First cut on the timeline [Audiovisual production amidst the capitalist crisis]

Large demonstrations and events of class struggle brought a return of the “social issue” in audiovisual production , not only in documentary making, but also in fiction. Neglected topics and concerns during the “restoration” years are back in the agenda. 

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That an economic, social, and political crisis as deep as the current one which is developing at the international level may unleash cultural changes of various kinds could be said to be “following the rule”. Otherwise it would be a signal that the vitality of culture is extinct. One problem is whether these cultural manifestations are signs of something new, or just a momentary dialectic ongoing process until the dominating entertainment market, unopposed for decades, assimilates the challenge. That’s one of the questions we ask ourselves, about the diverse new cultural manifestations that brought together by the “Arab Spring”, by the development of the crisis in Europe, and even in the U.S. That the fate of these cultural events is tied to the more general evolution of social and political developments, to victories and defeats in the class struggle, is also “a general truth”, but one must be careful enough with mechanical interpretations . History shows that cultural and ideological phenomena, neither go at the same pace, nor do they precede or continue beyond these “battles” . On the other hand, the capitalist crisis has historic proportions , and in any case everything is under construction.

Barely a decade ago Roman Gubern, a film historian, in his book The Electronic Eros spoke of the “visual opulence” of our culture. Thus it was expected that forceful changes would be expressed in such a language. In this article we attempt to come to terms with it. However, due to that internet-as-a-media platform-propelled “opulence”, it would be a mistake to analyze what happens only within the narrow space of traditional institutions such as film or TV. Hence “now we have to talk generically, amid the jumble of products and distribution channels, of audiovisual , as the central and hegemonic province of contemporary mass culture ( … ) which includes television, video and the synthetic image produced by computers,” said Gubern in the same book … and then asked himself: “Do they have much in common? They are all moving images that we see on a screen, which is their spectacular bearer. Therefore, they speak the same language, but different dialects” . Without falling into the other extreme, we believe that this statement reveals a real tendency wich cannot be avoided in order to analyze our environment. At the same time, for that reason, the field of “communication”, with new technological possibilities, expanded to become a vehicle of sensitive expression. Perhaps “art” is finding other ways.

Any audiovisual maker, film or TV director, “amateur”, publisher, or editor, knows that in the end, what matters is what you cut and paste in the “timeline” . The “timeline” is the digital workspace where you edit a film . The sense and the ideology of a film are built in there, even more than in the shooting. Prior to any final result, a tentative “first cut” in the timeline is always done for analysis, which by definition is subject to change. And that is what we intend to do in this article, concerning audiovisual achievements which over the last three years were born in the middle of class struggle . They all speak the language of images, but they learn their own dialects, and all together advance a language that is not the one that is shouted from the hegemonic centres of cultural industry production. Luckily this cut is very partial, for we were forced to set aside dozens of examples for reasons of space, which demonstrates the vitality of the process, and allows us to think that it may not have the typical “happy ending”.

Egypt: cinema with an eye-patch

“I’m a videographer, my eye is my greatest asset,” said Ahmed Abdel Fatah. “But we will not stop. It’s our job, is what we do best and we will continue,” he added . There is a symbolic fact, not symbolic at all, that is not all too well known: in Egypt 2011, the repressive forces fired at Egyptian protesters in the eyes, to smash them, as a strategy of deterrence. The eye-patch thus became a symbol of the struggle against the dictator Mubarak. Abdel had his eye shot and lost while filming people being killed on the bridge of Qsr el-Nil, Cairo. However, that crime failed to blind the footage. The dramatic images are part of the documentary “Reporting … a revolution” by six young journalists, including Abdel. “Reporting what is happening is a strategy of survival. We claimed the streets and lost friends, hands, eyes … A young generation of mobile technology experts act as gatekeepers of the visual world , archiving images that can not be denied to the people who revolts against state power.” said Nora Younis , founder of Al Masry Al Youm, a multimedia site that organized the productions of that collective film.

