Monthly Archives: December 2011

  • This is not a film Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtamash (Iran 2011)

    This is not a film Jafar Panahi,
    Mojtaba Mirtamash (Iran 2011)

    viewed IDFA 21 11 2011

    Why is this is not a film….because it’s a life…

    All the films I viewed at IDFA were mediated and or
    laminated productions. Mediated
    through cognitive design as products of
    a particular nature, using specific filmic structure shooting schedules and
    more or less planned shots to present a view point , an issue or to exercise a
    polemic. Laminated with voice over
    and editing techniques to ensure a multilayered moulding of the material to
    present a cogent statement about a subject.

    It seems perhaps impossible or very difficult as a conscious
    being to make reflective statements either in prose, media, film whatever without some pre-idea of
    form or putative statement, even if these are subject to continual flux. ‘This is not a film’ seems to be
    that rare entity: an unwitting product, a production made without specific form
    made almost as a documentary doodle. It does of course, and it was intended by
    it’s prime movers Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtamesh (MM) to show a situation:
    the situation of house arrest. A
    film shot as strips of action;
    filming that was carried out
    in defiance of the conditions of Jafar Panahi’s bail. A film that is little more than the
    tapes that comprise it, recorded without much planning and with only the most
    nebulous idea of what it should be.
    The editing looks to have been sparse, most of the shots are long
    sequences, that have only been topped and tailed. Perhaps this material would be used naively sent out as
    a diffuse statement about JP’s situation or incorporated into another more
    clearly planned film. That’s the
    way it appeared to me.

    But one sequence filmed as the last long shot changed
    everything. We have a situation: a
    famous Iranian filmmaker, known for his opposition to the regime is at home
    confined under house arrest. He is in the course of appealing against a 6 year
    prison sentence and a 20 year ban on leaving the country and making films. He mooches round his apartment
    recording himself on film: waiting.
    Finally his friend Mojtaba Mirtamash arrives: more filming; unplanned,
    undertaken almost as a means to relieve JP’s tedium of days. Underlying everything there is: the unsaid, the uncertain, the encircling and the threatening. Then without announcement quietly in
    one shot the final shot of the film all these forces reveal themselves as
    immanent and omnipresent.
    ‘This is not a film’ opens as a simple strip of actions. A series of events taking place in a
    situation whose outline we only dimly appreciate, then in this one and final
    shot we see that what first seemed inconsequential in this film actually
    encapsulates all the tragedy of a life.

    JP is not so much in a situation; rather he is the
    situation, JP is in a state of
    conditional being and the film is undifferentiated from this condition. Jafar
    films himself, on the phone to his lawyer; MM arrives and films him in the
    apartment as JP acts out an unrealised script; JP talks about film and shows a
    couple of shots from his output; his daughters pet iguana majestically stalks
    the living room. Then the time
    comes for MM to part. It is fireworks
    night in Tehran, and sporadically we have heard the crack of the
    gunpowder. JP is left alone by MM
    who leaves the camera running un the kitchen table.

    As MM leaves he talks to the man outside the front door who
    is a nephew of the concierge and says he’s standing in for him whilst the
    concierge attends a wedding in
    Esfahan. Camera still
    turning over, JP invites him in and talks to him as he collects the trash. Perhaps bored JP accompanies the guy,
    still filming same shot, to the lift as he collects the trash from different
    floors in the building. And at
    this point in the closeness intimacy and banality of the lift, there is a
    terrible realisation of what is happening….no edits no tricks just states of
    mind revealed in the transport of tape across the record head.

    Everything in this shot is unseen, the thoughts unsaid. Slowly inexorably there is the
    realisation that the stand-in concierge is a government spy. He is spying on JP
    and will report everything back to his controllers. The net of fate about JP has tightened. JP has been seen filming in defiance of
    the Court. He is doomed. The appeal, the one possible hope, slim anyway, is now
    dashed. The shot has the
    inexorable movement of destiny. There seems a point in the filming where JP
    realises exactly what is happening.
    His voice hesitates and his questions to the ‘concierge’ falter and
    stop. As if his mouth is drying
    up. It might be that JP realises from the top of the shot what is going on; but
    the feel from the interplay in the shot is of a gradual

    realisation by JP of the actual situation and its
    consequences. It is a slow motion
    awakening to the terrible nature of what is happening in the intimacy of the

    JP crammed in close physicality to his betrayer, close
    enough to smell his breath falls into the silence of the damned, falls into the

    After making the film ( said to have been smuggled out of Iran in a cake) MM was arrested and is currently in prison. JP’s appeal failed and he is in prison serving a six year stretch.

