It’s only been a week since Document 2017. Thanks to everyone who makes the festival what it is – all our amazing guests, our wonderful collaborators, our incredible volunteers and, of course, the audience.
A particular thanks to everyone who filled in a feedback form over the festival weekend – we value your feedback very much. If you missed your chance then, we’d still love to know what you thought, good or bad, to help us improve the festival. We’ve set up an online survey that will only take a few minutes to complete. It can be found here.
We have more photographs and discussion of the festival to come, so watch this space. Otherwise, the conversation will continue towards our 2018 festival – starting this week, with our screening of Stranger In Paradise at Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh, with director Guido Hendrikx in attendance. More details of that here.
Andrea Luka Zimmerman is a German-born, London-based artist, filmmaker and activist who has become known for her essay films on gentrification, Taskafa, Stories of the Street and Estate, A Reverie. At first glance her new film, Erase and Forget, seems to inhabit a different universe, that of James ‘Bo’ Gritz, the Vietnam vet and alt-right hero who is best known as being the model for Rambo.
However, Zimmerman has been working on this film for more than a decade, and what links all her films is a concern with the deeper structures that create these characters and situations, such as in Taskafa, where a film ostensibly about street dogs in Istanbul becomes a eloquent exploration of the effects of gentrification and social class.
Zimmerman certainly sees a consistency in her work. “With Estate, a Reverie gentrification became the context, but it was on a deeper level about the structures that determine how we are able to live within them (or not), and everyday refusals to accept a prescribed way of being. In this way it is an inquiry into how people negotiate and navigate power. Power is quite slippery and in disguise until one is affected by it, in the case of Estate the prolonged making invisible of a community in the public eye (the rhetoric of sink estates, benefit fraudsters, deprived communities, all these ideas lead to a sense of the abject that can then be ‘fixed’ by either demolition or large-scale displacement like on the Haygate estate), with eventual demolition of the estate. With Erase and Forget I am exploring again questions of power and structural violence, this time through the relationship between covert and secret military operations and Hollywood cinema based on or inspired by them, or even shaping them. So, public and private memory are at the centre of both films, who gets to remember, whose memories are visible, whose voices are heard and why (not).”
Certainly, Bo is a fascinating, complex, but deeply ambiguous character, but Erase and Forget is no mere character study. The Vietnam War was perhaps the biggest trauma to undermine the American national psyche in the twentieth century, as soldiers in the field and protestors at home came to lose faith in their government, and question both its and the media’s motives, effects which are still at play in American society today. Zimmerman explains, “I met him during research into US involvement in Indonesia during the 1960s. I found him at a time in his life where he seemed wanting to go on a journey to find out what he was part of. Initially I didn’t think of making a long film with him, and focused on research for a different film that would show many more people in it, but the more material I found that concerned parts of his history, such as Tudor Gates’ and Patrick King’s rushes to a (never completed) documentary about Khun Sa and the CIA, the Afghan training film, the hundreds of television clips, his presidential campaign, etc, I realised that through this one person I could explore the way in which we in the West, over the last 50 years, went on a journey that we today call post-truth.”
The visual texture of the film is a disorientating montage of verite, archive and Hollywood footage, combined with Bo enacting out aspects of his history, perfectly encapsulating the vertiginous slippage between fact, fantasy and mediated reality that Bo’s life has become. After all, not only was Rambo based on him, but Clint Eastwood and William Shatner financed the mission, where he may or may not have found American prisoners still held in Vietnam.
At first, the viewer believes Bo; as one commentator notes, his experience gives him authority in the field. But as the film progresses, the viewer’s incredulity becomes strained – did he really also inspire the A-Team’s ‘Hannibal’ Smith, and Apocalypse Now’s Colonel Kurtz, a film Bo predictably, can’t stand?
Zimmerman concedes that “Bo is an unreliable narrator. When you look at covert operations, those that succeeded we usually never know about, so we can only study their effects. I think the spaces in between official and private memory are where we might find truth. The gestures, the inflections of the voice, the words masking what’s unsaid behind them, and the action movie genre that even the news adopt at certain times speaking about war. Hollywood told its story, and people heard it and felt it. For instance, First Blood is a work of art, it is also very much an anti-war movie. Then the character became another kind of Uberhuman killing machine for the sequel (then the highest on-screen kills at that time). This I think this is another kind of fact, the making of myth, and cinema has a key part in that, which is of course used by governments all over the world, and why there is also direct support to works that are deemed favourable of certain positions. The betrayal of that myth is what is almost impossible to bear. Hollywood has always been part of the making of a truth (ideology), since Pancho Villa, Birth of a Nation etc, it is persuasive and powerful. The news tells us one story, Hollywood another, and Bo is the interlocutor, and in no way more stable. Then there is the devastating archive where he trains Afghan mujahedeen or films drug running with Khun Sa. So instead of finding out ‘what really happened’ we collated these different strands together into one montage to allow the viewer to see the way in which they all have different agendas and tear at each other, and that truth is ultimately something we need to ask for daily and rigorously, and not expecting to be told by one ‘stable’ narrator.”