Among the various experiences, The Mosireen collective detaches itself: “born of the explosion of citizen journalism and cultural activism in Egypt during the revolution”, brings together the testimonies and videos of the protests in Egypt. Besides, they hold photography and video editing workshops to multiply image production. They claim that the demands of the struggle did not end with the fall of Mubarak, but just began. “We have shot the ongoing revolution, published videos that challenge media narratives, provide training, technical assistance, equipment, organize screenings and events and organize an extensive library of images of the revolution.” Their videos on the demonstrations were the most viewed worldwide on Youtube during the revolution. They also hosted Tahrir Cinema: screenings and discussions at the Square’s camp. Resuming the best traditions of militant cinema, this group organized a campaign through nationwide screenings, to challenge the lies of the military junta. While the generals said not to have been in Tahrir Square, the images on the screens showed how the Army repressing the people unabated. Their channel is updated with videos about the protests and denouncements against the repressive state. They also porduce a series called Right to …, (Right to … education, health, work , housing, etc.) where they take all unfulfilled demmands. One of their latest videos is called Taskim to Tahir: we desire the fall of the system, and compares the images of Egypt and Turkey, finding similarities, repression, protesters moving, tanks set on fire, attacking water cannons. Thus they twin both struggles through editing.

But one of the strongest impulses to shoot without eyes is the important role of women. Several productions bear witness to this. Forbidden (2011), Amal Ramsis, Ni Allah, ni Maître (Neither God nor Master, 2011), by Nadia el Fani , Words of Women from the Egyptian Revolution (2011) , by Leil-Zahra, and also another Mosireen production, In the shadow of a Man, a documentary by Hanan Abdalla, which deals with the oppression of women, displaying four personal stories, and ends with images of women in the demonstrations, and a reflection left by the street chants “we are not afraid, we are not tired, total revolution or nothing.”

The days of Egypt also prompted European filmmakers to travel and record the process. Journal of Tahrir Square, by Spanish filmmaker Marc Almodóvar, is a valuable record of the 18 days that brought down Mubarak. Then began The hidden revolution, still in process, which aims to show the struggle of the workers before, during and after 2011, and especially the events of factory occupations. And then there is Philip Rizk, a member of Mosireen, which is producing Outside / in the streets , a film that “interweaves documentary and fiction to address revolutionary Egypt from the perspective of the workers …” . This is just the beginning . 

Greece, all the seeds of December

One of the best known films of the process in Greece is December Seeds (2009 ) in tribute to murdered teenager Alexandros Grigoropoulos . The confusion about its production bears witness to Greek cultural situation . Attributed to old filmmaker Chris Marker, who died last year, everything indicates that it was not made under his direct responsibility. However, it is indeed a film of his, al least in an indirect way, for the film speaks his dialect. And we’re talking about Marker, who built a visual language for his works which was parallel to the hegemonic language, and at the same time remained a political radical until his death, and at almost 90 he was browsing the networks fascinated by its potential.

“I fled. I noticed that you move fast. It’s hard to find cops who want to give you a talk and you slip through the TV channels. I was anxious to get back where I found the seeds, stay beside the window, to see another scene from a movie that was never filmed. By the way, I bumped into the girl that initiated me. Eyes closed and mouth shut. Shed tried to convey her thoughts. Protect the seeds!” Says the dialogue that is overprinted on two legs that run wildly to meet “Freedom” in this short film that sailed massively through the networks.”… Difficulties and lack of funds rather than kill the cinema, in fact renew it? … Meanwhile, Greece has gone through seven general strikes; the sixth aid plan is negotiated, Prime Minister Papandreou resigns, a technocratic government is set up, the country is at the brink of bankruptcy; … and 30 new films are expected to be premiered!”, said an amazed journalist who portrayed the country’s audiovisual production in mid- 2012. According to news reports what is emerging is a “rare cinema”, sustained without funds, based on the collaboration of filmmakers who rotate their roles. It was also formed a movement called Filmmakers in the fog, with 200 filmmakers, who carry on a pressure campaign for legislative changes. In these movies are usually seen direct images of today. In some, as Attenberg, the setting is a decaying industrial area. In Homeland and Wasted Youth , scenes of strikes and protests. Also numerous documentaries were produced, such as Oligarchy or Debtocracy, distributed under a Creative Commons licence.

In 2010 came the site The Prism , which brought together a group of journalists to tell the Greek crisis and the stories ignored by the media. The result is 27 works: “…The Prism GR2011 is a collective documentation of Greece during the winter of 2010 , through the lenses of 14 photojournalists transformed into multimedia storytellers … it gathers all these different views…” From this experience comes Krisis, a film that interweaves these stories. 

Spain, interferences without author

What if two girls performed on another, “Autopsies of workers, over dressed customers”? According to the film Interference, we discover that shoes made in India have the blood of children. There is nothing to be discomforted about in wearing accessories, underwear, shirts, pants, and so on that last just for a while and then come back to buy them again, because “it’s fashionable.” That the workers in the Maghreb that made the pants you wear were fired so that they could not set up a trade union, accused to the police and prosecuted so that they will not be able to get a job back again. That Burmese shirt has got women slavery, working nonstop, dressed in black so that menstruation passes unnoticed. And so … “Do you know if there is blood, tears, pollution, death, in what you buy?” . An interesting project, “the first work of fiction released in theatres with a Creative Commons licence on the causes of the global crisis and its alternatives”.

Also among the Indignados “the activist becomes the producer of images…”. In the 15M movement, an audiovisual commission was conceived was set up, responsible for collecting all materials to build a large national archive. Two projects can be underlined: Madrid’s Audiovosol, and Barcelona’s 15mbcn.tv . Many documentaries were produced, like Last night I had a dream: the voices of the #15M, produced by journalists from VEO7 , fired a few days before the outbreak of the movement. Also a multimedia portal like Toma la Tele (Take the TV) that gathers productions from various assemblies and collectives.

A few years before the rise of the Indignados, the collective Cinema Without Author was set up, which drives a critique of production under the rules of the capitalist market. It questions the role of the director, proposes that everyone is entitled to make his or her film and to model their scripts. Proposes new forms of production, with the people and without hierarchies. As the movement arose, they joined the campsites and participate in the activities, while proposing them to take in their hands the claims of cultural democratization and audiovisual production. 

Culture in the timeline

As we said at the beginning of this article, reasons of space force us to leave aside many other examples and experiences arising from all this huge audiovisual production in the middle of the crisis. From the above-named countries we have only highlighted some fragments; entire worlds are cast aside, as the experience in the US of France. But, as when editing a film, cutting comes first, and we hope to have fulfilled at least the aim of drawing attention to these endeavours. Two decades ago the artist and filmmaker Jan Svankmajer on his “Decalogue” explained his method for finding creative, sensual, bodily freedom, noting the problem that “Furthermore, in contemporary audiovisual civilization, the eye is noticeably tired and ‘spoilt’. Meanwhile, bodily experience is more authentic, free of the ballast of aestheticism.” Now that this survey is through, we feel that the bodily experience of the authentic class struggle allows us, though in a piecemeal way, to get rid of the ballast of the hegemonic language imposed by the cultural industry. We expect that this new audiovisual practice succeeds in creating a new language.

Roughly summing up, we can say that the class struggle brought a return to the “social issue”, not only in the documentary but also in fiction. But what we find most interesting is the beginnning of a return to a self-reflection in the audiovisual sector, putting back in the agenda issues and concerns largely neglected during the years of capitalist restoration. In the foreground theres is the self-perception of the social and cultural role of cinema and the audiovisual in support of specific class struggle developments, democratic or political struggles, with the idea of helping shape reality. In other, more interesting planes, there are open criticisms of the official film and media institutions and the market, reflecting on itself, on its forms of production, distribution, with self-criticism and formal searches. The emergence of new groups (again, which cover or merge, documentary, journalism, fiction) . Perhaps the cut in the cultural timeline may be even more comprehensive.

Violeta Bruck / Javier Gabino

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