Les États généraux du film documentaire 2014 Uprisings, revolts, giving images a jolt

Uprisings, revolts, giving images a jolt

The first years of this century have been particularly tortured and turbulent, seeming to announce both a promise of brighter future possibilities and a threat of retreat and obscurantism. The struggle for power in politics and society stokes conflict but also sharpens resistance. Faced with events or an event, amateurs, filmmakers, photographers trace their paths, confront these realities trying to lend them meaning, trying to represent the upheavals under way in history, the uprisings, revolutions, wars. This workshop will focus on these attempts prolonging the reflection started in previous editions on amateur images (2011) and on the representation of the people (2013). Three films, The Uprising, Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait (Special screening), and The Silent Majority Speaks question the images made by the protagonists of events and their reappropriation by cineastes. The presentation of the protest photo book Algeria on the war of decolonisation, the fiction Révolution Zendj and the documentaries The Return to Homs and Maidan (Open air screening) will open other perspectives on modes of narrative and representation of history under way. All these attempts cross at the point of implication and engagement by authors/actors of a history that they try to make their own, by questioning it, inventing it, by creating this jolt in images.

Images of Peoples in Struggle

How is the image of people in struggle constructed? What are the languages, the rhetorics, the tales that the revolutionary epic demands and produces? The Protest Photo Book by Dirk Alvermann Algeria (1960) is a successful attempt to creatively materialise this imagination. Alvermann was only eighteen years old when he managed to cross the Tunisian border to join the Algerian Liberation Army with the idea of documenting the events under way in order to blow up once and for all European photo-journalism which was subservient to French colonialism. He did it with the means of cinema — Algerische Partisanen (1962) — and photography. His book is not a collection of images but a cinematic narration in which montage occupies a key place, in the modern lay-out, with no text or explanatory legend. Constructing his work in sequences and repetitions, Dirk Alvermann finally gives a face to the Algerian people and not only its army: men, women, the elderly and children are the protagonists of a general insurrection which affects the whole of society and all its classes. When the book was published, Alvermann wanted it to be printed as a pocket book at fifty thousand copies, he wanted it to be a book for documentation but above all a book to incite revolution, a book-tool to sum up, a real molotov-book. Immerging oneself in this flux of images, deciphering the language, the rhythm, the scansion, means casting the theoretical bases for a precise and radical analysis of contemporary revolutionary imaginings by withdrawing them from a fundamentally dehistoricising internationalist rhetoric and providing them with a long term historico-esthetic context. The reading-screening of Algeria will be punctuated by other stories and other books recounting people in struggle through photography and the revolutionary power of its language.

Federico Rossin

With Their Own Eyes

Revolution, uprising, riot, revolt... The words are numerous and inadequate to describe these events or processes which engage a collectivity in struggle. Images don't capture the phenomena better or less well, but have become over the past several years a privileged form of expression of this moment of commitment. No popular mobilisation takes place any more without the production of digital images, photos and videos. In previous historical sequences, the image served principally as a format to carry a discourse—banners, leaflets, posters, graffiti—or were produced by professionals, journalists, cineastes. Today digital images constitute an autonomous form of expression and are produced, and distributed, by the very actors of the mobilisations. Given that situation, new questions arise: what functions do these images have for those who produce them? What do they tell us about the individual and the constitution of a collective? What do they say about the “people”? If it is difficult to measure the number of videos put online in relation to the number produced, sharing images proves indissociable from their recording. It is then necessary to think of these images in their environment. Are they or will they become archives? And as we face this overwhelming flow of images, how can we look at them, how can we transmit them? These anonymous or orphaned images are produced for the present, for mobilisation, but also for memory. How can we then “guarantee the contemplation of these images [...] by reusing [them] without falling into the traps of a commemoration?”[1] Creators, artists, directors, filmmakers appropriate them to try to allow us to see and hear these shots outside of the digital present. In this way three films scheduled this year, The Uprising, Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait and The Silent Majority Speaks, are confrontations with the eyes of these others to attempt to give them a place of welcome, accept their violence or render their vitality. These films will be neither a point of departure or arrival, but a phase during which we can take the time to look for answers to these questions and to consider these images for what they are: traces as much as acts...

Ulrike Lune Riboni

1. Dork Zabunyan, Passages de l'histoire, Blou, Le Gac Press, 2011.

Documentary Against Reality

When the Arab world rose up during the winter of 2010-2011, I was quickly struck by the way images circulating on the web answered one another, echoed each another across borders. I had the feeling of watching people finally emerging from a long reciprocal isolation, not only to join up in the streets—where it was possible—but also to dialogue, to observe and be inspired by each other via any means at hand, including mobile phone cameras or the Internet.

