundaries. The Food Not Bombs ‘anyone is welcome’ policy actually works in practice in large part due to their lack of bureaucracy and lack of outspoken ideology. In a broad sense the Food Not Bombs community can be defined as a community according to older political notions: “By the 1960’s, community was already being invoked by sociologists as a possible antidote to the loneliness and isolation of the individual generated by ‘mass society’.” (p89) The irony here is that according to the article, ideas around community were conceived to combat bureaucracy, and in contemporary times bureaucracy still intervenes, and notions of community still battle alienation.

“Communities became zones to be investigated, mapped, classified, documented, interpreted, their vectors explained to enlightened professionals-to-be in countless college courses and to be taken into account in numberless encounters between professionals and their clients, whose individual conduct is now to be made intelligible in terms of the beliefs and values of ‘their community’.” (p89)

This article documents one of the most important aspects of community that I’ve noticed since looking into boarding houses and charity organisations; that at some point bureaucracies lost touch with effectiveness on the ground and not necessarily through a lack of action but rather through some kind of intellectualisation: “community is now something to be programmed by Community Development Programmes, developed by Community Development Officers, policed by Community Police, guarded by Community Safety Programmes and rendered knowable by sociologists pursuing ‘community studies’.” (p89)

In one of my interviews, it is pointed out that people below the safety net in society are quite often reminded of their social position at just about every interaction they have. It is the purpose of Food Not Bombs to leave demographic at the doorstep and create an atmosphere of social equality. When community was intellectualised in the 1960’s, it served to help a rapid social change across many cultures, especially in the west. However, many years on it seems that the use of the community concept in certain areas can serve to alienate people yet again, if only by reaffirming possible negative overtones regarding particular groups. An interesting and current example of this can be seen in the movement to allow gay marriage. By not being allowed to marry, a particular tone is ascribed to the ‘gay community’ further highlighting community borders and boundaries. However, it seems to me that community is the most powerful way to organise and map the always changing demographics and notions of identity within society: “Ones communities are nothing more – or less – than those networks of allegiance with which one identifies existentially, traditionally, emotionally or spontaneously, seemingly beyond and above any calculated assessment of self interest.” (p91)

Themes are starting to take shape

I have found that the original themes that I thought I would be chasing through observing the Food Not Bombs movement completely changed as I looked for the qualities that define the group as a community. For instance, on the surface it appeared that the group was collated by veganism, political activism and various ideologies. This was not the case as what is more important to the group than dietary habits is the constructive and charitable use of public space, and the operation of an organization outside of the ‘official’ charity groups and bureaucracies. The group also focus on their activities as being a social experience. The operation is not aimed at the homelessor any particular group but rather at anyone who wishes to attend and socialize. Ideally they would enjoy the attendance of people from all demographics, and I have personally observed quite a variety of people, including students, backpackers, homeless, workers and Fitzroy locals.

Where to from here…

The main problem I face is time and patience. To compose a film that really paints a portrait of the diverse characters that come to Food Not Bombs would require many more weeks of attending with the camera. The fact is that the more time you spend the more people come to feel comfortable around the camera to the point that they start to offer up stories. Unfortunately time is not on my side so I have to opt for a short video piece with only two or three interviews. This is sufficient to express the story though not ideal.

The visual style and am I delusional? (this can happen with me)

The visual style is predominately an attempt at the observatory mode of documentary. I have engaging dialogue in the form of interviews and plan on setting atmospheric visual material to the dialogue. The idea is to create the feeling of experiencing a day and night with the Food Not Bombers out on the street, whilst at the same time having expository and informative dialogue.

Concluding the story…Michael Mann the poet

The intro and conclusion are going to be the hardest parts for me to work out. For the ending I will take inspiration from Michael Mann and basically cut the atmosphere audio to silence and have a closing image such as the van driving off screen after a night on the street. In a sense this aesthetic could be described as a quiet loudness, where the conclusion is not overstated and the story is left somewhat hanging between the closing of the characters and the appropriate rhythmic moment to get out of the story. As for the intro, ala Michael Mann I think I will just dive straight in with some footage and audio that gets us straight to the point.

Notes from Documentary and Collaboration: Placing the Camera in the Community by Elizabeth Coffman

“Contrary to fears that the age of cinema is ending, this new age of digital media offers more, not fewer, opportunities for individuals or groups interested in producing documentary work.” (p62)

