Panel 4

(Re)presentation: An Affective Exploration of Encounters in Documentary Film Production.

Deborah Ribera
Bowling Green State University

In Totality and Infinity, William Levinas describes how the other precedes the self and exceeds the self. His is a philosophy of ethics rather than knowing, where by encountering the other, one comes to know the self and also to recognize that we have always already been responsible for the other. This paper situates ethnographic documentary film production as an encounter with the other in order to address the infinite nature of self/other encounters that occur through the filmmaking process. Through an engagement with affect theory and my own affective engagement I demonstrate how documentary production when done through a critical awareness of method, context, and process, can provide an opportunity for intervention and action. I examine and bring to conscious awareness the affective relationality between the filmmaker, those being filmed, and the viewing audience as it is often manifested through embodied energy exchanges (verbal and non-verbal).

The idea of affect as being a life force for connecting experiences is a positive idea only in so far as it forces one to grow in our understanding of self and other, to the point where we see that there are no boundaries between us. However these boundaries have existed and still exist through inscribed identities, political systems, institutions of the state, and economic functions.  In Haiti, the cultural trauma of colonialism and the lived experience of neocolonialism shape any and all interactions that Americans have with Haitians. In this paper, I closely examine an experience I had with one of the children I met in Haiti while making a documentary, situating my affective encounter with him as an example of the life and death impact that neocolonial interventions inscribe on individual bodies. Ultimately I argue that such affective experiences demonstrate the necessity of an ethical responsibility on the part of ethnographic filmmakers–one that precedes and exceeds the self.

Rethinking Cinematic Apparatus: adaptation, remediation, and the moving image in the gallery space

Beth Tsai
Stony Brook University

In the 1970s and 1980s, film theory saw the emergence of several critical appropriation and reworking of Jacques Lacan and Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis, the theory of the cinematic apparatus being one of them. The cinematic apparatus, as developed by Jean-Louis Baudry, Christian Metz, Stephen Heath and others, is based on the premise of the fixed spatial arrangement of the projector, screen and spectators. But this notion can be complicated by artists who work outside the cinema while explicitly referencing cinema in their art. Using Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills, Punchdrunk’s “Sleep No More” and Stan Douglas’s video installations as examples, I intend to explore how cinematic theory and the practice of non-cinematic art influence each other. These works, despite their diverse forms of media and presentation, from photography, theater to art installations, reference and juxtapose many canonical film texts—particularly that of Alfred Hitchcock’s. At the same time, these works de-familiarize and distance the original materials through quotation, manipulation, and spatial rearrangement to the viewing experience. By examining the functions and limits of cinematic adaptation, I argue these remediated works offer a new kind of viewing experience, heavily embedded in cinematic pleasure that breaks away from the institutionalized social activity called ‘cinema’, and prompts us to reconsider the aura of the cinematic apparatus.

The Dehumanized and the Nonhuman: Empathetic Play in Lucas Pope’s Papers, Please

Matt Knutson
University of California, Irvine

This paper applies Bruno Latour’s actor-network theory to the study of the videogame in order to redefine the process by which games provoke empathetic response, particularly at the site of the encounter. Locating games within a horizontalized actor-network rather than as passive objects in a hierarchy reorients our perspective in a way that better appreciates the work that games do. Games push back on their players, effecting emotional, behavioral, and perspectival changes in them. In the case of Lucas Pope’s Papers, Please, the game’s mechanics elicit empathy from the player while the game simulates immigration across national borders.

The border as a liminal space places the immigrant in a highly uncertain setting with looming judgment: in or out, detained or at liberty, isolated or with loved ones. During this suspended moment of uncertainty, an uncomfortable intimacy arises between officer and immigrant. Documents give the officer access to information that is simultaneously too invasive and unfairly abbreviated. Sorting immigrants like parcels instead of individuals with fundamental rights is dehumanizing, yet that is precisely how one plays Papers, Please. Taking the perspective of an immigrations officer, the game compels the player discriminate according to rigid rules. The game’s mechanics mediate the encounter between player and game; in turn, the game simulates the on-screen encounter between immigrant and officer. Playing the game feels toilsome and worrying; the penalties for processing documents incorrectly are severe, and time constraints require a frantic pace of play. These emotional states arise from the game mechanics. Likewise, the simulated encounter with the immigrant – in which the player is required to process people according to rules rather than ethical convictions – elicits an empathetic response.

Empathetic play in Papers, Please exposes the arbitrariness of legal documentation, the sometimes frustrating impenetrability of national borders, and the institutional dehumanization often inherent in immigration law. The game communicates these experiences at its structural, mechanical core; as nonhuman actor, it provokes behavioral and emotional responses from its players. By investigating the methods by which games push back on their players, we can discover and embrace the empathetic consequences of critical play.