Border Documents 9-11 Nov 2009 Copenhagen

Border Documents @ CPH:DOX

Border Documents: A scholarly/activist workshop on the crossings of borders and documentary films.

Border Documents is the third in a series of events run as part of the international research network Beyond Borders.

Preamble: In “Sonic Border” (London Nov 2008) we explored the way sound crosses the border differently, provoking a rethink of the border’s location – not just in ports, but between us all, in conversations, in ideas – an oppressive structure of language, meaning, representation, and a cry of protest and the music of solidarity across divides. Sound problematized the geographic and visual location of the border regime.

In “Theatre Border” (Berlin April 2009) the performative, tactile and ritualistic force of the border as staged power suggests we rethink connection, touch, proximity and co-responsibility. The theatrical exclusion of others manufactures a charade populated by demons, caricatures and monstrosity. We don’t want to be cast in such dramas.

In “Border Documents” (Copenhagen Nov 2009) we will join the CPH.DOX documentary film festival to consider the border as it unfolds in time/screen based media – what does thinking about border activism and the telematic offer us? Possible topics include the border in television news, the in-focus out of focus role of CCTV in detention centres, the scanning screens of the immigration check, the civilian phone-cam exposé of deportation and ‘Torture Taxi’ (special rendition) flights, and more.

We are interested in new perspectives on the status and function of the documentary forms today, as they cross the ontological divide between fiction and truth, art and reality (objective/subjective, social, political, ethical etc) and frame alternative ways of seeing, witnessing, representing, archiving and experiencing ‘the elements of truth’ (Steyerl, 2003). Can we understand documentation not as paper passports or mere representation but as docketing the (re)construction of (new) social and political realities – we are interested in time and screen formats that offer access to critical recontextualization of the reproduction of borders, and of unfolding new agents of social and political (ex)change. On a more formalistic note, how does the documentary form carry a politic, an ethics or epistemology and how can the documentary film help us see and act differently? Does the time of the border transform its place, or its performative character? Does border activism lend itself to the cinematic? Can we film another way across?

Beyond Borders is a collaborative venture between the Copenhagen Doctoral School in Cultural Studies, the Friei University Berlin InterArts, Jadavpur University (India) Film Studies and the Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths University of London, and with guest participation from Clandestino Festival (Sweden) and Migrant Media (UK), among others. Beyond Borders is funded by the AHRC UK Beyond Text program.


9th November 2009

11.30-12.00 (Seminar room)
Prof Frederik Tystrup & Prof John Hutnyk:
‘Introduction’ to “Border Documents”

12.00-13.30 (Seminar room)
Lecture by Mathias Danbolt:
‘Queers Without Borders: Activist Travels in Elliat Graney-Saucke’s Travel Queeries’
ravel Queeries (2009) by Elliat Graney-Saucke is the first feature length documentary film portraying radical queer culture in Europe. Produced by queer filmmakers from the U.S., Travel Queeries takes us on an extensive tour of queer communities in ten major European cities – from London to Warsaw to Belgrade and Copenhagen. The travels alluded to in the film’s title do not only refer to the U.S. filmmakers’ travel with a camera to and through Europe, as it also points to the travels of activists within Europe, where people circulate between squats, festivals, and other social and political gatherings. In this paper I will focus on the way in which Travel Queeries queries activist travels. By looking into the way the film represent – as well as take part in – the circulation of concepts, repertoires, esthetics, and politics, I will discuss how travels and translation have been central to the development of the transnational (Euroamerican) queer activist community. Informed by the activist group Queers Without Borders fight for free movement for all in relation to crossings of gender, sexuality, and national borders, I will focus especially on the border issues raised by and evident in Travel Queeries, touching upon question of racism and activist tourism.

Presentation and screening by Maria Finn: ‘A Technical Problem’ (DVD, 16. min).
After having studied the films of Michelangelo Antonioni I grew interested in his writing and found Unfinished Business, a collection of his never realized screenplays, where Technically Sweet was mentioned as one. I have used this screenplay as a starting point for a video where I travel to the sites in Sardinia that should have appeared in the film. The video from that trip, A Technical Problem, can be seen as a reflection over how fiction is constructed by including excerpts from the screenplay, and through the documentation of these places that itself produces a fiction. Film locations become virtual archaeological sites, which Laura Mulvey describes in Roberto Rossellini’s Journey to Italy/Viaggio in Italia (1953) from her collection of essays, Death 24x a Second (1996). Rossellini used the archaeological sites in Naples for his film to reflect over how the present is fossilized on film. I will use Mulvey’s essay to investigate how movies functions as an archive over places, some ruined and some still existing, and how visiting these places affects us.

13.30-15.00 Lunch

15.00-16.30 (Seminar room)
‘Border performed’ – Workshop, led by Filmmaker Dr Hito Steyerl
3 recent video art works will be screened (Amar Kanwar’s “ A season outside”, plus work by von Wedemeyer and Mik) and discussed in relation to their relation to border and performance.

17.00-19.00 (Tent)
European Premiere screening of “Musafer: Sikhi is Travelling” with Q@A with one of the directors Kushwant Singh (the other director is Michael Nijhawan)
Musafer is an independent documentary film that has been shot in Frankfurt, Paris, London, Delhi and San Francisco between 2003 and 2009. The film portrays the interconnected lives of a younger generation of diasporic Sikhs by giving emphasis to their artistic expressions and in-depth conversations about the meaning of Sikhi in times of political upheaval and social uncertainty. Musafer does not attempt to portray the Sikh tradition (Sikhi) in its multifaceted forms, but instead sheds a light on the inner and outer journeys of particular individuals, their homing desires, as well as their boundary crossing endeavours.

20.00 (venue to be decided) dinner

10th November

11.00–13.00 (Seminar room)
Round table discussion on ‘Borders and Selves’

Heidi Hasbrouck:
‘Personal Borders: The Filmmaker’s Family through the Lens’
This paper aims to explore the re-formation of boundaries when the filmmaker turns the camera to her personal life. Historian and film critic, Paul Arthur, writes of the relationship between the filmmaker and the subject as a negotiation where borders are shaped. “An ethical compact of sorts, an explicit or tacit ‘transaction’ between observer and participant, is negotiated; its terms regulate what can be recorded, what form the recording will ultimately take, and how the filmmaker intends to portray social actors who agree to appear (Arthur, 876).” What then happens when those borders must be re-shaped from a previously formulated relationship? Between the filmmaker and her film? Between the filmmaker and the audience when the story is a personal one? Furthermore, how does turning the camera on one’s own family change the ethics or politics of the documentary itself? Through the exploration of multiple personal documentaries, including Hara Kazuo’s “Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974”, John Maringouin’s “Running Stumbled”, recently released Kurt Kuenne’s “Dear Zachary”, and new filmmaker Marianne Hougen-Moraga’s “My Mother’s Promise”, I aim to resolve my own qualms as a documentary filmmaker torn between the boundaries of my family and a potential documentary about our ‘darker side’.

Elena Papadaki:
‘Even better than the real thing: when fiction becomes more convincing than the truth – Stefanos Tsivopoulos’ documentaries’
Stefanos Tsivopoulos is a visual artist engaged with the documentary format. He uses archival material, historical footage and real-time events in order to create his own -often pseudo- narratives. Among others, his work challenge journalistic conventions and the meaning of an “objective” historical narrative (Gray 2008) (Interview, 2007. He commissioned a BBC reporter to interview a war veteran from Serbia; then asked a Serb filmmaker to take the transcript and create a fictional version of the same interview, shot at the same location. Both interviews were projected at the same time in adjacent rooms, with the fictional one looking more convincing than the real documentary) as well as the power of mediated news and propaganda (The Remake, 2007. He uses archival material from the Greek national television and from events that took place during the dictatorship in Greece [1967-1974] with his own shooting of recreated scenes from the television studios at the time). According to Tsivopoulos, the “visualisation of history and reality can be interpreted and misinterpreted at the same time” (Tsivopoulos 2008). His interest lies in the way in which we, the spectators, consume the information that exists within the visual imagery and accept the validity of the “archive”. Where do we draw the line between fiction and reality? How does his work (re-)create a new social and historical imagery? A selection of clips from Tsivopoulos’ work will be shown during the presentation.

13.00 Lunch

15.00-16.30 (Seminar room)
Round table discussion on ‘Framing Border’

Ray Ganz:
‘Radio Verité and Acoustic Osmosis’
Field recordings and found sounds are still one of the major sources of radio artworks, in spite of Raymond Schafer having introduced the concept of soundscape and developed the World Soundscape Project more than 30 years ago. The present article examines the different contemporary artistic uses of field recordings and found sounds within the Radia network during the last three years, according to Schafer’s concept of schizophonia and Feld’s notion of schismogenesis. It argues that although radio occupies a privileged position in the current media landscape to broadcast acoustic decisive moments and documents, it is during the aural osmosis of different soundscapes (diegetic and non-diegetic in relation to the listener’s existence) allowed by the radiophonic experience that field recordings and found sounds become radio artworks.

