Measures is a new series of seminars that use screening, reading, discussion and analysis to look at critical assumptions about the image and its meaning once a week over a 10 week period. The first series ‘Politics and the Experimental Film: a sense of urgency’ will by led by AL Rees with one session led by Patrick Keiller who will discuss his film Robinson in Space
. The second series will be led by curator Maxa Zoller and will be advertised in January 2009.
Rees will examine key passages of work by (amongst others): Bunuel, Anstey, Richter, The Duvet Brothers, Vertov, Watkins, Le Grice, Gidal, Eatherly, Rhodes, Straub-Huillet, Conner, Debord, Welsby and Ivens seeking the elusive union of film and politics in the last half-century to question what a contemporary political cinema might be?
Politics and the Experimental Film: a sense of urgency
Led by Al Rees
This course grew out of some exchanges between filmmakers and critics about what political film might be today. Specifically, it stems from a feeling of dissatisfaction and doubt about how so-called political film was shaping up in the cinema and gallery. It is easy to call a work 'political' - but on what foundation? Confessional film, observational video, global web montage, spectacular installations and low-tech activism have all been advanced as examples of a politicized media-art practice, but it is not always clear for who and to what effect.
Many artists' films today, and the exhibition contexts in which they are shown, claim that they are - in some sense - "political". But is this true? Are they or can they be real interventions in political struggle, and in the definition of what a political cinema might be? Or do they reflect uncritical assumptions about politics and film, and about the image and its meaning? Is politics always somewhere else, as in the lure of the exotic and the other? And can supposedly direct political statements in film do any more than reflect back what makers and audiences already think they know?
This course aims to answer these questions and to re-think film and politics by a deliberately oblique route. It side-steps the strictly contemporary, to focus on diverse attempts to find the elusive union of film and politics in the last half-century. By screening, analysis and discussion we hope to uncover hidden currents of political thinking in film, and to trace unfamiliar links between documentary and experimental cinema. Each session takes a single topic - from animation to landscape, from campaign films to perceptual films - to explore how the political in and as film can be conceived.
Whether and how film can be political is not a question that can be decided in advance, which is why we want to encourage debate and discussion about it now. It's not a new problem: our subtitle - "a sense of urgency" - comes from a 1986 Village Voice review by Manohla Durgis of a film by Chris Welsby, Sky Light
, which we will be screening in this series. But if not new - as the course will show - the political construct in film remains as urgent a question as it has ever been.
Where necessary and unavoidable, some films will be shown in their original language, but translations will be provided in advance. Essential advance reading will be also be available at the start of the course (as photocopies and/or email attachments).
– Al Rees