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1.2 Documentation of practice

I elaborate on an essay jujube/practice I wrote during my first year at PZI. If the repeated act means anything, it spreads existence —and the anxiety, contemplation, peace thereby — across the most mundane tasks. In this strand, I expand on the methods and decision-making in my filmmaking practice.

Unlike text, a medium I have been familiar with since adolescence, filmmaking is new to me. In the first year of the Master’s, faced with the influx of new production-based knowledge, I inflicted a penance by refraining from the methods/skills I had as a writer (especially scriptwriting). This resulted in a sort of suffering in my research, as it was filled with epistemological uncertainty, a love-hate relationship with chance and blind faith.

However, through the methods I developed during the first year, I have become a metaphorical host or guest for each film shoot. I foster trust, ease and comfort. I remain humble, curious and listening. Meditating on the new discoveries from and insufficiencies of my previous approach, I decided to incorporate my writing knowledge as I continue to develop my voice as a filmmaker. It has become clear that filmmaking has cast new light on how I write, both creatively and critically.

think about what part to edit/expand from


from an older draft of text on practice

Between long- and short-term makings (aka. between practice and projects)

With long-term makings I am able to change parameters in my methods. The process offers space to experiment (not unlike in a scientific study, I can choose to change different parameters of the experiment).

More defined projects afford less room to try things out. In the case of the thematic workshops, the form of the production is pre-determined, and whatever I explore becomes keywords for the next thing to come. In the case of the MIARD film, the production cycle has proved to be time-consuming and stress-inducing. I struggled with the available visual footage and, after reviewing them and having a talk with Simon, decided to forego using any of the (research) footage she has collected. Instead I proposed working off of the women's accounts on their feelings during Beatriz's interviews with them. The interview that stood out to me was with a transgender woman. Because it was conducted over the phone, there was no visual image of this woman, but her voice and speech. She was articulate about her experiences with street harassment, first as a gay man, as a perceived, crossdressing man (during transition), as a cis female, and as a transgender woman. In the most recent edit I have woven together three women's stories (including the one from the transgender woman) and brought back some still shots of street footage as the background. I have a feeling that I am saving the story rather than telling it.

As I write this I am developing criteria for the kind of practice I want to sustain.

Reading and writing

My core research questions up to the point are:

  • How do people feel, specifically, how do people feel empathic?
  • How do images carry meanings?

During IFFR, the questions grew with concerns of autobiography and the image:

  • How to translate autobiographical materials into empathic matters? Perhaps through myth and tales?
  • What is image capable of in conveying that intention and — in the process or as a result — creating empathy?
  • Also, not at a conceptual level but an aesthetic one: I'm drawn to the mountains, seas and remote places...Why? Out of the sublime, the metaphor, the unexpected forms?

As we formed the research group, the literature we have been reading has inspired some new, perhaps more specific, questions:

  • What are the psychological processes of (collective) viewing?
  • What is the difference between, say, cinema and gallery (physical space), or cinema and netflix (screen space)?
  • How do focus, camera movement, editing affect the viewer's thoughts and feelings?
  • How can we use cinema as a space for empathy? How do interacting layers of aesthetics and narrative change the viewer's distance with what is shown on the screen?

After reading Eric Schouse's essay, Feeling, Emotions, Affect, I realize that affects closely connect to core emotions. As a person fortunate to have experienced it in therapy, I believe the acknowledgement of and clarity about core emotions will enrich and enlighten one's self. My then therapist recommended three books to me. All of them seem relevant to my recent projects (not as foreshadowing frameworks, but as an emerging pattern as I make them). The books touch on neuroscience, development psychology, psychotherapy (A General Theory of Love); suffering, revisiting the past, healing (Reconciliation); and ways to access core emotions and arriving at clarity (It's Not Always Depression). In my next work I will try to externalize these connections and position my work in the framework of affect theories.

At the beginning of the program the word "autobiography" appeared frequently in my attempts. I noted the early, loose thoughts in the page named memoir. [1] For a couple of months, the driving force of my readings was personal memories, more specifically, how my own memory (and experience) can move others. I noticed my tendency of archiving without articulating the significance of that act, or only doing so in a half-baked way. A breakthrough came when I finished the essay investigating my relationship with autobiographic work. [2] I have since shifted more definitively from my own images (words, storylines, specific events) to those of an external origin.

Relying on my experience with narrative forms (playwriting, stage storytelling), I wanted to read about realms I knew little about. The Cinematic (Documents of Contemporary Art) has introduced me to photography and film theories. I like this volume because it makes an effort to distinguish between photography and cinema, not from a technological/historical point of view, but with more in-depth analysis of each medium. I have written synopsis of the essays from which I learned.

My interest in cinematography emerges with readings in The Cinematic and the creation of Seek. I have selected my readings directing towards the specificity of the techniques and studies of cinema. Through reading Mulvey, I will continue to expand my readings of haptic aesthetics (haptic visuality by Laura Marks) and the screen as a situation.

reading while making

I read The Cinematic, an anthology of film and photography theories, with the intention to familiarize myself with relevant film theory vocabularies. The benefit of reading the anthology is the quick access to a sizable amount of different perspectives in one single volume. The drawback, on the other hand, is the density of abstract ideas and abstraction. The anthology includes pieces of canonical texts as well as criticisms regarding these pieces. This anachronism was confusing.

Luckily, I was shooting for a video project while reading these and had a chance to contemplate the theories through doing. My script featured a voice in search of a lost past with imageries based in nature.

I came to realize that I am more interested in the cinematic — movement, association, directed experience in a set time — than the photographic — the captive moment that allows pondering for as long as one wishes.

So far, theories play a few roles in my practice:

1. Theories give me a historical perspective of what has been done. I am not studying art history in any comprehensive fashion, but through theories I am gradually learning to place my works and their relevance in accordance to the form(s) I choose.

2. Theories provide soundbites for rumination. I avoid jargons in describing my work (or even writing the imaginary wall text for it). When I read jargon-sounding words, however, the terms become starting points for connecting systems of knowledge. In articulating these connections I can strive to be genuine, specific, and unpretentious.

3. The case studies from theories give me works to see/watch/research, which helps widen my perspective. The fact that some of them resonate with me more than others drive me to inquire about my own preference — visually, narratively, affectively. By reflecting on other people's work I can also be more certain about my own aesthetics and processes.

Laura Mulvey introduces me to the early feminist film theories, which is the first kind of film theory I have read. It presents me with discourses that encompass my own fields of interest and situates me more in the vast space that (film) theories occupy. Perhaps now I can see more relevance of other key texts. (She makes references to Bellour and Metz, for instance.) As I read, I am noticing more and more the way(s) people describe image and image-making.

She shows me the tenacity of feminism (how it adapts to the times, how it reflects upon itself) -- it is an illustration of that so-called frameworks for research are, and should be, malleable, depending where I am in my practice. I am not interested in using feminism in my daily language. As Susanna said, "the new feminism is humanism."

The vocabularies of gaze and spectator feel very much the product of the last era (1970's). I am not interested in framing things with vocabularies "coined" to describe a certain thought or phenomenon. I am more interested in the everyday language, especially spoken with ingenuity. There is an intelligence that comes with the everyday language, one that connects people through shared words and the feelings they evoke.

I will keep reading academic writing as long as it helps me build connections among different knowledge systems OR gives me new insight about something, however esoteric, relevant. I will not set the tone of my research in an academic language. I am conscientious about the roles of theories in my practice and do not take any theoretical text for granted without the historical and cultural context in mind.

reading films

During IFFR I chose to see films that appeared to align with a few lines of inquiries. My criteria were:

  • a story based on/inspired by myth/tales/rituals
  • a highly personal story
  • scenes in the mountains and/or by the sea
  • alluding to the meaning of images"'

I see different ways in which the image carries weight. In some cases, the image is the most charged moment of the narrative, such as the scene when the word messenger faces gun point in Pájaros de Verano. In others, the image visualises a metaphor, like the woman catching water from all directions with buckets in Pattaki. Sometimes, the image becomes part of a well-written essay, as in Above Us Only Sky.

I find sound as important, if not more, as what I see. Sounds represent a place. In Tutto l'oro Che C'è, the wild track is the main track. Sounds create silence. Examples are the forest in Tutto l'oro Che C'è and water in Pattaki. Music can often be a narrative by itself, as seen in The Last Seven Words.

Actor-directed films can lead to incredibly tender moments. In Vulnerable Histories (A Road Movie), two characters both with painful family (and/or present histories) share their own feelings towards discrimination and inequality. In this case the director's role is to create a framework to communicate that clearly and foster an environment/crew that lets things be and happen.