Session 13: March Contemporary Essay Film Programme

On this final day of screenings and discussion, and to close Birkbeck’s inaugural Essay Film Festival, the focus is on contemporary essay filmmakers who are engaging with current political struggles and complex historical memories from around the world.

War is a Tender Thing (Film Still) 2013, Directed by Adjani Arumpac. Courtesy and copyright the filmmaker

Part one: Memory and Conflict, 11am-1pm

11am: Mined Soil, Filipa Cesar, Portugal, 2014, 30 minutes
In Mined Soil Filipa Cesar reflects on soil as both a past and present source of wealth and site of exploitation. She juxtaposes Portugal’s Alentejo region and the former Portuguese colony of Guinea-Bissau, drawing on the writings of the agronomist Amilcar Cabral who led the war of independence in Guinea-Bissau from 1963 to 1973.

11.30am: War is a Tender Thing, Adjani Arumpak, 2013, Philippines, 70 minutes
The southern Philippines are home to one of the longest-running wars in the world, a war that the media has presented as one of a conflict of cultures. Arumpac’s first-person essay documentary focuses on the lives of her relatives, using observation, testimony and her own voice, as she tries to understand and unravel the complexity of memory. The subjectivity of history is mined by the curiosity of the filmmaker, who interweaves a sensual tapestry of images and sound that heighten the mood of tension, expressing the truth of experience as much as the facts of war.

Part two: a selection of films selected by May Ingawanij (University of Westminster), 1.30-3.20pm
1.30pm A Ripe Volcano, Taiki Sakpisit, 2011, Thailand, 15 minutes
Chronicle of a Tape Recorded Over, Trinh Thi Nguyen, 2010, Vietnam, 25 minutes

Part three: two works by William E. Jones, 3.30-4.20pm

3.30pm Psychic Driving, William E. Jones, 2014, USA, 14 minutes

Psychic Driving deals with experiments on unwitting subjects involving hallucinogenic drugs and massive doses of electroshock. One of the subjects, the wife of a member of the Canadian Parliament, speaks out in an interview. The psychiatrist in charge, Dr. Ewen Cameron, treated patients in three stages – sleep therapy, psychic driving, and de-patterning – to destroy personalities then build them back up again. His funding came from the CIA. The source material of Psychic Driving is a VHS tape recorded from a 1979 television broadcast, and is the only existing copy in the National Archives of the United States. The tape’s degradation inspired frame-by-frame animation involving hundreds of passes of filters in Photoshop.
Model Workers, William E. Jones, 2014, USA, 12 minutes

Model Workers presents a collection of paper money bearing images of workers. Intricately engraved details are arranged in chronological order; full views of the banknotes are in reverse chronological order, ending at the beginning: Mexico, 1914. The montage includes colonies and the independent countries they became, as well as former and present socialist states. Workers from Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe are represented. Only the world’s biggest capitalist powers – United States, Japan, United Kingdom, and the recently unified Eurozone – are missing. They do not acknowledge the source of their wealth on their currency.

Conclusion: Lost Book Found, 4.30-5.30pm
4.30pm Lost Book Found, Jem Cohen, 1996, USA, 37 minutes
Jem Cohen is a political flâneur and poetic bricoleur, assembling his films from fragments shot at street level the world over. His work since the early 1980s has encompassed music videos, newsreels, documentaries and feature films. In Lost Book Found the discovery of a mysterious notebook serves as the key to a hidden New York, a meditation on forgotten narratives and the relics of late capitalism.

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