While Bo enjoys the limelight, playing up to both public attention and Zimmerman’s camera, there’s a dark side to him, and a sense that his covert actions for the government have completely undermined his faith in the American state. His activities here have made him a beacon for the alt-right, as Zimmerman explains. “All of us are part of a system that makes enormous profits out of structural and political violence. Bo is really a witness to the excesses of the military-industrial complex. Given the enormous rise in alt-right activity in the US and elsewhere, it is crucial to understand where such ideologies come from, and how they express themselves over time, both among citizens, and within government and state structures.”
This puts him at odds with his devotion to the military life, where he tried to live up to his father’s memory, and the myth of machismo he attempts to emulate, trotting himself out at gun rallies, and encouraging young recruits to follow a military life. One kills himself the next day; Bo himself eloquently describes his own suicide attempt as, “You shoot yourself in the head, but that’s not where the pain is. The pain is in the heart”.
As Zimmerman notes, this is prefigured in the very first Rambo film. “In the original ending of First Blood, Rambo shoots himself in the heart (which is in my film). That ending was rejected by test audiences and instead Rambo lived on to become the segue to Rambo II, the most violent movie to date then. Sebastian Junger in Tribe writes about how in the US the suicide rate mirrors that of the unemployment rate. The suicide rate among veterans is roughly 22 a day. It is addressed through medicalisation and pathologising, not as a national crisis, which it is.”
While Zimmerman may have begun making the film over a decade ago, it has, if anything, become even more relevant over that time, with the rise of the alt-right, the increasing belief in conspiracy theories, the prevalence of fake news and the spiralling levels of gun violence which continually dominate American news. “Gun culture is a myth that is tightly guarded and protected. And myth is more powerful than reason, so we need to look at the big picture of structural violence, and to have a genuine dialogue around power and privilege. The statistics on mass shootings are shocking, and gun control needs a broader dialogue on why people feel the need to have them. I worked in one of the poorest places in the US to make this film and witnessed a suicide by gun, and it took a couple of hours for the police to arrive. Why are people so against their government – many of these people served in the US army, and many are very poor. Why do we think killing is acceptable at all?
“In this sense I genuinely believe that Erase and Forget provides a useful, personal, and socially relevant framework for understanding the complexity of these issues. Because it focuses on one public figure, someone who embodies all the contradictions of post-war American society, audiences can follow the choices such a character makes, and the ‘lines in the sand’ that each of us is required to draw, beyond which we won’t go, beyond which morality and ethics start to break down.”
Andrea Luka Zimmerman and Erase and Forget producer Ameenah Ayub Allen will join Director of LUX Scotland NicoleYip after the screening for a Q&A and for a SUPERLUX Masterclass on Sunday 22/10 at 12pm.
There are five films in the international jury competition this year at Document. They are Gulîstan, Land of Roses, Normal Autistic Film, Rat Film, Erase and Forget and 69 Minutes of 86 Days. For Document 2017, we are delighted, not to mention honoured to welcome Laura Ager, Frances Higson, Hannah McHaffie, Mona Rai and Dr Kiki Tianqi Yu to sit on our international jury. The jurors will deliberate together before announcing the winner at our closing gala at CCA, Glasgow on Sunday 22nd October. Here’s a little more about each of them…
Laura is an independent researcher and culture worker. As a freelance event organiser and film programmer she organises pop-up screenings in Leeds under the name Film Fringe, she is regional co-ordinator for the Scalarama film festival and programmes documentaries for the Leeds International Film Festival and the Hyde Park Picture House. She recently completed her PhD in festivals presented by UK universities and now teaches cultural theory at the University of Leeds. Her research interests include film, history, cultural studies, knowledge exchange, the politics of the cultural economy and non-hierarchical models of organising.
Frances is currently Project Manager for the FANS Youth Film Festival and Programme Co-ordinator for the Radical Film Network 68 Festival. In previous years Frances has worked extensively as a film maker; she produced the multi-award winning feature films The Magdalene Sisters and Orphans, she has also made several award winning short films and documentaries. A founding member of Camcorder Guerrillas, a film & video collective that produces short documentary toolkits for campaign groups and organisations working with human rights. She also works in film education mentoring young film making talent and teaches Social Screen, a module she designed and developed at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
Before Hannah joined the Doc/Fest team full time in 2015, she was programming a community film club in Lancashire for a local arts organisation and attended a variety of film film festival. She is a freelance writer for EventBrite UK and runs her own film site, ReelInsights. After two years as Administrative & Executive Assistant with Sheffield Doc/Fest, she has recently been promoted to Programme Coordinator, working across both the Film and Alternate Realities programmes.
Mona Rai co-founded Document, Scotland’s first human rights film festival, with Paula Larkin in 2003, and coordinated the festival until 2012. Beginning with the intent to counter the aggressive anti-immigrant and Roma narratives in the national press at the time, in the ensuing years Mona oversaw ten successive iterations of the festival and countless screenings, events, panels and collaborations, establishing and growing Document’s international reputation before transitioning to sit on Document’s board as a key guiding force.
