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Showing posts from March, 2015

SMCS 2015

I'm heading to Montreal tomorrow for the SCMS conference. As always, I look forward to a rewarding time catching up with colleagues and getting (however partially) about the best snapshot of the field I could imagine. 
I will be contributing to the SCMS general conference twitter feed. The idea this year it to have a feed less about live-tweeting panels and more about general observations. 
My panel will be at Saturday, at 1:00pm. I'm excited to be in great company.

Film Festivals and the ‘Creative Turn’ in Documentary
Aida Vallejo (University of the Basque Country)  “A Niche for Creativity: Defining Documentary in the Festival Circuit” Ezra Winton (Nova Scotia College of Art and Design) “Documentary, Film Festivals, and Distribution of the Sensible” Maria-Paz Peirano (University of Kent) “Expanding Boundaries: Film Festivals and the Emergence of ‘Creative’ Documentary Filmmaking in Chile” Chris Cagle (Temple University) “Character as Aesthetic Problem in the Festival Documenta…

Workingman's Death

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Workingman's Death dir. Michael Glawogger, 2005, Austria available on DVD or via iTunes
This film is now a decade old and therefore less contemporary than others I am watching for this project. But it's been on my list of shame for a while and moreover, I feel it's worth adding some films more readily accessible from time to time. 
Glawogger was, before his untimely death, a prominent documentary auteur and very influential for a vein of poetic documentary popular today, at least on the festival circuit. Workingman's Death resists the kind of documentary meaning we might expect out of the difficult, challenging subject matter we see. Critic Michael Atkinson writes, "Glawogger's film may be thematically loose-jointed, but Wolfgang Thaler's cinematography is the glue." However, the film does have thematic resonances, even if the spectator has to do much of the work for them. And, thematically, too, the refusal of certain explanation is itself meaningful…

Autofocus (2013)

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Autofocus dir. Boris Poljak, 2013, Croatia genre: observational short not currently in distribution
Autofocus is an observational documentary but with more of a candid-camera approach. Rather than having close interaction between camera and social actor, director Poljak places fixed cameras on a landmark church (St. Nicholas at Nin) and records the tourists who come to visit the sight. The tight framing and distanciation are somewhat reminiscent of Scott Stark's Posers, but rather than comment ironically on its subjects, Autofocus gives a humanizing portrait of the various anonymous visitors.
One of my ongoing polemics is that documentary critics and especially scholars misread what observational cinema does because they filter the genre through the realism debates of post-1970s film theory. This polemic will take more work to flesh out, but for now I'll point out one way contemporary observational cinema can play with narration. There's a kind of question-answer game, wher…

MLA 2016 calls for papers

The 2016 MLA Convention will take place in Austin, Texas, January 7 to 10. The deadline for submitting through pre-constituted panels is coming up, as soon as this weekend, so I wanted to highlight a number that might be of interest to film studies scholars. In culling this list I have overlooked a lot: many panels are open to both literature and film as objects of studies and other touch on new media studies. The panels below have a majority focus on film.

Due dates are March 15, unless otherwise noted.

1968 in Global Cinema [call]Adaptation in World Cinema [call]Austin Plays Itself [call]Cinema and Cultural Memory [call]Cinema and Public Spheres in Franco's Spain [call] (Mar. 18)Francophone Media/na/tions [call]The Ideological Space(s) of Italian Cinema and Television [call] (Mar. 20)Latin American Film and Nation in the 21st Century [call]Out of the Past: An Examination of Jewish Characters in Contemporary Romanian Cinema [call]Trauma in Recent Cinema [call]Women and Recent Fran…

Contemporary Documentary Project: Beep

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Beep
Kim Kyung-man, 2014, South Korea
genre: experimental documentary
not in general distribution

Beep is a short experimental documentary; actually, I would probably classify it as an essay film. Beep compiles South Korean anti-communist government films from the 1960s and 70s and adds a found soundtrack of a nonfiction account of a boy martyr who purportedly because he resisted North Korean soldiers. It's easy to use such material ironically, as fodder for camp, but I am impressed by how Beep is purposive with its historical material. Rather than using the found footage to signal an "then" to contrast with "now," it wants to trace a lineage of South Korean jingoism and propaganda that, I believe the film to imply, never fully went away. I'm not always a fan of Foucauldian genealogy, but this is genealogy in the best sense.



Actress (2014)

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Actress dir. Robert Greene, 2014, USA genre: self-reflexive portrait documentary available on iTunes or via Cinema Guild on-demand  (DVD release presumably forthcoming)
I saw Actress only after reading director Robert Greene's manifesto about the "renaissance in documentary culture" which has seen "collapsing walls between fiction, nonfiction and art cinema." After his pronouncements and the many critical accolades (Bilge Ebiri calls it one of the best documentaries he's ever seen), I have to say I came to the film with higher expectations. Yes, I noticed the self-reflexive commentary on documentary performance in this portrait of Wire actress Brandy Burre; Burre is indeed a remarkably self-confident and camera-aware documentary subject. The value of Actress is that asks the spectator to evaluate the effect of this kind of self-consciousness on documentary, pitched somewhere between dramaturgy and Erving Goffman's performance-of-self. The tight framing o…

Men With Balls (2013)

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Men With Balls
dir. Kristóf Kovács, 2013, Hungary
genre: character-driven documentary
currently not in distribution

I actually prefer the original title of this film, Besence Open, which captures the ironic juxtaposition of the conceit: a largely Roma and largely unemployed village in Southwest Hungary receives a grant to built a tennis court. A town with no tennis experience and a largely dispirited existence then must learn what is largely a rich person's sport. It's the kind of hook for either festival or television audiences, with its overlay of a Bad News Bears kind of sports drama on top of an issue documentary about social marginalization, economic development, and life in Hungary under the EU.

And I don't mean this in a disparaging way; even if European documentaries are on balance more tonally somber and contemplative than their US counterparts, there's still a lot of interesting work being done to embrace showmanship and experiment with the possibilities of t…