“Our eyes see very little and very badly – so people [ …] have perfected the cinecamera to penetrate more deeply into the visible world, to explore and record visual phenomena so that what is happening now, which will have to be taken account of in the future, is not forgotten.”
– Dziga Vertov
“The other is in me and in the midst of my very identification.”
– Emmanuel Levinas
These two diametrically oppositional view points of Dziga Vertov and Emmanuel Levinas places the philosophical categories of “being” and “knowing” squarely at the center of documentary studies. For while Vertov proclaimed the primacy of the camera ( the “Kino-eye”) over the human eye for recording the world as it is, ethical philosopher Levinas challenges rational inquiry as an absolute good, pointing towards the violence embedded in processes of knowledge production.
In the light of the above views, how can documentary films specifically reflect upon the complexities of encountering knowledge? What happens when these strands of knowledge, encounters, and chance meetings become part of an archive or leave visual footprints across the world— foraying through museum spaces, cinema halls, webcasts, podcasts and pirated DVDs. The mode of distribution of the film thus becomes a key part of the film narrative, responsible for the fragmentation, reimagination and rebirth of the narrative— each performance slightly different than the previous one.
This intention to celebrate the changing limits of history, narrative, ideology, culture and aesthetics formed the backbone of Persistence Resistance 2012. Persistence Resistance is premised on the belief that documentary practices in any place actively participate in the shaping of our times. Therefore, debates on healthcare, information policy, freedom of speech and expression, democracy and governance will be some of the themes around which Persistence Resistance 2012 will be located. So while Sameera Jain’s film My Own City is the experience of a gendered urban landscape of Delhi, Deepa Bhatia’s film (Nero’s Guest) is a conversation with noted journalist P. Sainath on the growing agrarian crisis in India. Interestingly, both these directors test the complexities of the gaze of the camera, the subject and the quest for knowledge leads to ruptures in the visible evidence as well the notional “I” that feminists have been critiqued with.
From the personal to the conceptual, the essayistic to the poetic, the performative to the self-reflective or the fictional – these films create distinct political voices and impulses for their audiences to engage with. The visual engagement with films does not end simply with screenings. This year Persistence Resistance will exhibit an installation by Rattanamol Johal Singh titled “Elusive Truth, Evolving Medium: Evaluating Contemporary Political Documentary” that positions the evolution of the documentary movement in an open public space. Along a slightly different trajectory, filmmaker Sabeena Gadhioke presents a visual tribute to Homai Vyarawalla, India’s first press photographer whose work spans almost an entire century of Indian history. Vyarawalla’s images, Gadhioke’s chronicling of Vyarawalla’s legacy, the evolution of the technology used for recording – all become crucial elements in constructing an alternative view of reality.
Since its inception, Persistence Resistance has engaged with another crucial cinematic question that concerns audience participation. Marcel Duchamp in 1957 at Session on the Creative Act; Convention of the American Federation of Arts, Houston, Texas, says:
“The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act. This becomes even more obvious when posterity gives a final verdict and sometimes rehabilitates forgotten artists.”
Drawing from this Persistence Resistance allows the spectator to occupy a central position by opening up the cinema viewing space for her/him. Persistence Resistance 2012 will present films, images and interactions that will move between spaces, from the inside to the outside, between times and between ideas. The spectator is invited not simply to view but to engage, argue, articulate and to participate. Along with screenings in auditorium, films will also be shown in simulated video parlors, in a multi hub video library and as installations, encompassing linear, circulatory, on-demand and transitory ways of screening and viewing.
Persistence Resistance 2012 will be held in four locations across the city of New Delhi. The 2012 edition will premier documentaries, screen award winning films, a few rarely seen films, curated sections from film archives from Germany and India, installations, in-depth conversations with filmmakers and pay homage to Homai Vyarwallah, Tariq Masud and Lucia Rikaki.
Persistence Resistance 2012 is an attempt at bringing together the documentary, the documentary filmmaker and the audience to collectively create and define public cultures. There are pressing issues that these documentaries touch upon, they are often ethically charged, but without being bereft of what film theorist Michael Renov would term as the “jouissance” or pleasure. We hope you will join us in this journey of reflections, tributes and public as well as private histories— stories that need to be seen, heard and repeated.