City Scene, set in urban China, screens April 5.
The hanging of Saddam Hussein was a watershed moment for "personal media." What the traditional outlets refused to shoot on their own was captured on someone's cellphone and then replayed not only over the Internet but by the same news shows that hadn't captured it themselves.
Since the so-called war on terror began, in fact, homemade media have played an enormous role, from Osama bin Laden's cave-bound proclamations to live-streamed beheadings to the photos of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison.
The opening night of Crisis Zones: World Cinema Now deals with amateur video and Iraq in particular. Curated by NOW film writer Cameron Bailey, the free series is presented by the Institute for Contemporary Culture at the Royal Ontario Museum.
French curator Catherine David kicks things off tonight (Thursday, March 22) with a lecture and screening called Video In Iraq: Document, Resistance, Insurgency, Terror.
Bailey moderates the audience discussions after all the series screenings.
"I became fascinated by this intersection between the fact that there's more and more war going on, more and more political conflict and violence going on in the world, and more and more immediacy in terms of actually seeing this conflict," Bailey says of the genesis of the series.
Operation Atropos, screening April 19, is sure to spark debate.
"And I thought, 'That's got to be affecting us somehow. What does it mean that we can see this stuff, not just on the nightly news, but we can actually go to websites run by insurgents or actual terrorist groups and see what they want us to see?'"
Iraq and the current conflicts in the Middle East are not the only focus of the series, however. The films screening over the next five weeks come from Haiti
, Angola, China and the U.S., among other places, and have been chosen to complement each other in ways that Bailey hopes will engender discussion.
For example, the April 5 screening pairs City Scene, a video essay on the fraying social fabric of urban China, with A Cry In The Dark, about political protest in rural India.
"These pieces speak to each other, especially given that both these countries are becoming economic giants. You see the toll that's taking on the personal level," Bailey says.
Also certain to spark debate, the Canadian premiere of Operation Atropos by Cuban-American artist Coco Fusco. In it, Fusco and five other self-described lefties, all women, take part in a role-playing exercise with a private U.S. company that trains American soldiers in interrogation techniques. Fusco presents the film on April 19, the closing night of the series.
Bailey emphasizes that he wants people to get talking.
"They're not just passive screenings where you sit back and watch and then go home." Aside from wanting to generate some controversy, Bailey's goal for the series is basically "that people turn off CNN, turn off Newsworld for one night and come down and watch what the news doesn't show you. You get a much more immediate and, I think, much more complex view in the works that are on show here than you would from your average nightly newscast."
NOW’s Cameron Bailey
CRISIS ZONES: WORLD CINEMA NOW presented by the ROM's Institute for Contemporary Culture at the Royal Ontario Museum (100 Queen's Park), Signy & Cléophée Eaton Theatre, Thursdays March 29 to April 19 at 7 pm. Free. Curated and hosted by Cameron Bailey. www.rom.on.ca.