Wednesday, November 21, 2012

International Anthropological Film Festival in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

I am back from the International Anthropological Film Festival in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – organised by VICAS: Vietnam Institute of Culture and Arts Studies). Screening in four venues across Ho Chi Minh City (two universities) this was an amazing event! 

Ho Chi Minh City University of Culture

It was a really great cross-cultural experience and I learnt so much about Vietnam (and visual ethnography).  It would be great to see some of the films in this program in Australia. Here is the Festival's trailer which gives something of a feel for the festival films (although censorship in Vietnam is a real issue –  some local and international films were banned and/or cut–sometimes at the very last moment- so the program shifted here and there).

The discussions (formal and informal) were so thorough. Some-times 2 hours on one film! Incredible detail - so that more social, political, philosophical and historical issues were discussed, than film-making practice. You know, I liked this Festival so much more than the 'standard' film festival where the market place dominates - or when there are so many films (back to back) that there is no time for in-depth discussion - or discussion feel hurried.  Here at the Anthrop Film Festival the discussions were an intrinsic part of the screening – and were in depth, insightful and penetrating. At Ho Chi Minh City's University of Culture I was taken by the intense engagement of the students with the ideas presented in each film. This was no ordinary film festival, but something unique. I asked a colleague if he thought this quality was the "anthropological"  nature of the event or some quality in Vietnamese culture and-or their education system? We reckoned it was probably both!

Ho Chi Minh City University of Culture

Actually, I have never really located myself within this field of visual ethnography - perhaps because anthropological films in Australia have mostly been made from within the vexed site of colonising. I have preferred to make films  as a 'documentary maker'. Also my own film-making began as part of a political process - making feminist films for social change. But this Festival has stimulated me to review various positions I have held over the years.  All orthodoxies need to be challenged! And anthropology, too is going through its own transformations - and a genuine 'participatory',  ethical and de-colonising film-making is very much part of current practice: "The remarkable novelty comes when a Maori becomes an anthropologist and she practices anthropology as a Maori rather than studying the Maori as an anthropologist". Walter Mingolo, ('Decolonizing Western Epistemology, Building Decolonial Epistemologies') . Mingolo's essay refers to Maori scholar Linda Tuhiwai Smith and her great book: "Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples" (1998) whch has just been released in its 2nd edition (2012). The book "has been substantially revised, with new case-studies and examples and important additions on new indigenous literature, the role of research in indigenous struggles for social justice, which brings this essential volume urgently up-to-date". 
I will be writing an article about the AnthroFestival for Realtime (Feb 2013). 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Agnes Varda Tribute

Agnès Varda is a Paris-based photographer and film director and a key figure in modern film history. She is much revered across the globe for her deconstruction of the documentary form and her boundary-pushing work. In a career spanning 57 years, Agnès Varda, is one of the most original and renowned of the French ‘New Wave’ directors; in fact she is the only female director associated with it – her early films anticipating the work of Godard and Truffaut.

Beaches of Agnes 2008
Antenna Documentary Festival, in collaboration with the Alliance Francaise, the French Embassy and the Art Gallery of New South Wales, presented a tribute to this legendary French filmmaker on October 13th.  The films screened in 35mm (what a treat!). A special  thanks to AGNSW Curator and projectionist Robert Herbert ; and thanks to Antenna for inviting me to introduce the films: Beaches of Agnes
Here's an extract from my intro:  In The Beaches of Agnes we are in the mind of an Elder who is ‘essaying’: she weighs up her own life, pays tribute to her lovers, friends, family and colleagues. She time travels back into her own films – and into Demy’s films. It is a tribute to cinema – to the nouvelle vaugue, to documentary, to fiction, to imagination, to creativity. There is a great freedom in this film – everything is possible – as in a Melies film. It is magic, the stuff of dreams.
and an extract from my introduction to The Gleaners and I:

Varda plays with representation – from Millet’s painting – which serves as visual metaphor and foundation text – and she transforms it into her own film text of gleaning. She pushes beyond the surfaces of Millet’s three gleaners and his framing – to blow open the edge of frame and ‘essay’ into her film’s themes; and she gives us herself and her gleaners in fleshy reality.

The people actually filmed in The Gleaners – and the way she films with them – is worth thinking about.  How does Varda achieve such a special quality in her interviews? – a feeling of compassion and intimacy – a sense of shared humanity. Varda says this: 

“The people I have filmed tell us a great deal about our society and ourselves.  I myself learned a lot as I was making this film.  It confirmed my idea that documentaries are a discipline that teach modesty”. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Indonesia and Australian Cinema

I watched Indonesian President Susilo Bambang  Yudhoyono’s speech (on APAC: Tuesday 3rd July 2012) at the Australia-Indonesia Business Council Luncheon, Darwin, and was struck by his Australian film references. I reckon it's a real challenge to introduce the diversity of Australian cinema and documentary to Indonesian audiences (as well as more current works) - judging by his titles:
“Many Indonesians are fans of the movie “Australia” starred by Hugh Jackman & Nicole Kidman and “Crocodile Dundee” starred by Paul Hogan. Both movies showed the beauty of nature and fauna of Australia. They also showed the spirit of the folks of Northern Territory: the fighting spirit, freedom, and optimism. These are the spirits that we need to advance in the Australia-Indonesia cooperation". 
I am thinking of more recent films that Indonesian audiences might appreciate, like Rachel Perkins's  (Blackfella Films) recent drama Mabo - on the historic Mabo decision and life story of Eddie and Bonita Mabo. 

Or Bilbao (2009) by Robert Connolly on East Timor. 

It seems there's a way to go to see such titles amongst Bambang Yudhoyono’s favourites. And what about the documentary list?!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Journey To The End Of Coal

Honkytonk Films – Online screening: Journey To The End Of Coal

Journey To The End Of Coal a new web documentary tells the story of the sacrifice millions of Chinese coal miners are making everyday, risking their lives, yet also causing ecological havoc in order to develop China's economic growth (online now!). It was made out of 300 photographs, 3 hours of video and 10 hours of sound materials gathered in China by Samuel Bollendorff and Abel Ségrétin in the winter of 2006. Using Flash, they have produced  an immersive environment while letting the audience access a large selection of this audio-visual materials at their own pace.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Walking by David Perry

A wet morning in Sydney! And by accident this morning I came across filmmaker David Perry's grainy, silent super 8 footage 'Walking'. Filmed in 1955, Perry's camera tracks a young man walking Sydney's rainy streets, through Ultimo, across Pyrmont Bridge; it's a fragment of a city film, and it's like an original moment with Arthur Stace 'Mr. Eternity'. It's now part of an installation at Damien Minton Gallery featured in the group exhibition 'Five Bells - A Visual Ode to Sydney' (1-18 February, 2012) .