Academic journal article Millennium Film Journal

When We Speak of the Future: An Interview with Julia Meltzer and David Thorne

Academic journal article Millennium Film Journal

When We Speak of the Future: An Interview with Julia Meltzer and David Thorne

Article excerpt

Beginning in early November 2007, I corresponded collaborators Julia Meltzer and David Thorne for this issue of Millennium Film Journal. This written exchange builds our prior conversations while engaging a number of issues: how their working processes have affected the development of individual pieces; problems that arise from the term "experimental documentary"; and the issues, feelings, and difficulties that have informed the work they produced during their residency in Syria. What also emerges from this conversation is a tension between my desire to produce overarching critical structures to explain and contextualize their and the organic ways that David and Julia research issues, discover appropriate forms, and develop emotional registers in their works. They patiently critique my assumptions throughout. The (edited) conversation reflects upon the four major works they have produced so far, described below.

It's not my memory of it: three recollected documents (2003) is a documentary about secrecy, memory, and documents. Mobilizing specific historical records as memories that flash up in moments danger, the tape addresses the logic of the bureaucracy of secrecy the current climate of heightened security. Three events are analyzed: 1) a former CIA source recounts his disappearance through shredded classified documents that were painstakingly reassembled by radical Muslim students in Iran in 1979, 2) a CIA film documents the burial at sea of six Soviet sailors, and 3) digital images reference a publicly acknowledged, but top-secret, U.S. missile strike in Yemen in 2002. These records are punctuated by fragments of interviews with "information management" officials from various federal agencies.

We will live to see these things, or, five pictures of what may come to pass (2007) is a documentary video in five parts about competing visions of an uncertain future. Shot in 2005-06 in Damascus, Syria, each section of the piece - 1) the chronicle of a building in downtown Damascus, 2) a recitation anticipat- "1S the arrival of a perfect 3) an interview with a intellectual, 4) a portrait of a Qur'an school for young girls, and 5) an imagining of the world made anew - offers a different on what might come to pass in a place where people five the competing forces of a repressive regime, a growing Islamic movement, and intense pressure from the United

not a matter of if but when (2007) and epic (2008) were in 2005-06 in Damascus, Syria. This period of time was by momentous events: Rafiq Harriri, the former Prime Minister Lebanon, was assassinated; the Syrians were pressured to from Lebanon after a 30-year occupation; the Cedar Revolution and went; elections were held in Iraq and were followed by a into civil war; and Hezbollah strengthened its position in Lebanon. These events produced widespread anxiety and about the potential for imminent change in Syria: regime change, internal reform, internal collapse, civil war and the increased power of fundamentalist Islam. Over a period of several months, the artists worked with Syrian performer and filmmaker Rami Farah to record short sequences in which he responded to a prompt or a written text. Through a combination of direct address and fantastical narrative, Rami's improvisations speak to living in a condition of uncertainty, chaos and stasis.


Hi, David and Julia:

So, one question I have is about your decision to explore distinctly different forms in making what I'll call "experimental documentary," for lack of a better term right now. . . .

Your first two pieces are multi-part videos that use different formal strategies within each part. It's not my memory of it has three distinct sections, four distinct strategies of telling stories, and it explicitly addresses how different kinds of documents (official and unofficial) and different forms of media (paper, 16mm, video, digital photographs, etc) come to produce different kinds of "truth. …

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