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The Cinema of Me

The Cinema of Me: The Self and Subjectivity in First Person Documentary

Series: Nonfictions
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    The Cinema of Me
    Book Description:

    When a filmmaker makes a film with herself as a subject, she is already divided as both the subject matter of the film and the subject making the film. The two senses of the word are immediately in play -- the matter and the maker -- thus the two ways of being subjectified as both subject and object. Subjectivity finds its filmic expression, not surprisingly, in very personal ways, yet it is nonetheless shaped by and in relation to collective expressions of identity that can transform the cinema of 'me' into the cinema of 'we'. Leading scholars and practitioners of first-person film are brought together in this groundbreaking collection to consider the theoretical, ideological, and aesthetic challenges wrought by this form of filmmaking in its diverse cultural, geographical, and political contexts.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-85016-2
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. 1-12)
    Alisa Lebow

    ‘The Cinema of Me’ is something of a deceptive title for a collection of essays about first person documentary films. Deceptive in that it preys on the all-too-readily accepted impression of first person films as self-absorbed, myopic, ego-driven films that only a mother could love, despite the fact that the films discussed in this book, almost without exception, defy such expectations. The title does, however, point to the levity, humour and playfulness with which a filmmaker may approach her or his self-representation, further debunking the myth of the stultifying seriousness with which a filmmaker might choose to represent herself. And...


    • The Role of History in the Individual: Working Notes for a Film
      (pp. 15-32)
      Michael Chanan

      The film archives are full of neglected newsreels and documentaries, fragmentary traces serving as signs of what is mostly forgotten – moments robbed from history, briefly exhibited, and then, except for a few iconic examples, relegated to the shelves and catalogues. This field of the semiosis of the historical trace is the terrain of the film that occasions these notes, which were drafted while the film was being made, and completed after the editing was finished. The American Who Electrified Russia is about the role of an individual in history, but also of history in the individual – a biographical investigation of...

    • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime
      (pp. 33-43)
      Andrés Di Tella

      I want to talk here about my experience making a documentary, Fotografías (2007). Describing some of the problems I have been faced with and keeping to the specifics of my work may, however, allow me to explore wider questions that are probably of concern to all filmmakers working in first person narratives. The film is hard to describe for me at this stage, but it could be said to be about my relationship with India, where my mother was born. My father is Argentinean of Italian origin, which is very common in Argentina, as you may be aware. But there...

    • Impersonations of Glauber Rocha by Glauber Rocha
      (pp. 44-56)
      José Gatti

      In 1999 I was hired by the Brazilian Ministry of Education to survey the work of an academic department at the Southeastern University of Bahia, in Vitória da Conquista, a prosperous city of over 300,000 inhabitants. I was accompanied by my dear colleague Antonio Eduardo Oliveira, who shared my surprises during that visit. As a segue to the usual warm welcome, we were constantly reminded by faculty, students and clerks that Conquista, as the city is nick-named by its inhabitants, was ‘Glauber Rocha’s native town’. Not surprising: after all, Glauber Rocha, who died in 1981 at age 42, is historically...

    • The Self-portrait Film: Michelangelo’s Last Gaze
      (pp. 57-78)
      Laura Rascaroli

      Though it can be traced far back, the self-portrait as an artistic genre in Europe coalesces in the sixteenth century – even if the term itself is more recent, and reflects the notion of the self that prevails in Western societies in the late eighteenth century, with Romanticism and its ‘invention’ of the self as a self-contained object of awareness.¹ The sixteenth century, however, is the period that sees a clear rise in both literary autobiography and the painted self-portrait, probably as a result of increased social mobility and ensuing changes in people’s awareness of their individuality (see Trilling 1972) – and...

    • Cycles of Life: El cielo gira and Spanish Autobiographical Documentary
      (pp. 79-97)
      Efrén Cuevas

      A wide shot of a landscape with a hill and a solitary tree at the top. We hear the filmmaker’s voice: ‘This is the place that you see from the house where I was born, and therefore, the first thing I saw in the world.’ This key moment, close to the beginning of El cielo gira (The Sky Turns, 2004), seems to suggest a standard autobiographical film about the life of the filmmaker. Instead, we find a portrait of a small Castilian village on the verge of disappearing, composed of long, contemplative shots of the austere landscape and the old...

    • From the Interior: Space, Time and Queer Discursivity in Kamal Aljafari’s The Roof
      (pp. 98-118)
      Peter Limbrick

      Kamal Aljafari’s The Roof (2006) begins in medias res: from a flat, spatially compressed shot of a rain-soaked window, the shallow focus allowing us only the raindrops rather than the view beyond, the film cuts to a close-up of a woman’s face silhouetted flat against the glass, then out further to a dark, static two-shot of two figures on opposite sides of a restaurant booth, and silently back again to the woman. As the shot holds on the woman, an off-screen voice, presumably that of her companion, begins to recall the experience of being in a prison room for six...


