Political Video in France? By Nathalie Magnan
Political Video in France? By Nathalie Magnan
In attempting to give a portrayal of political video in France, one is speaking of a genre which for all practical purposes has not existed since 1986. Certainly, if you look hard and ask all the institutions invol-ved in the distribution of videos to look very deep into their drawers, if you remind them of that which they have forgotten or make inquiries among the political networks, you'll always be able to dig up something. But it is not "fashionable" to speak of these questions in France, even if there would appear to be a certain return to questions of politics and representation following the orgy of the Gulf War. I have been asked to address the subject of "politics and documentarism." Why limit the political to this genre? Doesn't this assume a cinemato
graphic tradition that does not exclude other forms that are not necessarily of a documentary nature? In order to make an adequate presentation of political video, I would seek out videos that reflect and analyze the real, not only through that which they represent but also through the way in which they represent it, the language that they use and their methods of distribution. I would be on the lookout for a new form of expression that has found its place everywhere, including the countries of the south - not only in France. It is the product of a revolution triggered by the rise of the camcorder and the ongoing process of reflection about media. The conceptual worlds of this form are not uniform, but always circle around the same axis - the confrontation with the real in continuation of the "committed" videos of our fathers and mothers, albeit in radically different form: as a video of intervention it is tactic TV, alternative video, resistance video, art TV. These tapes pose questions about the nature of the statement ("who is speaking?") and its relation to the signified; often they deconstruct the dichotomy of subject and object, and reflect on production as well as on distribution: "To whom and how?" These productions speak for "communities" (for lack of a better word) determined by categories of group or geography (black, gay, female). One could define it using the example of foreign productions: Despite tv, some programs of Channel 4, Migrant media (Great Britain), Paper Tiger TV, Deep Dish TV, DIVA TV (Damned Interfering Video Activists), Not Channel Zero, Paul Garrin, etc.. (USA), CanalX (Germany), "Video-grams of a Revolufion “ by Harun Farocki and Andrej Ujica), TV Viva (Brazil) - fhe lisf is long....
I do not want to speak here about the documentaries which make up the Festival of Film of the Real. The experiments of Canal Déchainé, Riquita Video or also Im'média (by no means an exhaustive list) correspond in exemplary fashion to the attitude described above. Canal Déchainé consists of media professionsals who seized the initiative at the beginning of the Guif War. Their tape "Fiave You Seen the War?" deconstructs the functioning of fhe media and analyzes the relationship between media and war by means of a series of inferviews with intellectuals at the outbreak of the war. The Im'média Agency is a collective of media- workers who are connected by their common past as immigrants. Their multimedia agency, foun
partelliche ded in 1983, has just completed a trilogy about racism in France, England, and Germany. The trilogy is investigative journalism from a very precise angle, since all of the videomakers come from immigrant families, have experienced the movements of the anti-racist struggle close up, and give the people of the immigration a chance to speak. The Riquitta Vidéo collective, created in 1986 without funds, has finally complefed a work that it calls a "triptych": "The Untouchables. " Its first part is devoted to the impoverished proletariat; the second tells the biography of a gay immigrant: and the third is devoted to Travelling Folk. These videos define reality not from the standpoint of the classical journalist but rather through the lens of a particular commitment.
Why this Absence of Political Discourse? Without attempting to give an exhaustive answer to this question, I would here like to offer some contributions toward a response.
- Social and political documen- tarism is the affair of film. In a country marked by its formalism, cinema and video remain separated. Among documen-ta- rists there is a certain fetishis-tic attitude toward 16-mm fiim which tends to regard video as a last resort. A visit to the documentary film festival of Lussas confirmed this claim. For se-ver- al years now there have been more and more groups such as "La 8," whose aim is to promote the use of light video equipment and who are ini-tiating many public discussions about this issue. For the time being, however, they remain on the margins of the main-stream.
- Upon my return from a self- chosen twelve-year exile, I was surprised in the 80s by the extent to which the veterans of 1968 had broken with their past. Everything that could be identified with "left extremism" was declared "backward," as if France of the 70s had not seen the production of radical and social knowledge which continues to break new paths in other countries today. Especially in the anglo-saxon countries people, now make reference to the French philosophers and continue the interdisciplinary reflection in departments of "cultural criticism.' It would seem that there is a summary rejection in France today, a need to forget that brings the French videomakers into a contradictory situation. Some of these debates belong to the past1, but the issues remain significant and yet have not been developed further - the knowledge remains in the hands of one generafion. Today's twenty-year-olds are rein-venting political questions in sometimes awkward fashion. I have landed in some absurd situations, where first I had to explain to people that I was twelve years old in 1968 and feel no nostalgia for this period, and second by explaining the difference between essentia-lism and constructivism - in the context of a discourse of iden-tity among people who have never been essentialists and who close off the debate with a simple rhetorical move that consists of writing off the debate itself as essentialist - or, even worse, as a source of religious fundamentalism and nationalism.
- The absence of political statements in videos also comes from the lack of political consciousness in France of the 80s. The director of the Centre Simone de Beauvoir, Claudine Delvaux, was unable to find a single "political" tape for her institution over a ten-year pe-ri- od. In her opinion " video is an immediate reflex of everyday events. There is no political thinking in France - and, even more disturbing, there are no more demands. It has become a nuisance to have an identity, and the general tendency is to say 'whatever - as long as it holds, I'll hold on to it as tight as I can.' Video in France is the affair of an isolated family." Marie Mass adds: "The takeover of power by the left wiped out an audience open for an alternative discourse. The commitment has moved in the direc-ti- on of video art, has become an artistic commitment." These remarks allude to the perverse effects of socialism which have neutralized every clear position. One can naturally point out that the industrialized countries have become much more conservative in the 80s. Whether you have Reagan/Bush, Thatcher or Mitferand is undoubtedly a difference and the French have come away better than most.
"We," however, are also responsible for the "New World Order." For Felix Guattary these years were the "years of winter." Let's take, for example, the bia social and political event of the 90s: AIDS. It is possible that groups without problems of identity, such as Act Up! (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power), might become leaders of the discourse. Just how urgent the fight against AIDS is, and just how intelligently these groups deal with the media, no longer needs to be proved. Without in anyway diminishing the immense work that they have done, however it should be noted that, in contrast to other countries such as the United States or Britain and despite the omnipresence of camcorders at every action, there are still only fragments and no continuous tape. And yet there are three times as many AIDS cases in France as m Germany and five times as manyas ;n England. One of the most frequently mentioned reasons for this is that information is not reaching the affected groups quickly enough. If the necessary tapes had been made, what would have been the effect? The cable network is very small, there are no open channels, the local broadcasters are concerned with other problems, the television stations are seeking the general consensus - meaning that the only distribution networks left are those for films that already existed in 1970. In the 90s there is widespread unease in the club, and when one listens to the young directors and distributors, it seems doubtful that the formalism we know from the 80s will remain the only form of video production in France.