ISSUE #14 – Whose Voice?
Cinema, representation and representativeness
With the shocks from the #metoo movement continuing to reverberate through the world of cinema and beyond, Black Lives Matter protests mobilising an entire generation and more and more social media accounts detailing abuses during filming under the hashtag #balancetonporc (“out your pig”), the “Whose Voice?” seminar was brought to the Cinema department by Alice Riva (teaching assistant and programmer at Visions du Réel), Nicolas Wadimoff (director and Dean of the Cinema department) and Delphine Jeanneret (Deputy Dean of the Cinema department and programmer at the Locarno Film Festival). This seminar brought together filmmakers and thinkers to offer critical and inquiring perspectives on the issues of representation and the construction of our imagination. Alongside this, readings from fundamental texts on these movements, as well as film screenings, podcasts and discussions were used to disseminate and debate the theoretical concepts of decolonial, feminist and queer thought, in order to provide a critical framework from which to interpret films.
This experimental seminar began in March 2021 with a reading of a text by the director, academic, and Afrofeminist, Amandine Gay, entitled “La réappropriation des moyens de production au service d’une esthétique autonome” (Reappropriating production resources in pursuit of an autonomous aesthetic) from the collective work Décolonisons les arts! (Decolonise the arts!) under the direction of Leïla Cukierman, Gerty Dambury and Françoise Vergès (L’Arche, 2018). Together we read this text of a raw, exhilarating clarity, with each student taking one or two paragraphs, before sharing and discussing our questions: How can minorities be given a voice? How should they be represented on screen? How can we bring about existence through naming? The following week, Amandine Gay talked to us about her work on reappropriating the narrative and production resources as an act of emancipation. We were deeply moved by her clear and direct style of speaking, which led many of us to question our convictions.
Over time, her voice would be joined by others to form a polyphony of decolonial, feminist and queer discourse. Alexe Poukine presented her first full-length feature, That Which Does Not Kill (Sans frapper) (Jury Prize at Visions du Réel in 2019), in which she explores the subject of rape and its resulting post-traumatic stress disorder. Together we explored ways to represent the unnameable. Noémi Michel, an academic and Afrofeminist activist, studies the place of minorities in democracy. She creates scenarios with small groups of students to encourage them to think about the everyday words they use to describe themselves. Along with the writer Clara Schulmann, who holds a PhD in Cinema Studies, the students read chapters from her book, Zizanies (Paraguay Press, 2020), which were divided into moods. She listened to the students tell their stories, using her text to help them uncover and better understand their own vulnerabilities.
The editor, writer and curator, Greg de Cuir Jr, who curated the Black Light retrospective at the Locarno Film Festival, spoke about the role of the representation of racialised people in experimental cinema, and about his own work, which aims to raise the profile of lesser known filmmakers. Iris Brey, a journalist, writer and film critic, shared her research on Le regard féminin, une révolution à l’écran (The Female Gaze: A Screen Revolution) (Éditions de l’Olivier, 2020). She spoke about her research into the dominance of the male gaze in cinema, and looked at ways to measure the historic invisibility of women in film. Armed with this insight, we ended the seminar determined to bring about change the film industry. Naelle Dariya and River spoke about the onscreen representation of transgender people and deconstructed some of the cinematic clichés surrounding them. They strive to maintain the profile of cultures, characters and bodies which are often invisible in cinema. The journalist and legal reporter, Yamina Zoutat, offered an analysis of speeches heard at the Palais de Justice (law courts) in Paris in order to highlight the mechanisms of power at work in areas where the spoken word is the primary source of defence. The Georgian director, Elene Naveriani, who graduated from the Cinema department in 2014, screened some of her feminist, inclusive and anti-racist cinema. We discussed the issues surrounding the non-representation of communities in certain countries, including Georgia. Finally, the director Callisto McNulty revisited the activist work of her grandmother, Carole Roussopoulos, with an exploration of her film Delphine et Carole, insoumuses (Delphine and Carole) (2019). She spoke about the “enchanted feminism” of the 1970s, the first female activist directors, and her own feminist views, which encompass both the historic and the contemporary.
The “Whose Voice?” seminar offered students an opportunity to discuss some pressing – and sometimes hot – issues using a participatory learning approach that enabled them to collectively construct the debate with guest speakers and teaching staff. This focus offers a short synopsis of the discourse, adopting a conversational interview format to discover the voices and work of some of those who took part in the seminar.
Cover image: still from Ouvrir la voix, Amandine Gay, France, 2017, 122’