Another bookmark post from Visible Evidence, where I attended this morning’s panel on Documentary and Social Justice. One paper, which focused on video-based activism, seemed particularly relevant to some of the issues I’ve been thinking about in relationship to the war documentary in general, and Gunner Palace, in particular. The presentation focused on the human rights organization, Witness, which “partners with human rights organizations, training them to use video to document abuse and create change.” At least one member of Witness was present at the panel, and there was some useful dialogue about definitions of human rights and documentation.
I don’t want to discuss the author’s paper in detail here, but his discussion of Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others, which addresses the possibility of using war photography in preventing war, raised some important questions about how photographs and video images of war might have the rhetorical effect of convincing audiences of the undesirability of war (I need to read a larger chunk of the Sontag book before I go into further detail). Gunner Palace, which received a much wider commercial release, may not be explicitly an anti-war film, but some of the same questions of representing war and violence persist, respecially when it comes to the institutional factors that constrain production and distribution. Another panelist mentioned the work of Joel Sternfeld in documenting the G8 protests in Genoa a few years ago, work that I’d like to revisit when I have more time (and with classes starting Monday, I don’t imagine that will be anytime soon).
Another panel I attended focused on issues of interactivity, and the main point for my purposes was the question of instutional authority and the problems of representation. One person on this panel emphasized the challenges that directors face in pitching documentaries to potential sources of funding, which no doubt, has a major effect on what kinds of documentaries are produced (David O. Russell’s problems in distributing Soldier’s Pay would be one example here). Some of these arguments were already implicitly developed in my paper, but I think there’s some value in connecting my questions to the larger themes that have been so eloquently developed throughout the conference.
I’m still working through some last minute paper ideas right now, so apologies for such a disorganized, and potentially self-serving, conference narrative. More later when I’m home from Montreal tomorrow night.