This is something I’ve personally felt to be an aesthetic revolution as well as a mobile and participatory one. Digital media means more than mobility and lesser picture quality (or at least, different picture quality). It actually changes the ways in which stories get told. For that matter it actually effects what stories get told. Digital technology has lifted the art of documentary from the feature film and television industries and scrapped the rule book on methods for documentary story telling. Bill Nichols modes can still be applied to documentary works, but these borders and definitions are rapidly becoming blurrier and harder to distinguish. Nichols modes of the reflexive, performative and poetic seem to have been the modes that could encompass those films that sat outside of the mainstream in the pre-90’s period before the mass popularisation of documentary through filmmakers such as Michael Moore. The real binary that becomes apparent when comparing the old world with the new are the notions of subjectivity and objectivity. It seems to me that the trend in the past was for documentary to present itself as an entirely objective viewpoint. A literal window on the world in which the camera is merely the medium. Filmmakers such as Werner Herzog and Chris Marker and many more spent their careers challenging and exploring this industry norm, and have subsequently found themselves hailed as the guru’s of contemporary cinema as subjectivity has found its way to the forefront of integrity and honesty. For instance, compare the controversies of Michael Moore’s representations of characters and events in Roger and Me (1989) and Fahrenheit 9 11 (2004) to the completely subjective and almost fictional depiction of images from the first Iraq war in Herzog’s Lessons of Darkness (1992).

“documentary is just another form of fiction. It is arbitrary…made up. It doesn’t follow the natural order. Its major sequences are shorter than they are in real time. They acquire meaning they wouldn’t have in isolation. What’s magical about a good film is magical about a good play or a good novel. If you try to define it, you’re a fool….” (Frederick Wiseman in Coffman)

The article discusses the dynamics of the relationships between filmmaker and subject. It suggests that collaboration entails a giving up a certain amount of authority over the story to the subject. This is absolutely true for the filmmaking process to work, but it does not mean, as the article suggests, that authorship is threatened. The true author of a documentary is the person who oversees the editing process as that is where meaning and all meanings intricacies are formed for the final result. Unless there is a collaborative process with the subject going on in the editing room, the filmmakers voice (assuming he is overseeing the editing) will still be the predominant voice. My personal feeling on this matter is to bite the bullet and opt for total involvement of the filmmaker within the narrative. This way, the subject, the filmmaker and the audience are all on the same page. The filmmaker is not feigning a false sense of objectivity.

Chris Marker

May 8, 2010 — Leave a comment

“a few words of explanation. These are not bona fide photographs. They’re stills from my video footage, somewhat manipulated thru the jujucraft of Photoshop and Painter. It’s an experiment I conducted for years, in order to extract meaningful images from the inordinate flow of video and television. I developed the concept of ’superliminal’, which is a sort of counterpoint to Subliminal. Instead of one frame lost in the stream of other different frames, Superliminal is one frame lost in the stream of almost IDENTICAL frames, or so it seems, for when you take ‘em one by one, one happens to be the real photogram, something nobody then has perceived, not even the guy who shot it (me in most cases).” (April 1, 2006)

“If subliminal refers to the object the eye doesn’t catch, yet the brain does, Superliminal is THE REVENGE OF THE EYE…that on slow-motion catches one image among others apparently identical as being the image…When one applies this system, as i do here, to his own footage, it may appear just as a refined way of sorting. When applied to alien material, the TV stuff for instance, in pure Duchampesque fashion, the robber becomes the author. Turning to black and white and Photoshop manipulations being the last stage of appropriation.” (May 4, 2006)

Chris Marker cited by Bill Horrigan in Some Other Time from Staring Back; Chris Marker pp139, 140 Wexner Centre For The Arts, The Ohio State University 2007.

On the blog Chris Marker: Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory, a short film constructed in Second Life by Chris Marker titled Ouvroir the Movie by Chris Marker follows a cat as it explores a land called Ouvroir. Media screening rooms display photographs and text that describe different memories. They are presented as artifacts that are somehow disembodied from the notion of the private or personal, or at least it seems this way. The cat makes its way through a tunnel of revolving text to get to the first room, where the first words to appear on the screens are words that resemble neologisms:

“Superdiferwizagrobis”

“Hyper-Flush”

“that’s what the press says about the latest piece by Chris Marker, the best known author of unknown movies.”

This first room introduces the fact that these rooms are somehow correlated to Chris Markers own memory and experience. They are self-reflexive glimpses into Markers’ own ‘shoebox’ made public in a virtual space. In a recent lecture by Dean Keep, he described the notion of post-memory. Post-memory is the memory you inherit through ritual. The photo’s in your fathers album that correlate to his past become memories of your own as you apply the stories to them. A handing down of memory and myth. What becomes apparent here is that the photographs are not just documentary, but also memory sites themselves. Perhaps this is the purpose of the media rooms located in Ouvroir. They are memory sites in their own right.

The cat then progresses to the main room in which photographs are displayed and scrutinized as artifacts of Markers memory and representations of the length of a certain period of his life. He makes an interesting comparison between two photo’s of the exact same location taken forty years apart:

“Right in the middle, a small tree grew, within these few inches, forty years of my life.”

In the second photo, the tree has obviously grown a great deal. It seems to me that this is a gallery of remembrances and images that once appropriated into this space become alienated and fragmentary and somehow take on all new meaning. By becoming public, the memory artifact takes on a pronounced characteristic of Markers ‘superliminal’.