Jennifer Otter:
‘[Dancing In] Isolation: Joy Division Tribute Bands Transmission of 2.0’s Melancholy’
Manchester’s iconic Joy Division officially disbanded almost thirty years ago, after the untimely suicide of lead singer Ian Curtis. Yet many people point to this seminal group as one, if not the, forefather of modern rock in its present incarnation. Bands such as The Killers, Fall Out Boy and Interpol blatantly rip off the Mancunians’ riffs, style and sentiments through out their own manipulations of musicality. However, some people feel that just paying accolades to the fallen heroes through interpretations of their own new music is not enough. They believe that only the original music of Joy Division truly expresses the spirit of the troubling times we are living in, a world reflective of Ian Curtis’s own bleak Manchester of the late 1970s. For this tribe of people, solely by creating their own group to play exclusively and inclusively the music of Joy Division can they express their own situational oppression, of a world that is simultaneously connected via the world wide web and instant messenger, yet more alienated, with people staying inside their homes more, hidden behind a computer screen and “mediated reality.” Tribute bands and interviewees from a variety of geographic and socioeconomic groups have been included in the project, spanning Mexico City, London, Macclesfield, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Iraq, Australia, and Bosnia, illustrating a true breaking of borders and staying power of the foursome from the North not often illustrated by artists of today.

17.00-19.00 (Seminar room)

Lecture by DR Bhaskar Mukhophadhyay:
‘Ritwik Ghatak Documentarist’
Largely unknown and unacknowledged in the West and misunderstood in India, one of the masters of twentieth century cinema, the Communist director Ritwik Kumar Ghatak’s cinematic oeuvre revolves largely around the after effects of the Partition of Bengal which displaced thousand and left deep wounds that never healed. Ritwik’s cinema is about the monumentality of this catastrophe though as a theorist of postcolonial culture and a Communist cultural worker, he never allowed nostalgia to take over his sense of engagement with the present. As a cultural theorist, Ritiwik rejected the Soviet model of Social Realism and the European radical avant-garde aesthetic politics of high Modernism. His uniquely postcolonial vision of culture entailed a renewed engagement with the epic and the vernacular and a re-enchantment of the machine through a renewal of the ‘primitive.’ In cinema, his renewal of melodrama fused majestically with his revival of the epic, leading to an aesthetic of vernacular modernism that has no precedent or parallel anywhere in world cinema.
As political film-maker, Ritwik’s treatment of Partition is multi-layered which interrogates and confronts borders at many levels. Himself a refugee, he had little illusion about culture’s holism. He depicted with compassion the class-logic of the inevitable but historic disintegration of the colonial Bengali bhadralok in the aftermath of the Partition and the continued presence of the sealed-off border in the affective landscape of the subcontinent. In Ajantric, a film about the animistic beliefs of tribals and an old automobile that takes on human attributes through the affective engagement of its owner, Ritwik plays on the cognitive-affective borders between fetishism and disenchantment, between the human and the non-human, between the sensible and the intelligible. My presentation will focus on two of his major films, Ajantrik (1957-58) and Subarnarekha (1962) through the optic of ‘border’ in order to situate Ghatak in the wider cultural politics of our times.

Lecture by Abhijit Roy
‘Documentary Diversions? Factual Popular and the Reality Debates’
This presentation talks about how the televisual genre of the ‘factual popular’ and the debates around reality shows can help us revisit the ‘documentary’ form and its legacies. It would like to engage with recent theorizations as evident in John Corner’s coinage ‘documentary diversions’ and Keath Betty’s ‘documentary display’, and also the classical/Griersonian school of documentary practice, to pose the age-old, somewhat hackneyed, debates around the ‘border’ between fact and faction in a new light. While the factual popular, in its form, and in its mode of address (posing as the neo-progressivist messiah of the late-capital, citizenising agent etc.) enters into interesting dialogue with the documentary tradition, particularly with its ‘classical’ mode, the current trends in documentary filming and dissemination, in turn, get highly interjected by the factual popular. Contextual, in this regard, could be a recent practice in documentary diversion: that of creating incessant audiovisual archives (foregrounding therefore a certain idea of ‘beyond text’) and circulating across the de-territorializing space of internet. The ‘publics/users’ of both of these trajectories intersect in various ways. Tickling the network, generating circuits of fandom and activism defying national borders, have become major trends in both of these.