    • Jennifer Fox’s Transcultural Talking Cure: Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman
      (pp. 121-143)
      Angelica Fenner

      A co-production for Danish public television, the six hour-long episodes comprising Jennifer Fox’s longitudinal documentary Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman (2007) share a similar impetus to that underpinning feminist confessional literature and ethnographic filmmaking. During five years of travel to seventeen countries, she became habituated to living with the handheld digital camera as the means of examining the assumptions implicated in her own gender socialisation as well as that of women around the world. She also passed the camera among her participants to enact a dialogical mode of communication that could weave a ‘red thread’ across cultural differences. This...

    • Secrets and Inner Voices: The Self and Subjectivity in Contemporary Indian Documentary
      (pp. 144-157)
      Sabeena Gadihoke

      The first decade of this century has witnessed a vibrant independent documentary movement in India that emerged out of a series of developments in the 1990s. One of these was the dismantling of a traditional model of state control over cultural production. Economic liberalisation ushered in radical changes in the Indian media through satellite broadcasting, the internet and a digital revolution. Responding to this change as well as the concommitant rise of identity politics, documentary filmmakers started to address fractured urban middle-class subjectivities. A range of first person films explored the private but contested arenas of gender and sexuality, the...

    • In the Eye of the Storm: The Political Stake of Israeli i-Movies
      (pp. 158-180)
      Linda Dittmar

      The following discussion occupies an unstable space, somewhere between personal, political and academic writing. As if mirroring my subject matter, it grows out of my own life but opens up to embrace much more than itself. Most recently, it taps my collaboration with photographer Deborah Bright, researching and photographing traces of Israel’s forcible expulsion of Palestinians from their homelands in 1947–49 – the Nakba, as it is called in Arabic. This project began quite accidentally when we detoured from the direct road to the archaeological site of Beit Sh’an to a secondary road marked ‘scenic’ on our map, near the...


    • Looking for Home in Home Movies: The Home Mode in Caribbean Diaspora First Person Film and Video Practice
      (pp. 183-200)
      Elspeth Kydd

      1946: A photograph taken of two family groups, separated by a short distance. There is a corrugated iron wall to one side and a large opening to the other. Both groups are dwarfed by the surroundings. The family on the left includes my mother, grandparents, uncles and aunts. They are at the pier as my Uncle Harold prepares to either arrive from or return to the US on one of his occasional visits to Trinidad. It is the post-World War II period, people are coming and going; the US army presence is decreasing and Trinidadian servicemen are returning from the...

    • ‘If I Am (Not) for Myself’: Michelle Citron’s Diasporic First Person(s)
      (pp. 201-218)
      Sophie Mayer

      Taking its title from the quintessential summation of Jewish ethics by the first-century Babylonian scholar Rabbi Hillel, this essay argues that experimental filmmaker Michelle Citron – as a diasporic (Irish-American secular) Jew, as a feminist, as a lesbian, and as an incest survivor – experiments in order to find a documentary form in which she can be for her self but not only for herself. In an article entitled ‘Fleeing from Documentary’, she singles out a focal ‘dynamic relationship [in her filmmaking] between the media work and the artist’s life […] the ethical dimension dwells’ (1999: 273). Her most recent experimental documentary,...

    • The Camera as Peripatetic Migration Machine
      (pp. 219-232)
      Alisa Lebow

      When UCLA film professor Teshome Gabriel went back to his native Ethiopia, after a 32-year absence, he armed himself with all manner of ‘memory aids’ – a video camera, a still camera and a miniature tape recorder – none of which he could bear to use once he actually arrived at his mother’s home. For him the technology, or rather the urge to use it, required a kind of outsiderness, a distanced vantage point from which to document – something he felt sure he had acquired in his years in the US, but when the time came to put his detached positionality to...


    • Blogging
      (pp. 235-249)
      Peter Hughes

      One of the most important changes in media, especially since the invention of the internet, has been the trend towards a post-broadcast environment characterised by increasing fragmentation and individualisation. Jupiter Research, Pew Research, Gartner and Technorati have all released regular reports on the growth and influence of blogging, particularly in relation to politics (see Rainie 2005; Regan 2006). More recently attention has turned to ‘social networking technologies’ sometimes also called Web 2.0, or ‘sociable media’ (see Donath 2004). Web 2.0 is claimed to be more ‘interactive’ than the original world wide web using design features that enhance creativity, information sharing...

    • The ME and the WE: A First Person Meditation on Media Translation in Three Acts
      (pp. 250-267)
      Alexandra Juhasz

      I call myself MP:me (MediaPraxis:AlexandraJuhasz) – as opposed to ‘cinematographer’, one of a herd of machomen doing rather well peddling slick clean wares.

      I see no connection between true femi-digi-praxis and the cunning and calculation of the cine-profiteers.

      I consider manipulated corporate reality television – weighed down with music and narrative and childhood games – an absurdity.

      To the American victim documentary with its showy dynamism and power disparities and to YouTube’s direct-to-camera dramatisations of so many individuals’ personal pain or pleasure, this femi-digi-practitioner says thanks for the return to real people, the hand-held look, and the close-up. Good … but disorderly, not...

    (pp. 268-270)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 271-274)