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Notes Towards Day 22: Feminist Documentary Film

Anne Dalke's picture
Notes towards Day 22
Feminist Documentary Film:
Born Into Brothels

I. Coursekeeping
More conversation about Felice Picano's challenge to
"masculinity as homophobia"? About the non-need
to label himself for himself? About labels existing
in the space between us?

Today's NYTimes "Fashion and Style" article,
"It's All a Blur to Them,"
not rebellion, but "gender neutrality,"
breaking down sexualized relationships.

For Tuesday's class, watch Live Nude Girls Unite!

After Thanksgiving,
two readings to anticipate/attend:
7:30 T, Dec 1: Julia Alvarez in Thomas Great Hall, BMC
7:30 Th, Dec 3: Mark Doty in Chase Auditorium, HC

That week, we'll have two class sessions using
Lynda Barry's workshopping methods
to begin brainstorming your final projects.

(Any outstanding papers must be in by Mon, Nov. 30,
so that both you and your profs can move on to other work....)

By Fri, Dec. 4, you'll need to put on-line your 3-pp. proposals,
including a 3-item bibliography, for those projects.
A real deadline because Kristin and I would like to meet w/
you all, to discuss these projects, during the final week of classes
(Dec. 7-11). The final project and portfolio are due Dec. 18.

We will also spend the final week of classes doing group performances;
you might begin thinking about those, too (advice from Courtney, Emily, Melinda?).

Kids with Cameras

II. Get ourselves into another wagon wheel:
tell your (first) partner about your reactions to/
questions about the film.

III. A series of questions about the FORM
(All quotes from Bill Nichols,
Introduction to Documentary, Indiana, 2001):

A. Institutional Framework
"To remind viewers of the construction of the reality we behold...undercuts the very claim to truth and authenticity on which the documentary depends....By suppressing this question, the institutional framework for documentary suppresses much of the complexity in the relationships between representation and reality, but it also achieves a clarity or simplicity that implies that documentaries achieve direct, truthful access to the real. This functions as one of the prime attractions of the form (24-25).

B. Community of Practitioners
Documentary filmmakers share a common, self-chosen mandate to represent the historical world rather than to imaginatively invent alternative ones....The documentary tradition relies heavily on being able to convey to us the impression of authenticity...that what we see bears witness to the way the world is (25, xiii).

C. Corpus of Texts
Norms and conventions come into play for documentary that help distinguish it: the use of a voice-of-God commentary, interviews, location sound recordings, cutaways from a given scene to provide images that illustrate or complicate a point made within the scene, and a reliance on social actors, or people in their everyday roles and activities, as the central characters of the film are among those that are common....Another convention is the prevalence of an informing logic that organizes the film....typical is that of problem solving (26).

D. Constituency of Viewers
The sense that a film is a documentary lies in the mind of the beholder as much as it lies in the film's context or structure....Most fundamentally, we bring an assumption that the text's sounds and images have their origin in the historical world we share...not conceived and produced exclusively for the film (35).


IV. A series of questions about the relationship
between feminism and documentary cinema:

(From Annette Kuhn, "Passionate Detachment,"
Women's Pictures: Feminism and Cinema):

taken together, they might provide a basis for certain types of intervention in culture....

A feminine language would be more open, would set up multiplicities of meanings...making the moment of reading one in which meanings are set in play rather than consolidated or fixed....A feminine text has no fixed formal characteristics, precisely because it is a relationship....
openness as a defining characteristic of the feminine is something very different from the closure...implied by the tendentious text....

...a cultural practice calling itself feminist may actually be characterised by some degree of closure: a restricted range of possible readings."

(From Julia Lesage, "The Political Aesthetics of the Feminist Documentary Film." Issues in Feminist Film Criticism, ed. Patricia Erens):
Feminist documentary filmmaking is...congruent with...the affinity group...The films...came out of the same ethos as the consciousness-raising groups and had the same goals...deliberately used a traditional "reality" documentary structure...valorized their subjects' words...looked @ familiar elements to define them in a new, uncolonized way....The intent is political. Yet the films' very strength, the emphasis on the experiential, can sometimes be a political limitation, especially when the film...offers little or no analysis or sense of collective process leading to social change.

V. Cf. what you learned in the film w/ what you learned from
Kamala Kempadoo's "Women of Color and the Global Sex Trade":

--the concentration of women of color in the global sex trade is escalating
(due to prostitution around military bases;
women as most frequent victims of trafficking of all sorts;
sex tourism promoted in "exotic" countries, as
a way to "develop" "underdeveloped" regions).
--sex work more lucrative than other work, one of few income-
generating alternatives for women of postcolonial societies

--older feminist formulations of "sexual slavery" as ultimate reduction/objectification
seen as inadequate: need to re-define prostitution as labor:
work not for abolition, but to improve working conditions

--consider variety of social conditions (women as family breadwinners; religious beliefs, etc.)

--counter racialization of women of color as highly sexual,
representation of prostitutes as tragic outcasts,
state complicities in maintaining subordination,
profits of trans/multi-national corporations,
engineering, benefit of men from smuggling and trafficking
w/ consideration of women's sexual agency, needs, desires

transnational feminist agenda asks if sex
work is site of resistance to marginalization,

moves from "safe ground" of antitrafficking discourse
to "politics of articulation" for women of color:

strategic use of sexual labor to secure a place and rights in modern world

oppression is not is sex act but in conditions of work

avoid reproducing hierarchies, privileges,
priorities of post-modern academic feminism

need to re-organize global economy, offer real economic alternatives

relinquish colonizing narratives, build global alliances....

VI. Returning to the large group:
what do we know? what questions do we still have/
will we bring to "Live Nude Girls Unite!"?