    So this is not a movie; it’s a life Jafar Pahani film and
    life interchangeably burnt into image.

    adrin neatrour

  • International Documentary Festival Amsterdam 2011


    NOV 17 TO NOV 27 2011

    I attended IDFA and was able to view some 23 films in five

    One of the issues highlighted for me at IDFA:

    How to
    transpose active relations into the life of a film?

    There are various ways in which an idea or notion of reality
    can be shaped and given substance
    in a documentary film.

    Among the films that I viewed in Amsterdam one form of
    documentary film making in particular caught my attention. Films shot from within a process. This particular way of making a film
    attracted positive responses from audiences perhaps because by their nature
    these films demand a critical engagement and shape an interaction with the
    material that tends to be more passive than active. These films elicit a need to respond to what has been

    This particular group of films that interested me took their
    form and salient characteristic from being shot (or in the case of 5 Broken
    Cameras the significant defining material) by individuals strategically placed
    in a dynamic and changing situation.
    These were films shot from within an unfolding of relations and made
    possible by lightweight cameras and simple but powerful editing systems that
    enabled a lot of material to be shot using different systems and simply controlled.

    Examples of the films situated within a matrix of relations
    were two from the Middle East, one from Iran (This is not a Film by Jafar
    Panahi which I will consider separately in another piece of writing) , and one
    from Europe, Fredrik Gerrten’s Big
    Boys Gone Bananas, a very strong example of a European film that is total
    process, embedded in a context that is filmed as it develops and plays out.

    The two Middle Eastern films that interested me were located
    in Palestine. Five Broken Cameras
    (co directed by Palestinian Emad
    Burnat and Israeli Guy Davidi) and
    Marcus Vetter’s Cinema Jenin both articulated a process that was part of
    a wider fateful working out of both individual and collective destiny.

    Cinema Jenin was directed by Marcus Vetter who as well as
    directing played the lead role in the eponymous project of renovating an
    abandoned and dilapidated cinema in Jenin. Although credited with one director and one editor, Cinema
    Jenin has the feel of a collective project in which individuals such as Ishmael
    (a previous subject of Vetter’s work in Jenin) and other political and social
    groupings in Jenin, are core to filmic making and unfolding. Film maker Vetter takes on the lead
    role in the cinema project and locates himself at the heart of the complex
    interplay of the social and political relations in Jenin which shape and mould
    the process of both rebuilding the cinema and making the film. As film maker Vetter is committed to
    the actual project and plays a key part in the process that engages the
    resources and enters into the critical social and political relations that make
    a successful outcome possible.
    Marcus Vetter is in Jenin.
    And that ‘being in’ has the effect of engaging with dynamic relations
    that the camera not only captures but affects. There is a sense in which the camera itself becomes a
    player. The camera in the continuous action of filming
    creates a feedback loop. It becomes not just a point of reference, but also
    part of the questioning and decision making processes. Perhaps in itself the camera becomes an
    attitude/behaviour modifier at the individual level as an immediate source of
    image feedback. The knowledge that everyone is ‘in’ the Jenin movie is a
    fateful realisation, which turns the camera into a force that affects
    individuals so that different realities attain a certain visibility
    particularly in the political domain. During the editing of the film, Julliano one of those
    in the process, in the intensely political dialogue which is a defining element
    of relations in Jenin is shot dead, murdered outside the cinema. Was this part of the film or an event
    that we can bracket outside the film?
    I don’t know but I felt that the core questions that unfolded in the
    process of filming were central to what was happening in both in Cinema Jenin
    and 5 Broken Cameras.

    Being in the situation and filming from within a process
    creates films that pull on emotive cognitive and intellectual responses of
    those within this unfolding. Participants
    are confronted by themselves presented as image in film. They are accompanied by a constant
    mirror image which crystalises their movement through time. In the recoding of the unfolding of relations
    there is no hiding place either from the virtual audience of the self or from
    the wider projected world of viewers. The unfolding of relations in the movie
    creates situations of a completely different dynamic from the normal artificial
    and controlled interview situation typical of most docs, where the interviewees
    are easily able to present the facets of issues that suit their purposes. Seeing material from within process,
    even allowing for the controlling aspect of editing presents a more
    contradictory but more challenging picture for audiences to understand. Audience response indicates that this
    is a challenge to which audiences respond very positively.

