Academic journal article CineAction

Light in Dark Spaces: A Review of Allan Sekula and Noel Burch's Film Essay the Forgotten Space (2010)

Academic journal article CineAction

Light in Dark Spaces: A Review of Allan Sekula and Noel Burch's Film Essay the Forgotten Space (2010)

Article excerpt

A striking media trend today is the popularity of the documentary film genre, particularly those that offer social or political critiques. Think of the Canadian film, The Corporation, or any of Michael Moore's condemnations of corporate America. Viewers, weary and wary of the usual fare of commercial fictions and the increasingly propagandistic tone of the news media, want alternatives: 'the facts' of documentary filmmaking. The rise of popular protest movements around the world, as responses to globalized neoliberalism and more recent financial crises have further driven the desire for information sources beyond the compromised channels of commercial media. We want to know.

Moreover, filmmakers Allan Sekula and Noel Burch have argued that there is "a need to understand these things in a deeper way than the culture of the popular documentary film, which has opened itself up in good ways to current political problems." (1) Indeed, they wanted to make a more "openly Marxist film ... to redeem in the discourse of film the criticality of a Marxist way of looking at the world." Their film-essay, The Forgotten Space, was the result. Although well received at its September 2010 Venice premier, where it was awarded the Special Orizzonti Jury Prize, further attention seemed to develop slowly. However, recent screenings at the Tate Modern in London, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and other venues, have been generating increasing interest. The film's timely production led the filmmakers beyond their initial focus--the technological basis of globalization and its effects on the working classes--to include the deepening current global financial crisis. This has added weight and relevance to the film's Marxist critique of contemporary capitalism.

Collaborative Spaces

After years of discussion, long time friends Allan Sekula and Noel Burch collaborated on The Forgotten Space. Burch, a Marxist film critic, filmmaker and American exile in France for most of his life, is best known for his early formalist film analysis in his 1973 book Theory of Film Practice. (2) But Burch's later contribution to film theory considered the development of film conventions within their socio-economic context, particularly their historical formation within western capitalism. He distinguished between the 'Primitive Mode of Representation' that characterized early film development, and a later 'Institutional Mode of Representation', when film language became codified to correspond to the dominant scopic regime--a spectatorship of control and identification with the camera. Burch also co founded and directed the alternative French film school, Institut de Formation Cinematographique. Despite his reputation as a theorist, Burch considers himself primarily a filmmaker, having directed over twenty films, most of which were experiments in the documentary form that departed from the totalizing space of bourgeois film. Burch's deep, life long engagement with film practice, history, and theory are apparent in his direction of The Forgotten Space. Sekula's contribution to the film was mainly conception and writing, although he also provided some independently shot footage.

Allan Sekula has also spent much of his career as a scholar and artist, as a photography historian and photography-based mixed media artist. He has taught at the California Institute of the Arts since 1985. Besides sharing Burch's political sympathies, Sekula has also critically examined systems of visual representation, notably in his 1984 book, Photography against the Grain: Essays and Photo Works. (3) There he considers the function of social documentary photography within class and power relations. And like Burch has done in film, Sekula has explored alternative documentary strategies in his respective media of photography and text, specifically through the epistemological and aesthetic lens of 'critical realism'.

Sekula's gallery exhibitions and books have incorporated photographs, slide projection, spoken sound recordings and text panels. …

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