Dr Kiki Tianqi YU
Dr Kiki Tianqi YU is a filmmaker, scholar, and film curator. Originally from China, Kiki studied Film and Sociology at the University of Westminster and the University of Cambridge. Having worked in China, she is currently Lecturer in Filmmaking at the University of the West of Scotland. She is the author of ‘My’ Self On Camera: First Person Documentary Practice in an individualising China (Edinburgh University Press, 2018), and the co-editor of China’s iGeneration: Cinema and Moving Image Culture for the 21st Century (2014). Her films include Photographing Shenzhen (2007), Memory of Home (2009), feature documentary China’s van Goghs (IDFA, 2016) – won four international awards, screened at over 15 film festivals. She’s currently producing a 15 years long term production documentary on transgender in China. She curated ‘Memory Talks – series of personal nonfiction films’ in Shanghai 2017.
The international jury prize will be announced at Document 2017’s closing gala, ahead of the screening of 69 Minutes of 86 Days, Sunday 22nd October at 8pm. More details here.
Eldorado XXI is a critical media practice parafiction attempt. Aesthetically similar to the majority of contemporary contemplative cinema the mise‐en-scène is valued allowing the action to unfold in its own rhythm. Drifting organically into non-diegetic orchestrated sequences, the film also lingers on a direct ethnographic cinema fashion approach combining, visual sequences accompanied by off sounds.
The raised question is how can an individual carry his entire family to hell seeking a desired fortune/wishing to break free from poverty? A random lottery promises the awakening of ones oblivion of oneself. An illusion that leads men to self destruction, moved by the same interests, dealt with the same tools and means in contemporaneity as it has been dealt in the ancient times.
The objective and the subjective were displaced, not transformed; the story remained truthful, really truthful instead of fictionally truthful. But the veracity of the story had not stopped being a fiction. The break is not between fiction and reality, but in the new mode of storytelling, which affects both of them. What is opposed to fiction is not the real; it is not the truth; it is the story‐telling function of the poor, in so far as it gives the false the power that makes it into a memory – a legend.
Let us go back to the words of Glenn Gould: “No Man’s Land is the natural land of the imagination.” It is in this non-place where we assemble ourselves to resist to the silence of the universe, in order not to succumb to the pure panic and the threat of dissolution. The silence of the abysses that is strange to us, but to which we do belong, in a piece of us abandoned to the pure possibilities, to the (un)submissive obsessions of any kind, to fear’s inertia, that we are falsely protected by the conventions.
Weekend and day passes for Document 2017 are now on sale! Festival passes can be exchanged for tickets to any screening or event, subject to availability. NB All tickets are free to refugees, asylum seekers, OAPs and those on income support.
The film started out as a cinematic experiment: I wanted to portray three members of an atelier community of artists with different disabilities in an open collaboration. I wanted to dissolve the common power structures between the documentarist and the portrayed subject and chose to assist the artists in presenting themselves and their work in their own words, sounds and images. Without making a film about the socio-politics of participation through art, I wanted to make the film socio-politically, to dismiss conceptual coherence by indulging in the anarchic serenity of the artists, filming in an inclusive and empowering manner, rendering homage without advertising, so that the protagonists wouldn’t be subjected to preconceived aesthetics.
The project originally emerged from my interest in anti-psychiatry and progressive notions of dis/ability, like in the experimental psychiatric clinic La Borde in France under the direction of Jean Oury where Felix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze developed some of their concepts like “schizoanalysis”, or in the project of the poet Fernand Deligny who lived and worked in a silent community with autistic children in the French mountains.
The atelier community of the three protagonists Horst, Bernhard and Michael is singular in its organization because neither social pedagogy nor art therapy is involved. There is no rigid methodology, just spontaneous manners of interaction. The artists work autonomously and are assisted by other artists upon their own request. Many advantages like compassion and solidarity are much better developed in their community than in the art world of the free market.
Although I knew of several great documentaries both on dis/ability and outsider art, I was missing a cinematographic reflection of the naturalised distinction between the observed, supposedly disabled Other and the observing, allegedly sane and sovereign filmmaker. If inclusion should succeed, supposedly abled people are required to develop an understanding of disability that is neither patronising nor spectacularising, but a different original access to reality. That’s why I tried to integrate different perspectives that would not rule each other out but co-exist in an open conversation. It’s also why we produced the film in a collaborative process, co-wrote and co-filmed together with the protagonists and allowed ourselves to repeatedly drop our preconceived ideas about beauty, film, art and love.
Our 2017 programme is now online! There are over 50 screenings, workshops, panels and special events taking place during our main festival weekend from Thursday 19th October until Sunday 22nd October. Full details of those can be found here. Tickets for all screenings and events at CCA Glasgow are available here. Day and weekend passes will soon be available.
We also have special free community screenings across Glasgow in the weeks leading up to our festival weekend. Full details of those here.
Women, Native, Other, part of our Trinh T Minh Ha retrospective, opens at The Pipe Factory, Glasgow on Saturday 7th October. Details here.
Our brochure can be found at locations across the city and Scotland now. You can browse our brochure online at Issuu: