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Fall 2017: Volume 71, Number 1

Syrian Cellphone Documentaries
Rithy Panh’s Exiles
Emiko Omori’s Camera Eye
Virtual Reality: Beyond the Platform

Casting JonBenet, Multiple Maniacs,
Their Finest, The Jewel and the Crown,
Bellas de noche, Plaza del la Soledad

Reports from True/False, Full Frame, Orphans

Emergency Cinema and the Dignified Image: Cell Phone Activism and Filmmaking in Syria

One of the most significant aspects of the wave of protests and uprisings that began in Syria in 2011 was the use of the cell phone camera as a tool of documentation, political activism, and creative expression. With professional journalists and major news networks barred from entering the country, Syrian citizens took it upon themselves to record their own protests as well as the violent reactions they provoked from members and supporters of the Assad regime. In the first few months of protests (March–June 2011), these recordings were virtually the only images coming out of Syria. Gradually, however, exiled political activists smuggled cell phones, cameras, and laptops into Syria with the specific aim of documenting protests and violence.

Of Stars and Solitude

By happy coincidence, Mexico in 2016 yielded two expert and moving documentaries on women, sex, and aging: María José Cuevas’s Bellas de noche (Beauties of the Night) and Maya Goded’s Plaza de la Soledad (Solitude Square). Both are first-time features by female directors. And both are attempts to reclaim previously neglected subjects: showgirls of the 1970s and sex workers in their seventies, respectively. Moreover, lengthy production processes in which the filmmakers cohabitated with their subjects have resulted in films that are clearly love letters to their protagonists.

Billy Woodberry’s Return to Form

A long-view interview with filmmaker Billy Woodberry conducted by screenwriter and scholar Josslyn Luckett gives the filmmaker his due and reflects on his prolific career as an independent filmmaker. The unfolding of Billy Woodberry’s career—both his own new work and the recent critical revaluations of his classic work, such as the naming of Bless Their Little Hearts (1983) to the National Film Registry in 2013—makes words like “rebellion” or “revival” only marginally useful. Any research into the full range of his film work, including his multiple roles as film actor, film narrator, video installation artist, and film history and production professor at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) since 1989, reveals a Woodberry who might be more properly termed an underground “renaissance” man than a rebel.

The Discomforting Legacy of Deepa Mehta’s Earth

FQ Columnist Bilal Qureshi reflects on Deepa Mehta’s film Earth at an important moment in Indian and global history. Writing from New Delhi, he had the opportunity to speak to Mehta in person about her life and work, and that discussion is woven into this column. Since making Earth almost twenty years ago, Deepa Mehta has seen her stature grow to include film festival premieres, an Oscar nomination, and a platform as one of the rare women auteurs on the international stage. She has lived in Canada since the 1970s, but her most celebrated films are not about immigrant displacement or hyphenated identity. Rather, she has always told Indian stories. From the groundbreaking story of a lesbian relationship between two housewives in suffocating arranged marriages (Fire, 1996) to the forced exile of widows in orthodox Hindu scripture (Water, 2005), she has confronted uncomfortable social realities in Indian society. Although she has been labeled an anti-national and had sets burned and cinemas attacked by the religious right for insulting traditional values, she has taken the challenges in stride and continued making films.

The Battle of Algiers at Fifty

The fiftieth anniversary of the release of The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966) offers an occasion to challenge commonplaces about the film and to show that there remains much to be clarified about its character. Typically discussed in terms of its debt to Italian neorealism, The Battle of Algiers can also be related to Italian colonial cinema made during the fascist period. The film recounts the genesis of the Algerian nation, but it is at the same time a film about the end of the French empire. Meanwhile, an analysis of location in the film’s little-discussed coda shows The Battle of Algiers to be the first in a long line of banlieue cinema—that is, it is a film that presciently anticipates postcolonial conditions on the territory of France itself.