It would be easy to reduce such images to the status of a document, a clue or a trace—to look at them in a distracted or awestruck way, and then no longer think about them. But I do not think we do them justice by considering them a derivative or secondary phenomenon. The energy that circulates through them, is the same as that which flows through the people assembled in the street, and which is transmitted at different times by song, word, a protest march or a dance; it is the same that is embodied in the collective occupation of a public square, or in the acts of resistance against the police and militia, the armies and baltagui—these thugs employed by the regime in Egypt and elsewhere—, irradiating a power that is no less physical for not (yet) being armed.

For images are not reified, inert or necessarily alienating “objects”; they are above all, and by the very fact of their visual nature, spaces of tension, open to the world and to the future. They are direct, physical and sometimes imperative invitations to move, act and think differently.

So when I decided to make a film based on these images, it was neither to recount what had happened, nor to give the reasons or analyse the conditions of these movements' failure or success. I wanted merely to observe that between these images and the bodies that produced them and our own bodies, an energy was circulating. And that this energy is every bit as real as an electoral campaign or a mission of international observers or a strike in a textile factory or the body of a martyr mourned by its family.

I made the film The Uprising above all for us who are not down there, nor even from down there. Not only to show us what we perhaps forgot to see, but also to question us, to challenge us. For it is our timidity, our cowardice, our unconscious attachment to the powers and comforts (being, they, absolutely “virtual”) that we procure from the so-called consumer society and the remains of our welfare states, that these images disturb. And it is our capacity to imagine and concretely create new forms of solidarity, thanks to and beyond our differences, that they appeal to in the strongest way.

By showing through montage how a tear gas grenade thrown in a Manama street can fall at the feet of a demonstrator in Daraa, how a slogan chanted in Tunis can find its best response in a crowd in Alexandria, I did not want to homogenise images, take them out of context or tear them from their roots. I wanted to show that their contexts and roots are multiple, and that they constantly spill over what we think we know or understand about these countries. That their power can transgress all borders, be they temporal, geographic or political, within which we might want (sometimes with the best of intentions, or the worst) restrict them. And that it is by doing so, and only by doing so, that they resonate even within us.

For the revolution, as an event (in the strongest meaning of the word), is never reducible to a series of causes and a context. It is always in excess of any intelligible framework of any constituted body of knowledge. The same causes, the same conditions of humiliation and exploitation can take place elsewhere or at other times and strictly nothing will happen. Confining these insurrections to something specific that can never explain their sources nor exhaust their meaning is just another way of shutting them up within themselves, of isolating them and breaking their momentum. And in this way we become accomplices to the powers fighting them and striving to crush what is best in them, while making their weakest or most anecdotal characteristics perfectly exploitable by those whose aim is to “govern” us forever.

Any revolution is also a revolution against reality. Against that reality which tries to dictate to us what is possible and what is not. Reducing the Arab revolutions to the “reality” of what happened is to condemn them to powerlessness, to history, to the past precisely—whereas the profound mutations they have triggered have only just begun.

In The Uprising, I wanted to resonate the power that these images contain, not to dissect it but simply to keep it alive by (re)placing it in the present. Beyond the weaknesses and strengths of this essay, I believe that the appeal crossing these shots truly exists and that it is transmitted to us not only from these peoples but from the people — i.e. that part of what is common and which persists, and resists, deep down inside every one of us.

Peter Snowdon

Workshop schedule

- Thursday, August 21 at 10 am, Cinema 2
Screening of Algerische Partisanen by Dirk Alvermann followed by a slideshow of the book-manifesto Algeria and by a presentation by Federico Rossin.
- Thursday, August 21 at 2.30 pm, Cinema 2
Screening of The Uprising in the presence of Peter Snowdon followed by a presentation by Ulrike Lune Riboni.
- Thursday, August 21 at 9 pm, Cinema 2
Special screening of Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait by Ossama Mohammed and Wiam Simav Bedirxan.
- Friday, August 22 at 10 am, Cinema 2
Discussion around Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait followed by the screening of The Return to Homs by Talal Derki.
- Friday, August 22 at 2.30 pm, Cinema 2
Screening of The Silent Majority Speaks by Bani Khoshnoudi followed by a discussion. Screening of Révolution Zendj in the presence of Tariq Teguia.
- Friday, August 22 at 9 pm, Cinema 2
Open air screening of Maidan by Sergeï Loznitsa.
- Saturday, August 23 at 10:15 am, Cinema 3
Special screening of El Gort by Hamza Ouni.

Workshop led by Christophe Postic.
In the presence of Hamza Ouni, Ulrike Lune Riboni, Federico Rossin, Peter Snowdon and Tariq Teguia.