Monday, September 21, 2009

Counsel Returns

A few weekends ago, I met my new friend Andre Blackman at Madhatter for a brief breakfast and exchange. We were first introduced by Jody Ranck who I have only met on Twitter . Both Andre and Jody tweet on public and global health issues and though my work has very little overlap with the work that they do, I am invested in following their work and interests online as well as in "RL".

Andre told me about his vision for public health and his idea for using Social Media in the context of global health that morning, and as he was doing that, I decided to turn the microphone on and ask him to say some of the things he was telling me to my friends on Twitter. Here's the recording.

To my surprise, as we were getting ready to go, Andre asked if he could ask me some questions on camera about the uses and influences of film and social media on public health. Here is his interview with me on video.

Interview with Prof. Negar Mottahedeh - Impact of Film from Andre Blackman on Vimeo.

As I say in the interview, the fact that I've been working on the films of the Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami, brought his 2001 film A B C Africa to mind.

In A B C Africa, Kiarostami captures a documentary focus on issues related to AIDS in Uganda with a celebratory joy that permeates the lives of the people he encounters throughout.

To me, this film is a document of the possiblities of social media. It is Kiarostami's first digital film, one in which he handles his own camera and thus experiences the camera's democratization. But A B C Africa is also a film which combines important "information" regarding a global threat with something which I refer to as "counsel"-- the imparting of lived experience, of wisdom, of life. Walter Benjamin has suggested that "counsel" or "wisdom" "is less an answer to a question than a suggestion about the continuation of an ongoing story" ("Storyteller"). Counsel is the gesture of weaving experience into the fabric of life. To tell stories while creating things with our hands is a form of counsel that contrasts with the dissemination of information-- which according to Benjamin is devoid of the aura of a lived life and largely the function of newspapers and some forms of documentary film.

As I was talking to Andre, I saw how social media can functionally transformation a world dominated by information. In fact I realized that social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, allow us to broadcast moments of our lives and experiences --counsel-- as we share critical information about a world that concerns us. Knowledge, once again, is imbued with life experience in our time.


Andre followed up on our conversation this week with a post of his own on "The Promise of Film and Online Video for Public Health" in his blog Pulse + Signal. Check it out! Here.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Elegant and Elemental

I never tire of watching Abbas Kiarostami's Five. The combination of natural, elemental forces, and the human and technologically mediated incident simply bring me to life and charge me with wonderment and delight.

I have for some time now enjoyed my exchanges around art, books, photography, music, philosophy, literature, technology and the wonders of our age with my friend Darius Himes. And we have, off and on, both remarked on our love for Kiarostami's work. Then suddenly yesterday, amidst the hustle of the Duke-at-work-Saturday, I discovered that Darius had used one of our favorite Social Media tools to make a short film about the book and the wind. I love it. It reminds me of passages in Kiarostami's Five. Elegant and elemental. Wind and paper ... then, movement, the essence and object of cinematic fascination from the start. (Remember the rustling of the leaves in Lumiere's The Baby's Meal [Repas de bebe, no. 88, 1895]?**)

Follow Darius Himes on Twitter here. I do.

** In Lumière’s Repas de bébé, of 1895, it was not the relatively repetitive activity of feeding the baby that captured the attention of the audience, but the small matter of leaves rustling in the background, moving discontinuously in an otherwise imperceptible breeze. A small matter perhaps, but for an audience familiar with the closed circuit of mechanical illusions of motion (via such devices as thaumatropes, zooetropes, phenakistascopes) the discontinuous demarcated the territory of the real, and confirmed the verisimilitude ceded to the camera. --Thomas Zummer "Arrestments: Corporeality and Mediation"

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Iranian Cinema in the Twentieth Century: A Sensory History

I presented this essay as talk in Toronto for the 40th Anniversary of Iranian Studies.

The essay addresses itself to the century long history of cinema in Iran, focusing on the history of the senses as they combine with and are extended by film technologies. It argues that Khomeini’s aim was to produce a transformed and Shi’ite Iran by purifying the sensorial national body by means of film technologies. I thought you would enjoy reading it.

Sensory History