SIDING WITH THE WEAK: Empathy and film editing

“Documentary film has a long tradition of siding with the weak. It is difficult to film in the real world without recognizing the obvious injustices.” Siding with the weak: I think Pagh Andersen’s vision of cinema in general and editing in particular, is all here, in those sentences. Everything is political, that’s what you get from Pagh Andersen’s account. Making a movie is political. Editing a movie is very political because editors have the power to shape the image of the world. They can make their protagonist into victims, and their antagonists into pure evil. They can also fake reality, as we see these days. “On the contrary, we need to constantly question how we humans shape our world, but at the same time, we also need to constantly question our own-motivations and methods when we are depicting this world.”

Some thoughts on documentary ethics in no particular order

Using others’ personalities, histories, stories, emotions and thoughts as material for your art is a strange occupation. Documentarians are not the only artists to do this, but we do it in a way that is more obvious and consistent than any other art that I’m aware of. We expose our sources – often their name, but also their face, body, voice, presence and way of being. And if we find a way of not showing any of those things, we still use a combination of moving image and audio to make the audience view their personhood our way.

“Village of Women”, Tamara Stepanyan and Minou Norouzi in conversation

That’s just the beginning of a feminist tale about the effects of migration set in the backwaters where no one considers themself feminist. Feminist lives, however, are lived. Even as we hear weary declarations about a husband’s absence, such as “he is the centre of my universe”, we witness scenes of coded liberalism. For example, a picnic gathering in the hills among three older women serves as a reminder of the empowerment these women, too, are capable of. In a campaign of laughter, they defend the actions of a sixty-year-old fellow villager losing her virginity in the mountains: “It’s a natural need. She has never experienced this in her life, the poor one (…) she wanted to know what it was.” But I want to leave aside the transnational feminist reading that the film inspires for now. Village of Women brings something more unique to the plethora of documentaries about migration. Namely, it turns the spectacle of migration on its head by avoiding the topic altogether.

Turkish-Kurdish-German today: In conversation with mobile filmmakers of Germany

As imaginable, one conclusion that can be made immediately is that there are as many perspectives as there are filmmakers and each perspective is subject to change at any moment. I kept in mind that definitions are labels that help us understand things but also have tangible, material effects on the phenomena they are attached to – sometimes detrimental ones. And in our case, many filmmakers are aware of the danger of ghettoization and their personal struggle to make their films goes hand in hand with a constant fight for un-labeling themselves.

Cinematic time and the accumulation of ecosocial crises

As such, the “technological promise to capture time” opened the cinema to confront all sorts of social and natural limits, from “the denial of the radical finitude of the human body” to the “access to other temporalities.” In collusion with capitalism’s ideological fetish for progress and infinite growth, the emergence of cinema was accompanied with stories and fables that would introduce and legitimize “the recognizable tropes of orientalism, racism, and imperialism essential to the nineteenth-century colonialist imperative to conquer other times, other spaces.”

Only change is a constant fact

According to award winning author Juha Hurme: ”Everything is in constant flux. Individuals rush from the cradle to the grave, the land raises, water opens new routes, flora and fauna change, human shapes environment, societies change, states form and change, languages and faiths change information takes over spaces, consciousness changes, fashion changes” 

The in-betweenness of documentary spaces

I consider documentary fieldwork and filming as a space and time in between. By in between, I mean the combination of certain characteristics that make the space and time of documentary fieldwork both part of everyday life and at the same time removed from it. Before a documentary film becomes representation (something about the world) it is an event (something that happens in the world) In other words, before a documentary film becomes a product that can travel around the screens, it is a creative and social process rooted in the place and time where it happens. Documentary filming is a lived time as well as an imagined, speculative and desired one.