    Burnat’s 5 Broken Cameras, each of which is smashed or
    broken during his filming of the Israeli occupation, develop into more than
    just tools that record the terrible and unsettling events that he films. His camera, as an invariable
    presence recording the Israeli incursion, becomes part of the developing
    dialogue within the Palestinian community in Bil’in. The core dialogue in Bil’in and amongst the Palestinians is
    about how they can best resist the Israelis and what relations they should have
    with sympathetic Israelis.
    Burnat’s camera becomes part of the thinking about the situation. His
    camera is part of the process of understanding what is happening to the village
    and the effects of their response to events. Viewed by the villages Burnat’s footage becomes part of a
    feed back loop, feeding into the villagers understanding and evaluation of
    their actions as they oppose the Israelis, and effecting modifications and planning about actions they have
    taken and will take in the future.
    The camera as thought.

    Both Jenin and 5 Broken Cameras seem to be part of a
    re-evaluating by Palestinians of the means by which the Israelis can be
    opposed. Confrontation with the
    Israelis by force of arms is not the only means of fighting; in certain
    situations such as those in Bil’in it may be counter productive and other
    strategies using other tactics may be more effective. With the addition of
    filming as a feed back loop, opposition using techniques of civil disobedience
    and non violent protest become effective in affirming Palestinian self
    belief and in achieving the goal
    of forcing Israel to look at itself and even to make concessions. The actuality recorded by Burnat is
    shocking; but the film ennobles
    the Palestinian cause and strategy of non violence and communicates it not just
    to the world wide audience but also to Israelis.

    Filming to the extent that it is part of the thought
    processes in the Palestinian discourse becomes a conduit for reaching out to
    Israelis. Film as part of the way
    of thinking about what is happening, can work to legitimise intra-Israeli
    resistance to their own government and empower some Israelis to actively
    support Palestinian resistance.
    The act of filming in both 5 Cameras and Cinema Jenin, becomes reflection images that reach and penetrate into Israel. As a strategy it is controversial but
    as a development it proposes another type of path towards Palestinian self
    determination which has the possibility of breaking down the Israeli mind set
    from within: a Palestinian Trojan Horse.

    From the point of view of the audience these two films,
    Jenin and 5 Broken Cameras demand a level of active engagement with the
    material. They are not shot from a notional point of neutrality. There’s no
    doubt about the point of view from which the film expresses itself. There is no
    doubt about the partisan nature of film making. Because this is completely transparent the audience
    know the grounds on which to base reservations or criticism and are also
    sensitised to bias and fabrication.
    They are put on the alert to evaluate what they are presented with. The are challenged to view the material
    with critical tools of appraisal.

    The viewers are exposed in these films to self believed
    Palestinian utterances and discourses.
    The viewers are in a position where neutrality or even indifference in
    respect of the relations revealed is challenged. Relations of power, territoriality, hierarchy and politics
    and social concerns. 5 Broken Cameras (5BC) through the continuous filming of
    Burnat over 6 years, is part of the process of witnessing and resisting Israeli
    development of illegal West bank settlements, occupation. land theft and wall
    erection. The film and the
    film makers are part of the forces of opposition by the villagers of Bil’in to
    the mechanical forces of Israeli occupation. Burnat’s camera is not just a tool not only a means to
    record. Through the medium of the footage the audience also becomes part of the
    thinking about the process of resistance to what seems to be a superior
    physical force.

    To deny what the Burnat’s camera films, as some will do, you
    have to think about the material in a specific manner. You have to believe either that 5
    Broken Cameras is a perverse project, whose objective is distortion and
    fabrication. Or that it is an unwitting project, in which a naïve subject
    Burnat is exploited for his limited capacity to see and film only from one
    limited perspective. The beauty of
    the documentary film is that the evidence is in the film. However much these films may be edited,
    the integrity of the process in which they are enfolded remains. All viewers are equal in viewing and
    evaluating the relations with which they are presented. And it is this integrity to which
    viewers respond.

    adrin neatrour

    December 2011