19.00 dinner (1 hour)

20.00 (Tent)
European Premiere screening of “Understanding Trafficking” plus Q&A with the director Ananya Chatterjee Chakraborti
Legend goes, there is a magical line that Laxman drew around Sita, which no woman is supposed to cross. If any woman dared to cross the magical line, she would risk being kidnapped by Ravan the demon.
Women have for centuries been discouraged to cross the line, to remain indoors, and within limits. The lines and limits of their existence have always been defined by patriarchy.
So what happens if a woman does cross the line? By circumstances, through need, or just by a desire to dare the magical line?
Camera Joydeep Bose, Sound Sukanta Majumdar, Editing Saikat Sekhareswar Ray, Direction Ananya C. Chakraborti
Reviews here:

11 November

11.00–11.30 (Seminar room)

Ruth Hogarth: Beyond Text Program Co-Ordinator. ‘The Wider Program’

Mary Claire Halvorson (Goldsmiths Director of Professional Development): ‘Alterity, mobility and rhizomatic model of learning’

11.30–13.30 (Seminar room)

Dr Dietmar Kammerer:
‘Official, unofficial, invisible – the role of the filmic document in “Operation Spring”’
“Operation Spring” was the name of the first (and later widely publicized) undercover police operation in 1999 that made use of covert surveillance technologies in order to collect evidence against an (allegedly) international ring of drug dealers. “Operation Spring” is also the name of a documentary film that years later put in question the police operation and the subsequent trials and convictions of more than in ehundred people, mostly immigrants form Nigeria. The documentary became one of the rare cases, where a film actually sparks a political debate and was discussed in the national parliament. In my presentation I want to argue, that the political and persuasive power of this film can – among other factors – be explained by its use of the filmic document. Three types of images can be made out in this film: official, unofficial and invisible images. What counts as a document or as evidence, is always to be seen within a strategy of power.”

Renate Wöhrer:
‘How (Not) to Be Seen. Contemporary Attempts in Social Documentary to Contradict Hegemonic Discourses on Labour’
In my contribution to the workshop I would like to discuss the documentary art project ‘Chat(t)er Gardens: Stories by and about Filipina Workers’ (2002-2008) by the Austrian artist Moira Zoitl. It is not a film but an installation, in which video plays a major part. It consists of videos, photography, text, embroidery, sculptures and/or spatial constructions. The project documents the working and living conditions of Filipina domestic workers in Hong Kong and London as well as their political and social activities. It is conceived as a platform, where different kinds of expressions – also by different authors – are possible. In this documentary the border is at issue in three different ways: First of all the depicted migrant workers are confronted with borders between nation states. In their “host country” they also have to deal with social borders. Due to their special working and living situation migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong make this social border visible. Since they mostly live at their working places, which are the private homes of their employers, most of them don’t have a private space of their own. Therefore they spend their rare free time in public places, which they use differently than the majority society. They create a public visibility, which contradicts their hidden existence in everyday life. In Hong Kong as well as in other industrialized – or better: post-industrial – countries the economic systems relies on the exploitation of domestic workers. But neither the exploitation nor the domestic workers should be a public issue. The system is based on the concealment of these facts. On the one hand the workers counteract this kind of suppression (in taking public space as well as in political demonstrations, celebrations, etc.) on the other hand Moira Zoitl brings up the issue (and the efforts of the workers) in the public of the art world via her documentary. So the third kind of border, which is at issue within this documentary project, is the border drawn by hegemonic practices to demarcate what can be said, shown, discussed, etc. within a society and what’s excluded from public discourse. In my paper I will examine Moira Zoitl’s methods and artistic strategies to undermine dominant regimes of visibility. In analyzing this project as an example I will discuss the problems and possibilities of documentary to produce and initiate counter-hegemonic discourses.

13.30 (Lunch)

15.00-17.30 (lecture room)

Raul Gschrey

Between Fact and Fiction. Artistic Works on Visual Surveillance.

Documentary approaches play a major role in artistic works on visual surveillance. This becomes most obvious in the mockumentary ?Citizen Cam? (France/Iceland, 1999), a satire on a fictional TV-channel in Reykjavik. Artistic projects which focus on the topic often include phases of research on the extend and possibilities of CCTV systems and their utilisation. Some artists use the original pictures produced by surveillance systems, but through the process of editing the material becomes fictionalised. During performances and interventions in spaces under surveillance, usually there is not only the CCTV camera present but also further cameras, which document the action and form a means of counter- and self-observation. In these situations, the presence of the camera also changes the reaction of the audience and the authorities. The borders between the documentary and the fictional become porous.

All: Discussion of the Future of Beyond Borders.

18.00 Beyond Borders Workshop after-party